St. Louis native earns Israel’s Presidential Honor


Chiyya Smason, a crew commander in the IDF’s artillery corps, met Israel’s President Shimon Peres on Independence Day to receive the Presidential Award for Outstanding Soldiers. Smason, 21, immigrated to Israel in 2005 from St. Louis and currently lives in St. Louis’ sister city of Yokneam.

“Winning this award is the realization of a dream. I always wanted to be an Israeli soldier and to be chosen for this really makes me feel like I have achieved something,” said First Sergeant Smason.

Smason is married to Chagit, the daughter of Hanan Caspi, former regional development director for the Jewish Agency’s Yokneam-Megiddo Partnership 2000 (P2K) region, and is the son of Rabbi Ze’ev Smason of Nusach Hari B’nai Zion Congregation in St. Louis. Smason met his wife at a P2K Orthodox Shabbaton for young people in Yokneam and were married in December.

“Our people-to-people programs for young people have the more modest aim of ensuring that future generations of Jews in Israel and the U.S. stay in touch,” explained Arkady Hasidovich Regional Coordinator for P2K Yokneam/Megiddo. “So the fact that one of our encounters brought about a marriage is a welcome bonus in bringing Yokneam-Megiddo closer to its American partners.”

St. Louis along with Atlanta has been twinned with Yokneam-Megiddo within the framework of Partnership 2000 since the mid-1990s.

The Presidential Award will provide Smason with a well-deserved break from the dangers of military service. At the end of December, just two weeks after he was marrried, Smason found himself in the middle of the war in Gaza.

Describing how he slept an average of one hour a night during the war he said, “As the war wore on and the days turned into weeks, and the reality of war started to set in — not the glamorous movie war — the real war: the sleepless nights, the lonesomeness, the injuries, the deaths, the nitty gritty of mans favorite pastime, it would have become easier and easier with every passing day to enter into robot mode. To forget who we are and what we are fighting for. The war like every single war that the Jewish people have ever fought was a war of survival. Survival of the Jewish people historically depends on its ability to make war.”

Yet Smason had no complaints about his sacrifice. “I had a chance to fulfill a mitzvah which most people will never fulfill,” he said. The Rambam says that in a war by mitzvah even a groom in a midst of his wedding must go to battle. I am just thankful that I have such a wonderful wife who gives me support and is with me even when we are not together.”

Smason’s father-in-law Hannan Caspi said that Chiyya is a modest and shy young man who thoroughly merits the award. “He has brought honor to his family, to Yokneam and St. Louis and to Partnership 2000,” Caspi said.

Rabbi Smason feels proud but is not surprised by his son’s achievement. “Chiyya is a very gifted, driven, brave and charismatic young man whose success does not come as a surprise to his family or those who know him. Chiyya has always sought to excel at whatever he does,” he said.

Rabbi Smason added, “During the war in Gaza many people asked me how I felt knowing that my son was on the front line. The more frequent questions asked if I was afraid, nervous, or how I was sleeping. I answered those questions in the following way; every parent has a heightened concern when a son faces the danger of the battlefield. The quality and intensity of my prayers certainly increased during that time. But the dominant emotion I felt during the war in Gaza was pride; pride that together with Chiyya’s mother, I had a small part in raising Chiyya with the values and dedication to put his life on the life for the safety of Israel and the Jewish people.”

Chiyya and Chagit Smason will be visiting the U.S. later this month when he has his annual vacation from the army. He will complete his full-time army service (though he will continue to do reserve duty every year) next March and hopes to study Business Administration at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

Judy Yuda, the Jewish Agency’s Yokneam/Megiddo P2K Regional Manager said, “There can be no better symbol of the partnership between Israeli and American Jewry that we have built through P2K over the past decade than the partnership that Chiyya and Chagit are building.”

This article is reprinted with permission from the Jewish Agency for Israel,