Every movement needs a publication to bring its voices together and disseminate its ideas to a global audience. For religious Zionists, HaMizrachi Magazine provides this connection with articles on mitzvos that relate to the land of Israel, such as the fruits of Tu BiSh’vat, and the Israeli holidays of Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom HaZikaron. The movement also has a bureau of speakers and tools for educators to connect the religious diaspora with the Land of Israel.
Last November, a local activist of this movement, Rabbi Ari Rockoff of West Hempstead, was appointed as Vice President of the Religious Zionists of America. Prior to his promotion, Rabbi Rockoff was also chosen by the Orthodox Union as its first director of strategic partnerships. A graduate of Yeshiva University, he worked there for more than a decade as founder of the Center for the Jewish Future and the lead designer of ChampionsGate, a leadership conference that brought together hundreds of Jewish lay leaders and professionals from around the country.
“Part of my mandate is to reconstitute the organization, to have a basic knowledge of our tradition. The challenge is to partner with institutions such as Amit, Touro, and YU to educate our community. It is a movement, not an organization,” he said.
At the beginning of last year, shortly before pandemic restrictions were instituted, Rabbi Rockoff led the World Mizrachi’s Orthodox Israel Coalition, a partnership of Orthodox and religious Zionist groups running as a combined slate in the World Zionist Congress elections. The result was a sizable growth in delegates for the movement as it competed with liberal Jewish denominations at this global convention that has its roots in the First Zionist Congress of 1897.
Looking back at the history of Religious Zionism, Rabbi Rockoff recognizes how easy it is for young Jews of this time to take Israel for granted. “The generations that lived in the last century understood that Israel was an existential matter and it was in peril.” Israel is in the 73rd year of its regained independence, a confident and developed nation, easily accessible by flight. “It’s the story of our people. When we’re privileged, we take things for granted.”
Many older Jews were more appreciative of Israel’s existence as a miracle that merited our prayers on Shabbos, and the recent holidays observed in Israel, with t’filos for the Jewish state and its armed forces. Israel Bonds, Friends of the IDF, Jewish National Fund, and Magen David Adom also connected communities to the sense of rebuilding in the land.
Rabbi Rockoff spoke of Rabbi Doron Perez as his mentor. The Chief Executive of the World Mizrachi Movement, he was born in South Africa, and made aliyah at 18. He served in the Army’s Hesder program, and received his s’michah, having learned in yeshivah for a decade. He then returned to his birthplace as a shaliach promoting a closer connection to Israel for South Africa’s Jews. “There are shluchim in more than 20 countries at this time,” he said.
The HaMizrachi Magazine was launched two years ago. With each issue, its size has been growing. Its writers include rabbis and rebbetzins, and renowned poskim. “It is printed 11 times a year and is one of our educational tools. It is available at over 500 institutions worldwide… It is an opportunity to connect in a significant way,” he said.
Rabbi Rockoff moved to West Hempstead from Queens 15 years ago and spoke of his community as an outlier with a visible presence in the movement. “It is well represented in the World Zionist Congress, and we have many examples of people from West Hempstead who made aliyah and contributed to Israeli society.”
Rabbi Dovid Fendel is a native of West Hempstead and a graduate of HANC. In Israel he founded the Sderot Hesder Yeshiva. His brother Hillel also made aliyah and works as the editor of Israel National News, which shares stories relating to Religious Zionism and Jewish life in Yehuda and Shomron.
Rabbi Sholom Gold was at the pulpit of the Young Israel of West Hempstead from 1971 to 1982, when he made aliyah. At his new home in Jerusalem, he founded Kehillat Zichron Yosef in Har Nof and serves as the dean of the Avrom Silver Jerusalem College for Adults.
Rabbi Ari and Naomi Zivotofsky also made aliyah from West Hempstead and made headlines as plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case to have their son Menachem’s birthplace listed as “Jerusalem, Israel” on his American passport.
“We see it in the aliyah rate, and in unified experiences on Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim in the West Hempstead community,” he said.
By Sergey Kadinsky