Guest contribution by Heshey Zelcer
If you are a religious Jew what is your reaction upon seeing the flag of Israel? Pride? Shame? Disgust?
I have a tremendous sense of pride when I see this flag. I know that Israel is not a perfect nation. I know that there are some issues with which I disagree. But on the whole, my heart swells with pride every time I see it.
Not only because it is the Jewish homeland promised to the Jewish people by God. Nor is it only because of the haven it became for survivors of the Holocaust. Or the tremendous Makom Torah it has become. Or the number of contributions it has made to the world in the fields of medicine, science, economics, literature, art... and many other fields. It is all of the above - and much, much more!
But I know that not everyone feels that way about the Jewish state. It is with this in mind that I am pleased to present an important post by Hakirah CEO, Heshey Zelcer. As always the views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect my own.
Chareidi yeshivos don’t speak about Israel. Their shuls don’t make a me-she-berach for the Israeli soldiers. Therefore—so the narrative goes—chareidim do not care about Israel. Is this conclusion justified? I believe not.
Ask yourself the following questions: What percentage of chariedim want Israel to succeed? How many would be devastated if Israel ceased to exist? How many are pleased to hear that Israel is flourishing: economically, technologically and militarily? In my own encounters with chareidim—an assuredly non-scientific sample—the answer to all these questions is, “almost all of them.”
There are studies that confirm this. When a Pew survey asked ultra-Orthodox/chareidim if they believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people 81% answered in the affirmative. When the same Pew study asked ultra-Orthodox/chareidim about their emotional attachment to Israel, 55% responded positively.
This is good news for all of us who care about the State of Israel and its security. There is no longer a need to convince chareidim that Israel is ‘good for the Jews’. Who can deny the wide array of Chassidic and Litvish Torah communities that thrive there. We simply need to channel their caring into active practical support for the security of Israel. What do I mean?
The United States currently provides approximately four billion dollars of aid to Israel each year. It sells Israel its most sophisticated military equipment and it uses its position on the UN Security Council to veto anti-Israel resolutions. Why does the United States do this? The basic answer is because it is the will of the American people. This begs the question: Why do the American people like Israel and agree to spend their tax dollars to support it?
There are several answers: First, Evangelical Christians believe that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people, and if they support the Jews, God will shower His bounty upon them. They take seriously the verse in Genesis 12:2 “I will bless those who bless you.”
Second, Israel and America share common values and ideals including freedom of religion, and a true and open liberal democracy for all its citizens. It also helps that Americans believe that Israel embodies the values that made America great—hard work and personal initiative. They also admire the survivors of the Holocaust who refused to remain victims and instead dusted themselves off and created a flourishing state. Finally, organizations like AIPAC and NORPAC actively and successfully lobby Congress to support the State of Israel.
However, while this model of American support was true in the past, the future looks more ominous. For one, college professors preach a leftist political agenda which demonizes the Jewish state. Furthermore, organizations like BDS bully college students and intimidate anyone daring to advocate for Israel. Pro-Israel speakers are often heckled and shouted-down. College students—and future generations of Americans—will thus be less likely to support Israel than previous generation.
Another factor working against Israel is that those who fund pro-Israel lobbying efforts such as AIPAC are primarily secular Jews. Unfortunately, secular Jews are intermarrying at alarming rates and, as studies show, their offspring are less likely to be pro-Israel, and less likely to advocate for its security.
That is why it is so important to properly channel the pro-Israel sentiments of the chareidi population. The Chareidi population continues to expand, and chareidim have conservative values—including caring about the security and safety of the State of Israel. Chareidim need merely be reminded that just as they support a wide range of community charities, they also need to be there for the security of Israel, a place where they have so much at stake.
It is therefore important for Chareidim that do have positive feelings about the state do more than have feelings for it. And that they make that support more public. If within a year or two, we could, for example, double the number of chareidim supporting AIPAC. If within the same period, we could also, for example, double the number of chareidim who annually give $10,000 or more to organizations like AIPAC, NORPAC, EMET, MEMRI, CAMERA or FLAME, all of which fight for Israel’s security… that would go a long way in countering the aforementioned negative propaganda.
It is not so much to change anyone’s mind about Israel. It is simply to get those who have a stake in Israel; those who already care about Israel; those who send their children to learn there; those who have relatives living there; those who visit there… to support and advocate for the security of Israel—just as they so generously support other charities and organizations about which they feel passionately.
It is important for Chareidim to be more proactive and advocate publicly on behalf of the security of Israel; to reach out to congressman; to send letters and emails when the need arises; and to financially support the organizations that lobby on behalf of Israel.
With that goal in mind Netzach Yisrael was created. They will provide seminars for Chareidim that agree with these goals. If you are someone like that, please register at www.NetzachYisraelUSA.org so that you can be notified about educational seminars in your neighborhood.
For the sake of Israel, for the sake of our brothers and sisters who live there, we, the Orthodox community, must unite and advocate for its security.
Heshey Zelcer is the author of Companion Mishnayot: Tractate Niddah (1994) and A Guide to the Jerusalem Talmud(2002). He has published about a dozen articles on Jewish law, philosophy, history and liturgy, and is the CEO of Hakirah: The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought.