Eight years ago my wife and I took our four children, hugged and kissed our parents, said “goodbye” to all our friends and family, and boarded a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight bound for Israel filled with fellow North American new immigrants. We sat down in our seats and the captain went on the loudspeaker and explained all the details about the flight. As he finished his words, he said: “Sit back, relax, enjoy the flight, I am here to take you home.”
“I am here to take you home.” After 2,000 years we were on our way home – to the land of Israel, to the State of Israel. We arrived with a spirit of Zionism, filled with hopes for a better Jewish life. We found a spectacular and unique country, but it is impossible to hide from its struggles.
My grandmother, who survived Auschwitz, related to me that in concentration camp there were no sectors. No one spoke about irreligious Jews, traditional Jews, religious Jews, or ultra-Orthodox Jews. All experienced that hell together as one. The Nazis did not treat the Jews differently based on their sectors. They were all simply “Jews” – all bound by the same lot.
In our darkest hour as a nation we showed that we can be unified. It saddens me that now, with our return to our homeland, we are not unified and each sector looks out for itself without thinking about what is best for the general population.
I have seen the horrific results of this polarization in my hometown of Bet Shemesh and have also experienced the remarkable success which comes when we work together as one people. This has been my primary message in all of my writings and activism for these past few years.
The Yesh Atid party, led by Yair Lapid, has taken the bold step of not only saying that it is time for unity in Israeli society and breaking from the sectarian politics of old but actually doing something about it. I am proud to be being named as an official candidate for the Knesset with the Yesh Atid party.
It is difficult to believe that I am experiencing this without my father who passed away eight years ago. But my father’s example is what drives me and accompanies me through all my public activities – and especially my running for Knesset with Yesh Atid.
My father was a federal judge who knew how to combine Torah study and a religious lifestyle while also earning a living and spending significant percentages of his time serving the Jewish people. He demonstrated the beauty of an Orthodox lifestyle when balanced with being a part of society. And he did all of this under the label of a moderate Judaism in which every person respects the other.
I must emphasize that this was not my father’s patent. It has been the path of Torah Jewry throughout the ages. The Torah itself states “Six days you shall work” and one of the commentaries lists this as one of the 613 Torah level commandments – earning a livelihood for one’s family. The Mishna teaches that “any Torah not accompanied by work is nullified and leads to sin.” The Talmud builds off these and teaches simply that “a father is obligated to teach his son a trade.” Maimonides teaches that anyone who decides to study Torah and force others to sustain him disgraces God’s name and “has no portion in the World to Come.” The Code of Jewish Law explicitly states that every morning we must pray, study Torah, and then go to work.
My father simply followed the teachings of our tradition. The Yesh Atid party, with God’s help, will work to restore the path of Torah Jews for thousands of years and yeshiva students will no longer be trapped in a system which forces them to be impoverished. They will be able to study Torah and sustain their families with dignity, while being part of the Israeli workforce and sanctifying God’s name throughout the State of Israel.
Regarding equality in national service, when some of the tribes asked Moses if they could remain on the eastern side of the Jordan, an act which would have meant not fighting for the land with the rest of the Jews, Moses responded: “Will your brothers go to war while you remain here?” One of the most basic tenets of Judaism is that “all Jews are responsible for one another.” Yesh Atid has plans which will enable ultra-Orthodox young men to serve in the army while maintaining their spiritual sides and will also provide opportunities for community service – such as volunteering within the ultra-Orthodox community – as their mandatory service to the country. I am proud to be part of a party with a leader and vision that understands that it is time for the ultra-Orthodox to become party of Israeli society through working together with them and taking their needs into account. These changes will actually bring the Torah world back to what it always was – steeped in Torah study while contributing to the broader community and world.
As a person with a background in education I am proud to be part of a party that wants to completely overhaul education in the country and has a plan created by educational experts to bring us back to the top ten in the world in education.
It pains me to see immigrants to Israel who do not receive what they deserve. I served as a camp counselor in the former Soviet Union in the beginning of the 1990’s and I saw people who suffered greatly simply because they were Jewish. How can it be that these people have immigrated to Israel and are mistreated by not being allowed to convert despite the reality that there are grounds to convert them even according to Orthodox law? This has to change. I volunteered on a daily basis when the Ethiopian Jews arrived in Israel during Operation Solomon. I saw the hopes and happiness in their eyes during their first days in Israel. It saddens me to see the degree of discrimination which they suffer today.
I am proud to be a good friend and partner of Yair Lapid, who identifies with all that I have written about above and started a new party to deal with these burning issues within Israeli society along with changing the system of government, providing affordable housing for young couples, assisting small businesses, and most importantly, creating true unity where we all work together for what’s best for the nation. We will only succeed as a nation as a result of our unity – on both a practical and spiritual level.
In addition, I am proud that if I am chosen to serve in the 19th Knesset, I will be able to represent immigrants from English-speaking countries who are in need of assistance and representation.
I began this column by mentioning my grandmother and I will end with another message from her. When I called to inform her that we were moving to Israel, I prepared myself for anger over the fact that we were taking her great-grandchildren across the ocean. To my great surprise, instead of her being upset she said: “She’hecheyanu v’kimanu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh – I thank God for bringing us to this day. When we were on the boat from Europe to the United States I asked myself why aren’t we going to Israel. And now you are fulfilling that dream.”
It is easy to forget that the ingathering of the exiles in the State of Israel is the fulfillment of a dream according to King David: “A song of ascents when God returns the returnees to Zion, we were like dreamers.” As a relatively new immigrant, I still feel the greatness of this dream come true and the time has come to restore this spirit to all Israelis. This spirit demands that all Israelis work together to continue building the State of Israel as we change the country to one which leads the world in all realms. We can show the world a remarkable civilization built on Jewish values and fulfill our mission as a “light onto the nations.”
Now that I find myself, eight years after immigrating to Israel, as a candidate for Knesset and as a partner to a movement that seeks to improve our country and return its pioneering spirit to its citizens, I follow in my grandmother’s ways and thank God for bringing me to this day.
I have left the world of education to make a change, to replace old politics with new politics, and to tackle the most pressing issues within Israeli society while forging a new path of unity.
I ask you to join me in this journey.