I got to stand today side-by-side on Park Avenue with Israel’s pro-democracy protesters. We were standing there because of President Herzog’s visit. I came because I wanted to show solidarity with those standing, for now, many months in Israel, protesting day and night for the survival of Israel as a liberal democracy. I also came because I wanted President Herzog to know that the concern for Israeli democracy is not limited to Israelis alone.
While standing, waving an Israeli flag, and singing together, I got to learn a great deal about the organizers and devoted members of the pro-democracy protests. I saw people who make time in the midst of extremely busy schedules, jobs, medical research, raising families, and working hard on so many things.
They don’t want an easier life. They don’t want a bonus to their paycheck.
They have nothing against religion or religious people.
They just want to see the Zionist dream continue to thrive.
They want to see a state that belongs to all Jews, not just to some.
They want the Jewish people to have a Homeland–all Jews, not just some.
They do not want to have to worry about what rights will or will not be taken away from their daughters.
They want to see an Israel that is free of corruption, kleptocracy, and abuses of power that have run so many other countries to the ground.
Most importantly, they are not disappearing or going anywhere. They are brilliant, resourceful, and selfless.
They are the spiritual heirs of those who dashed to Entebbe to rescue Jews in distress.
They are the spiritual successors of the paratroopers who liberated Jerusalem after 2,000 years.
They are made out of the same material as the brilliant and courageous men and women who shocked the world in 1948 by establishing a Jewish state.
They are the people that would be disembarking broken masses of Jews who just survived the Holocaust off ships coming from Europe and the dark of night on the coast of Israel.
And they are really worried for the future of Israel. We should all be worrying with them.
The secular founding fathers of Israel could have done countless things just because they were a majority. They did not. Most of Israel in 1948 had no desire for an IDF that is strictly kosher, for laws about Jewish marriage, Passover, and Shabbat, and so much more anchored in Israeli law. They didn’t just follow the majority rule. They did what they thought would best help the survival of a Jewish state that would work for everyone. They were far from perfect or adequately inclusive human beings, but our moral and historical debt to them knows no bounds. We do not know of anyone that would have done the job better at the time.
My hope and prayer as a Religious Zionist Jew, is that, just like with the founding of Zionism, many religious Jews were not on board early on but got on board later we see more and more religious Jews join the movement for a better future for the state of Israel. I pray that more religious Jews join this movement that is against corruption and unchecked power in government and an Israel that works for all. I pray that like the days in which my grandfather Rabbi Baruch Poupko fought for Russian Jewry when few Jews did so, we see this become the rallying call of our generation too. My hope is for more and more American Jews to understand that the fight for an Israel that holds all Jews together and is as democratic as it is Jewish is something we all must fight for.