Eretz Yisrael means something different for every Jew. But to the 20,045 voters who cast ballots for the Eretz HaKodesh slate of the World Zionist Organization, Eretz Yisrael has taken on a new meaning. Rabbi Pesach Lerner, founder and chairman of the group, became the vital voice of Diaspora Jews in Israel. This past weekend, Rabbi Lerner hosted Eretz HaKodesh’s inaugural summit at the Woodcliff Lake resort in New Jersey to show appreciation to his colleagues for their work in achieving this monumental feat and to express appreciation to those responsible for helping reach this milestone. “It is Hashem whom we thank for the past, present, and future.”

Under a Reform and Liberal influence on the Board of Directors and the professional appointments, the World Zionist Organization was able to divert money from Zionist causes and use it to push an anti-religious platform. KKL-JNF accrued a sizeable cash flow due to their ownership of 20% of Israeli land and holds their own influence. With a presence of chareidi influence for the first time, frum ideals are now back at the forefront of discussions. In a nutshell, Keren Kayemet L’Israel operates a $40.5 million budget, and the World Zionist Organization owns billions in property and investments in Israel. These monies rarely saw any funding for religious-based programming. The incorporation of Eretz HaKodesh’s 25 delegates into a right of center block of the World Zionist Congress allows funding to be spent differently and to potentially influence the many traditional Jews of Israel to take on a more religious outlook.

Rabbi Chaim Aryeh Zev Ginzberg, rav of the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center of Cedarhurst, the founding rabbi of Ohr Moshe Torah Institute in Hillcrest, delivered the Shabbos morning drashah, where he imparted the importance of Eretz Yisrael from the perspective of g’dolim. “With Eretz HaKodesh, religious life takes on a new mission. Anything positive equates a reaction, but we must always operate together with the words of our g’dolim and the Torah.” Rav Ginzberg was speaking of the relationships that Rabbi Lerner established with Sar HaTorah Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Gershon Edelstein, amongst other g’dolei Yisrael, in beginning to spread word of the possibilities with Eretz HaKodesh. “We cannot sit back and let go; rather, we must understand that all we do is for Hashem’s kavod.”

“Nearly 30,000 of our Jewish boys and girls were able to learn safely and securely in seminaries and yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger, an accomplished author, host of Inside ArtScroll, an editor at Yated, amongst other accolades, as he summed up Eretz HaKodesh’s success. “This took tremendous power, clout, and influence to accomplish. Imagine how much more can be done with more participation.” Rabbi Hisiger was referring to Rabbi Nechemya Malinowitz’s Igud Yeshivos and Seminaries Bnei Chul, where the needs of 50,000 Diaspora students were addressed for 287 educational institutions. Without Eretz HaKodesh, this initiative would never have existed, and the students would never have been able to enter Israel and learn in yeshivah or seminary. Many attendees pondered how divine it was that Eretz HaKodesh formed just before the pandemic set in. “The government recognized, for the first time, the rights of yeshivah and seminary students to come to Israel and enjoy the same rights as the youth who come to enjoy the country for other programs, like college and university,” said Malinowitz, a US oleh of many years and the Director of Eretz Hakodesh Israel. Rabbi Zvi Gluck, CEO of Amudim and a top-ten delegate, expressed, “My affiliation with the AZM (American Zionist Movement) allowed for Amudim’s partnership with Eretz HaKodesh to blossom and eventually enabled hundreds of families to visit Eretz Yisrael, in addition to the many emergency cases we took on, and the student visas we assisted in securing.”

Yisroel Schwebel is the voting voice for EHK in the WZO and has helped transfer funds of some of the allocated $70 million to the betterment of Diaspora Jewry. He has, as well, helped appoint Likud member Yaakov Hagoel, a religious Jew, to head the WZO, while offering activities for 9,800 yeshivah and seminary students to enjoy while in Israel. Schwebel also offers programs to help new olim overcome social and cultural barriers. Rabbi Yitzchak Pindrus, a United Torah Judaism Member of the Knesset and former mayor of Beitar, said, “If we can get 50-60,000 votes, this will change the entire dynamics and perception of chareidim in Eretz Yisrael.” Hagoel went further: “The possibilities are endless if we hit 100,000 votes in the right wing.”

Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, CEO of Chazaq, is the number four delegate on the slate. “We have enthusiastically stood by Rabbi Lerner as he imbues his professional vision for Eretz Yisrael. We share the powerful connection of Queens where we are based and where Rabbi Lerner resides – in Far Rockaway. Together, we are united in the approach to spread the core values of frumkeit worldwide.”

Rabbi Noach Haller, a Far Rockaway resident and principal and administrator at Stars of Israel and NASCK’s Director of Development, has taken on a strong role within Eretz HaKodesh as the upcoming Eretz Hakodesh mechanchim mission to Israel trip coordinator. “We have organized two busloads of mechanchim, teachers, and principals from around the USA, Canada, South America, and Europe to travel to Eretz Yisrael to learn about its treasured history. Eighty educators will be shuttled from North to South to the beautiful vineyards and throughout Yerushalayim to learn new ideas to bring back into their classrooms.”

Shmuel Litov is the Vice Chairman of the KKL-JNF and its affiliated education committee on behalf of EHK. KKL develops its own land in Israel. This allowed one million dunam of forest to go without new planting during Sh’mitah, amongst other achievements. Three hundred million shekel was also allocated for land purchases across the Green Line to include communities of Yehudah and Shomron, like Beitar Illit and Emmanuel.

Rav Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, Chief Rabbi of Migdal HaEmek, explained in a video presentation, “Eretz HaKodesh is strengthening Yiddishkeit and is what true Zionism is all about.” The rav also pointed to EHK’s work to offer guidance for youth and one of its many lifesaving initiatives under Litov’s wing.

Rabbi Avshalom Baskin of I Am Jewish related about the event, “The work of Eretz HaKodesh will allow more Jews and Israelis to learn the depth of their motherland.” This is directly the work of Avi Greenwald, who directs the EHK’s Israel offices. From a network of night kollelim to a worldwide network linking funds for Jewish outreach, Eretz HaKodesh has only just begun its work.

Chai Lifeline Southeast’s Founding Director Ellen Weiss led her division valiantly for 32 years before retiring and later moving from Miami Beach to Lakewood. As a delegate for Eretz HaKodesh, she related, “Proud Jews live with the goal of uniting together in Eretz Yisrael. Eretz HaKodesh, under the guidance of daas Torah, has allowed this mission to be more of a reality, and their successes stand as a testament.”

David Kushner, Amudim’s Director of Government Relations and Special Projects, continues to share in a hands-on role working with Eretz HaKodesh to facilitate passage for travel to Israel. “It is a privilege to work alongside the staff of Eretz HaKodesh in protecting our m’sorah. We are all here for a purpose, and we must take on a proactive instead of a reactive approach. Voting with Eretz HaKodesh has opened doors and begun the process of building new connections.”

Duvi Honig, Founder and CEO of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, observed, “We are celebrating Torah and spirituality as we visualize a world where we have a stronger voice. It is not about Zionism as much as it is about being a united voice celebrating achdus.”

“With minimal effort, we made a major impact,” explained Rabbi Sruli Daum, Director, Ki Heim Chayeinu. “Most are ignorant. Now is the opportunity when we can change Eretz Yisrael.”

Israel Peskowitz, Director of Government Affairs for Chazaq, attended the Shabbaton along with his parents, where both he and his mother Miriam were delegates. “Participating with Eretz HaKodesh is our way of standing up for Israel. Learning of each accomplishment pushes our family to get more involved.”

Jack Forgash, Founder and Chairman of Just One Life, attended with his wife Carol, alongside Rabbi and Mrs. Marty Katz, the organization’s Executive Vice President. “Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, the rav of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun right here in Teaneck, has been both involved and an early delegate to Eretz HaKodesh. Together we helped to get the vote out here and in Florida where many seniors were eager to participate.” Rabbi Katz added, “Rabbi Lerner places every Jew on the same page and operates with a mission to keep klal Yisrael alive in Eretz Yisrael.”

