Sometimes known as “phylacteries,” Tefillin are small black boxes made from leather that contain inscribed pieces of parchment written by a trained Sofer (scribe), with long leather straps to hold them in place. Worn on the head and arm respectively, these incredibly powerful spiritual objects are considered by many to be life-changing, but to a young IDF soldier stationed on the dangerous borders of war-ravaged Gaza, one could say that wearing Tefillin proved to be lifesaving.
For Joshua, an American boy who grew up in a secular, but strongly Zionistic home in Idaho, Joshua’s first time donning Tefillin happened at the Kotel when he was 17, as he came across a group of Lubavitcher Hasidim promoting the mitzvah of Tefillin. After learning he was Jewish, the Hasidim helped Joshua put on the Tefillin and recite the bracha, and the experience left Joshua feeling like a massive weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
Several years later, Joshua would make the decision to move to Israel and enlist in the Israeli Army as a Lone Soldier, and in 2017, he was deployed to the Gaza border along with his sniper team amid rising tensions following President Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Finding himself in a deadly, brutal landscape and told by his commanding officer to “make peace with God because you don’t know if you’re going to make it home,” Joshua and his fellow combat soldiers committed themselves to putting on Tefillin each day, hoping that by fulfilling this mitzvah, God would be with them and protect them from harm.
By early 2018, it seemed as though Joshua had encountered the gates of hell itself, with animosities between Israel and Gaza at a critical point and violence and rioting becoming a near-daily occurrence. Nevertheless, even in this bleak, ruthless environment, the hand of God could still be felt. Although he was surrounded by a sea of enemies, Joshua remained resilient and dedicated to wearing Tefillin, holding onto to his belief that God would have his back. With his Tefillin as his spiritual bulletproof vest, Joshua persevered and made it home with his faith intact and stronger than ever. He is now out of the army, but his drive to wear Tefillin daily is here to stay.