In a first for the Knesset, the Eretz Hakodesh Party, which represents the Jews of chutz laaretz, started a Knesset lobby to strengthen Israel’s bond with the Jews of the Diaspora.
At a special gathering held by MK Pindrus (Yahadut HaTorah) together with Rabbi Pesach Lerner, chairman of Eretz Hakodesh, the new lobby was announced with the goal of strengthening and appreciating the efforts of organizations that work to protect our mesorah and true Jewish identity in the Diaspora, as well as strengthening the Jewish connection felt by the younger generation around the world in order to fight the terrible assimilation that is destroying Jewish communities.
Despite recent tensions between the government and the opposition, the gathering was attended by members of both groups. They all expressed their support for this new lobby and announced their participation for the purpose of continuing their work with representatives of the organizations in order to strengthen the Jewish identity of those living in the Diaspora.
The MKs and organization representatives thanked Rabbi Lerner, who traveled to Israel in order to participate in the event, for the vital work that his organization is doing to strengthen the bonds between the State of Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora, which is being done in cooperation with the Orthodox organizations. They also expressed their appreciation for his organization’s important achievements within the World Zionist Organization and in the Mosdot Haleumim, Israel’s National Organizations (WZO, Jewish Agency and KKL-JNF)
Among the participants in the gathering were Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai (Labor), MKs Michal Shir and Tzvi Hauser of Tikvah Chadashah, MK Sharon Rofeh-Ofir of Yisrael Beiteinu, MK Nira Shpak of Yesh Atid, MK Betzalel Smotrich and Michal Waldiger of Hatziyonut Hadatit, MK David Bitan of the Likud, MKs Uriel Buso and Michael Malkieli of Shas, and MKs Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev of Yahadut HaTorah. Also participating was Mr. Yaakov Hagoel, who is the chairman of the WZO and acting chairman of the Sochnut (Jewish Agency).
Also attending were leaders of organizations that work to strengthen Yiddishkeit among the Jews of chutz laaretz, including Rabbi Avi Berman, director of the OU in Israel; Rabbi Yehuda Weinberg and Rachel Moore of Aish HaTorah; Rabbi Yosef Friedman of Project Inspire; Rabbi René Gutman of the Conference of European Rabbis; Rabbi Eli Naiditch of Chabad; Rabbi Zecharya Greenwald of The Yeshiva And Seminary Coalition for Bnail Chul, Mrs. Stephanie Strauss of Yeshiva University Israel, Rabbi Paysach Freedman of Chaim V’Chesed and Mrs. Leah Aharoni of Am Echad.
There were also members of Eretz Hakodesh in attendance, including Rabbi Nechemya Malinowitz, Israel director of Eretz Hakodesh, and director of Diaspora-engagement at the WZO; Mr. Steve Rosedale, a member of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors on behalf of Eretz Hakodesh; and Rabbi Binyamin Aizenstark of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
MK Pindrus began the proceedings by saying that “the goal of this gathering is to show who is truly working to save the Jewish nation, and who can truly represent the Jews of the Diaspora. That is why we have invited the central organizations that work for the Jewish nation.”
During the course of the gathering a number of people spoke about the challenges that are on the agenda. One of the speakers who stood out was Mrs. Aharoni of Am Echad, which was founded by Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l. She thanked the members of the lobby for giving her the opportunity, for the very first time, to present significant data trends among Jewish youth in the diaspora to members of the Knesset.
She said that in recent years there have been two major trends: A reduction among the Reform and Conservative movements, and an increase and connection to authentic Jewish identity.
“This is reflected,” she said, “in intergenerational gaps. While 70% of Jews who are 65 or older identified as Reform or Conservative, only 37% of the younger generation—ages 18 to 30—identified with those movements. We see the opposite of this when it comes to the strengthening of the Orthodox, with three percent of the over 65s identifying as such, versus 17% of the younger generation. Alongside this welcome statistic, however, there is also the worrying growth among those who are unaffiliated as a result of Reform’s decline, going from 22% among those 65 and older to 40% among those under 30.”
Mrs. Aharoni also presented the figures of shuls in the Diaspora that have closed down in recent years. She said that since 2001 25% of Reform temples have been shuttered, while Chabad shuls have grown by 300% in that time.
She also presented data that shows that there is a direct correlation between the level of identity with Yiddishkeit and the level of connection with Israel. Youth belonging to the Orthodox community replied in overwhelming numbers as being fully opposed to the BDS movement and about feeling a connection with what happens in Israel. This shows how important mesorah is when it comes to connecting the youth to both Israel and the Jewish nation.
A dramatic moment took place when, after this data was presented, the attendees began to discuss it, and Diaspora Minister Shai said that he wants to stress the position of the Diaspora Ministry in desiring to strengthen all parts of the Jewish nation, and it accordingly invests heavily in the activities of the organizations involved in these areas.
In response, MK Michal Shir asked why then the ministry and the government see the liberal movements in a positive light when they are the ones who are supporting assimilation and intermarriage. “You mentioned the problem of assimilation,” she said, “but there are a number of movements that actually encourage it. Therefore, when you create a dialogue with those movements you must bring up the issue of assimilation and point out that they have to speak less positively about intermarriage. If an American youth didn’t receive a Jewish education at home, and if he didn’t meet an organization that works to strengthen his Jewish identity, he will be completely severed from his connection with the Jewish nation.”
At the conclusion of the gathering MK Pindrus announced that the Knesset members would be working together to continue helping the organizations that work to strengthen Jewish identity around the world as well as to solve the issues raised by the organizations. “It is clear to all of us,” he said, “whether they are present here or not, that the only way to combat assimilation is to strengthen the connection with the Jewish identity. We have seen today a number of organizations that invest major funds in strengthening Jewish identity around the world, with the approximate total of money spent reaching two billion shekels annually. Anyone who truly cares about the future of the Jewish nation must strengthen these organizations and utilize them. We will continue with such meetings in order to understand how to bring more and more Jews to connect with the authentic Jewish identity.”