The Moskowitz Prize for Zionism, established by Dr. Irving and Cherna Moskowitz, for the year 5768 – 2008 is awarded to the head of the Hesder yeshiva “Afikei Daat” in Sderot, Rabbi David Fendel. He is awarded the prize for the values of Torah, community involvement and commitment to the nation and the Land that Rabbi Fendel has instilled in hundreds of the students at the Hesder yeshiva he established and developed; for his yeshiva serving as a source of strength for all of Sderot’s residents, especially in these most troubling of times for the city; and for his personal example and Zionist leadership that is embodied in his activities.
Rabbi David Fendel was born in the U.S.A. in 1961. He made aliyah to Israel in 1979, and studied at the Mercaz Harav and Sha’alvim Yeshivot and served in the IDF within the Hesder framework. In 1984, he received rabbinical ordination from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and later as a rabbinical judge.
In 1994, he moved with his family to live in Sderot as a member of a Torah garin established by a number of families that moved to the area. Their goal was to become involved in the areas of education and social welfare in the city.
In 1995, he established the Hesder yeshiva in Sderot and has served as its head ever since. The yeshiva quickly became a magnet, drawing students from across the country. The students are educated in a classic yeshiva atmosphere of Torah values and educational excellence. At the same time, they are involved in education, community activity and assistance to struggling populations in Sderot – an expression of the worldview that guides Rabbi Fendel, who views the yeshiva as a vehicle to serve the community and provide a force for the development and strengthening of the city and its residents.
The recent difficult years for Sderot and the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip have put the yeshiva and the young, vibrant community that developed around it, along with the rest of the residents of Sderot, to unbearable tests. But these years in particular have also been characterized by growth and development for the yeshiva, and its transformation into a center emanating resilience, strength and belief in the face of the Kassam terror from Gaza that has been bombarding the city for seven years.
Expressions of this commitment can be found not only in the growth in the number of students at the yeshiva and the young couples that choose to build their homes in Sderot as part of the community of the yeshiva, but also through the establishment of new educational and community frameworks that deepen the involvement of the yeshiva in community life in Sderot and beyond.
Thus, for example, the yeshiva has operated for seven years a club for retired residents of Sderot, where retirees participate in daily activities that include learning with yeshiva students and additional social activities. This enables the community’s senior residents to share the difficult experience of life in Sderot with the youngsters and enrich their days with study and activity.
A “Big Brother” project was also established, pairing students from the yeshiva with local high schoolers for one-on-one learning; and a “Yad B’Yad” branch was created to help the needy of the city, providing necessary welfare assistance.
As part of the vision of responsibility towards those lacking a yeshiva background who also wish to enrich their Torah world with study, the yeshiva established two branches, in Sderot and Kiryat Gat, where there are smaller educational frameworks characterized by one-on-one teaching. Over 200 students study at these branches after army service, and some have chosen to settle with their young families in Sderot, even during this difficult period.