On Tuesday evening, December 6, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, activist, author, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and Vice President for the Israel Region of the Coalition for Jewish Values, shared an informative, fascinating virtual speech about the Israeli elections: what happened and what is ahead.
Rabbi Stuart Verstandig, President of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, welcomed everyone to the Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld Adult Education Center Zoom Series on Issues Confronting the Jewish People. The program was in memory of Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, whose third yahrzeit is on the third night of Chanukah. Rabbi Verstandig noted that Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld zt”l was a rabbinic leader for over six decades, and he always mentioned am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael, and Medinat Yisrael in his Shabbos drashah. He pointed out the great love and dedication that Rabbi Schonfeld had for Eretz Yisrael.
Next, Rabbi Verstandig introduced Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, who worked closely with Rabbi Schonfeld in the Vaad Harabonim of Queens.
Rabbi Pruzansky shared that when he first moved to Queens, Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld became his mentor, and it is a special pleasure now to reconnect with the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills. He related that Israel just had its fifth election in four years. He explained that the main issue revolved around Benjamin Netanyahu. The last ten years there was a similarity to the United States. Like the United States, the question was: Are you pro-Bibi or anti-Bibi. In America, the question is: Are you pro-Trump or anti-Trump. “That is the defining characteristic of the last four, five, six years in Israel.” He explained that this is why there was such instability in the Israeli political system. Netanyahu never had a great majority as leader of Likud, but he is an astonishing politician. He has won victory after victory, and he does have many accomplishments to his credit. He excels in diplomacy and Israel’s international relations.
Rabbi Pruzansky explained that in the Israeli election you have to pass a threshold of getting 61 mandates in the Knesset, which would give you a ruling coalition. In the previous election, he went from 60 to 59 to 58. Israel is divided with a Right and a Left, and extreme Left, as well. Once the left succeeded in removing Netanyahu, they had very little to keep them together. He shared that “It’s a divided country into different blocks.”
In this past election, Netanyahu secured a mandate of 64. Since 1996, the year of Netanyahu’s first victory, Israel has not had a ruling party with 40 seats in the Knesset. The last 30 years, the leading party couldn’t muster even one third of the Knesset, which led to instability and reliance on small parties.
Rabbi Pruzansky explained that the past election was very close. The primary reason that Meretz, Israel’s left-wing party, didn’t succeed was that the Labor party refused to join with Meretz. There are 35 parties that ran. If the party doesn’t cross the threshold, then all votes go to waste. All of Meretz’s votes went to waste. Also with the Arab parties, Balad didn’t cross the threshold, as well. Therefore, the Labor, Meretz, and Balad failure to unite wasted hundreds of thousands of votes.
Rabbi Pruzansky went on to explain that Netanyahu is a master politician. Even with an ongoing effort to besmirch him and drive him from public life, he won. His criminal cases are not going well for the prosecution. People are tired of media manipulation and the tendency to leak information that is unfavorable to Netanyahu and not always accurate. People are more or less happy with how he conducted himself as prime minister. In all the polls, people asked whom they wanted as prime minister, and they were pro-Netanyahu.
Rabbi Pruzansky shared there is a religious revival heralded by this election. The previous government fell over an issue involving chametz. The high court ruled that hospitals had to allow chametz during Pesach. The hospitals resisted and did not implement this ruling.
Rabbi Pruzansky related that people want Shabbos, kashrus, and normal conversion. The country is very traditional. He shared that he lives on a street mixed with observant and non-observant Jews. Two non-observant neighbors built sukkos. There is a thirst for religion – a yearning for Torah u’mitzvos.”
Rabbi Pruzansky concluded on a very positive note. “We are an am connected to Hashem. We are ethnic with religious ideals, values, and the gadlus of Judaism.” He said that 98 percent of Jews get along well in Israel. It’s a wonder, a tremendous gift, that Hashem gave us this land. Hashem told Yaakov that he would be called Yisrael. Hashem used his names Yaakov and Yisrael interchangeably. Yisrael is a supplement to Yaakov not a replacement. The name Yaakov, meaning “heel,” represents the physical. The heel needs the head (the rosh). You need the physical and the spiritual. Yisrael represents the spiritual. We aren’t just Yaakov – just the heel. Yisrael brings Hashem into the land of Israel.
He shared that it is the first time in Israel’s history that the majority of the ruling coalition is Torah-observant. “Pray that we can reshape the Land of Israel in a way that everyone sees the beauty and light of Torah.”
Everyone left inspired by this beautiful program. The community appreciates these wonderful events.”
By Susie Garber