Mrs. Nechama Wolfson, a dear friend of Rabbi Lerner and Five Towns matriarch, explained, “We gathered here to give a voice to the frum element in Israel. We are thankful for that privilege to share our message in unity.”

The attendees were both delegates and supporters who allowed Eretz HaKodesh to reach such great heights. Rabbi Lerner, a 25-year veteran as Executive Vice-President Emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel, now serves as the President for the Coalition for Jewish Values where Rabbi Yaakov Menken, a delegate and attendee at the shabbaton, is Managing Director.

In a video presentation at a beautiful melaveh malkah, Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke of a visit where his grandfather, Rabbi Herzog, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel took to Mount Herzl, where he spoke of his advocacy for the Jewish people. President Herzog returned the favor with a visit to the vibrant community of Lakewood, where he saw firsthand the results of a true yeshivah upbringing when he first became Chairman of the Jewish Agency. But it was the passion of Jewish music sensation Avraham Fried that stole the evening, alongside his rendition of a unique song written by Chayala Neuhaus that took listeners on the journey of loving Hashem’s Torah: “My soul’s aflame with yearning to plant my feet in Eretz Yisrael. My thoughts keep on returning much more than just a dream I’ve always held.” This thought was echoed by Yitzchok Saftlas, CEO of Bottom Line Marketing Group and a storied Radio Host of Mind Your Business, who said of Rabbi Lerner, “Hashem bestows wonderful ideas in his children. For Rabbi Lerner, his big moment came with the creation of Eretz HaKodesh. Often, a person pushes forth at a task and may become frustrated or completely give up, but Rabbi Lerner persisted. We must realize that Hashem will afford us the opportunity to realize our full potential.”

Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag, a noted Manchester, England rav and the International Liaison for the Coalition for Jewish Values, noted his deep connection with Rabbi Lerner as he explained the grassroots of Eretz HaKodesh forming a creative and inspiring team in the United Kingdom. “The saying goes, it is not what you say, it is what you do. This is who Rabbi Lerner is to all of us here tonight. Rabbi Lerner pursues without fear and we saw this with his direct involvement with the Jonathan Pollard case.” Rabbi Lerner invested countless untiring years advocating for Pollard over the 30 years he spent locked up. “World Jewry cannot afford to stand outside of the system. We must be united inside, where Torah is the common denominator, especially in Israel.”

Rabbi Duvid Katz, menahel of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and gabbai kodesh for Reb Meir Baal Haness/Kollel Shomrei HaChomos, grew up seeing the influence of Rabbi Lerner in his father’s beis ha’k’neses Kehillas Bais Shmuel Abba, known as Rabbi Katz’s shul in Far Rockaway. “I am not surprised to see Rabbi Lerner pull off such a remarkable Shabbos, as he takes on every task with a full heart.”

“Strength is in numbers,” said Rabbi Yechezkel Moskowitz. “Eretz HaKodesh is a broad spectrum of the community banding together to keep Orthodoxy alive and well.”

Mindy Stein, a past national president and chairman of the board of Emunah of America and currently the AZM Vice President for WZO relations, was on a panel on the role of women in Eretz HaKodesh. “I was very impressed with the women on the panel and their knowledge of why it is so important for Eretz HaKodesh to get people involved from their respective communities. Together we will have more input on what can be done, on where the money that is allotted to us at AZM from WZO can be distributed, to help the chareidi community while keeping the flame of Zionism alive.”

Rabbi Michael Melnicke, a noted nursing home owner, community askan and the second delegate after Rabbi Lerner, detailed their relationship: “Eretz HaKodesh is the valiant effort that has begun to successfully reconnect the Jews of Eretz Yisrael and chutz LaAretz.”

The Shabbaton and the work of Eretz HaKodesh is an overall tribute to the many rabbanim who have influenced Rabbi Lerner, including Rabbi Naftali Neuberger of Yeshivas Ner Yisrael Baltimore, Rabbi Moshe Sherer of Agudath Israel of America, and his father-in-law Reb Sydney Greenwald, the international chairman of the Board of Laniado Hospital in Netanyahu, and Monsey resident who advocates on behalf of the klal.

 By Shabsie Saphirstein