Ohio church shows its love for the IDF, Cincinnati Bengals NFL team

Asking people if they have heard of the chant “Who Dey” will likely elicit a blank stare from most. However, if one were to pose the same question to fans of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals football team, they would smile and knowingly nod their heads. “Who Dey,” to football cognoscenti, is the iconic cheer used by fans of the Bengals to indicate their approval when the team scores or wins a game.

For Jeremiah Morgan, 26, “Who Dey” has provided the impetus for supporting an entire squad of IDF soldiers serving in the current Gaza war. Morgan, who lives in Middletown, Ohio, 29 miles northeast of Cincinnati, works in executive security for a local pharmaceutical company. He is an ardent supporter of the Bengals, despite their 5-6 record this season, and is a member of the Stratford Heights Congregation of God, a Pentecostal church that he has attended since childhood. 

Morgan says the Bengals have a large following on X (formerly Twitter). Yakov Hammer, 29, who lives in Ra’anana with his wife and child, is also a devoted fan of the Bengals, and his “handle” on the social media platform is WhoDeyInIsrael, indicating his football allegiance to the Cincinnati team. When the Israel-Hamas war started on October 7, Yakov was called up for reserve duty with his Nahal unit in the IDF, and he posted a picture of himself on X, wearing his IDF uniform.

How Cincinnati Bengals fans help support the IDF

“I commented,” says Morgan, “and asked how I could get a care package to him.” Yakov put Morgan in touch with his father, Rabbi Shalom Hammer, a lecturer for the IDF’s educational and Jewish Identity branches and founder and director of Gila’s Way (www.gilasway.com), which offers mental health and suicide prevention programs for the IDF and pre-military academies throughout Israel. Since the death of his daughter Gila from suicide four years ago, Rabbi Hammer has also become a certified mental health instructor through Mental Health First Aid International, and champions mental health awareness and suicide prevention worldwide.

The senior Hammer recommended that Morgan sponsor the purchase of pizzas for his son Yakov’s unit. “It wasn’t just the people at our church who wanted to help,” says Morgan. “Many people I know heard about and wanted to donate to Israel.” Shortly thereafter, 55 pizzas, purchased by Morgan and other friends of Israel in Middletown, made their way from a pizzeria in Israel to Yakov’s IDF unit. Rabbi Hammer convoyed and drove the pizzas directly to an IDF staging area outside Gaza.

CHEERING ON the Bengals at a football game: ‘Who Dey.’ (credit: Jeremiah Morgan)

“After that,” continues Morgan, “the church had me speak and share videos from Yakov and Rabbi Hammer. I shared the mission that we wanted to help them get more than just pizza.” Rabbi Hammer sent Morgan a list of what the soldiers needed, and the church group sent a donation to Israel for the purchase of special military tactical pants for Yakov and the soldiers in his unit. Next, they organized donations of backpacks for the soldiers, and they recently ordered weatherproof face masks for the upcoming winter weather. Other contributions from the church were earmarked for the purchase of food for Shabbat for the soldiers.

The Stratford Heights Congregation of God has an official Israel initiative and frequently hosts events with speakers from Israel. “We have been invested in Israel for a long time,” says Morgan. In addition to the financial support that members have been providing to Yakov Hammer’s unit, children in the church decorated cards for Israeli soldiers.

Rabbi Hammer, who spent a year in Columbus, Ohio, bonded with Morgan over their football allegiance and loyalty to the IDF. The two came up with the idea of Hammer visiting Cincinnati to speak to the congregation about Israel and the Gila’s Way initiative. After speaking with Pastor Ray Phillips, they arranged a joint event with the Jewish and Christian communities of Cincinnati at Congregation Sha’arei Torah on November 22, where Rabbi Hammer presented an update on events in Israel and Israeli resilience, as well as Gila’s Way.

Hammer also discussed the importance of the ethics of interpersonal conduct and said that “if we cannot learn how to relate to our fellow man, there is no way we can possibly relate to God.” Morgan says that he found Hammer’s remarks on mental health and the work that he is doing with Gila’s Way to be particularly important. “Mental health affects everyone and is an important topic.”

In response to a query about the level of support for Israel in the US, Morgan says that loud and vociferous anti-Israel protesters may give the impression that they are the majority, but there are many more people who back Israel. “Here in the US, we call it the silent majority,” he says. “People are starting to get tired of the anti-Israel comments and are starting to speak up. There are many people who support Israel and the Jewish people that the media won’t show. In Ohio, many churches are starting to reach out to us and want to know more about what we are doing.”

For his part, Hammer was delighted at the enthusiastic reaction he received in Cincinnati, particularly at his lecture. “It was incredibly embracing. Many applauded and rejoiced in agreement, approached me, and expressed their understanding and appreciation.”

Later that day, Hammer and Morgan attended the Cincinnati Bengals – Pittsburgh Steelers game played in Cincinnati, courtesy of Bengals’ management. Though Pittsburgh was a 16-10 victor, Hammer and Morgan enjoyed the game and had plenty of opportunities to chant “Who Dey” along with thousands of other fans.

Rabbi Hammer returned to Israel later that week, bearing not only materials for his son and his IDF unit from members of the Stratford Heights Congregation of God but also their good wishes. Morgan, who hopes to visit Israel early next year, told Hammer, “So many people were touched and are thankful you made the trip, including my family. It definitely was a special trip, and we look forward to seeing your family soon in Israel. You guys are family to us all!” 

Who Dey, indeed.

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