For example, when it comes to Tikkun Olam (a liberal Jewish value), the Jewish State, while far from perfect, is the only country in the region which practices tolerance, educates and gives upward-mobility to minorities, dispenses health care and creates jobs for thousands of non-Jews daily. Opportunities to make a difference in terms of social justice and poverty alleviation are numerous in Israel and always in need of participants. One can even help shape public policy, if you are so inclined. Engaging in building the Jewish State fits perfectly with the Tikkun Olam outlook that is a core focus of Progressive Jewish circles. But this engaged attitude towards the building of a Jewish State, which seems to fit perfectly with the Tikkun Olam outlook, is rarely heard in these circles.
For the Charedim worldwide, the big issue is the IDF draft. And yes, in this political climate more Ultra-Orthodox students will end up going to the army or national service. But other than the contentious army issue, Chareidi Torah Judaism in Israel is thriving – not receding as some Chareidi newspapers would have us believe. Has anyone seen the Chareidi neighborhoods and cities like Jerusalem or Bnei Brak or Beit Shemesh or Beitar lately? Building and flourishing! Today, Israel is the center of Torah scholarship, and countless yeshivot support the constant study of our ancient texts.
While it is a fact that If you want to be a highly-observant Jew, Israel is the place to do it – that is rarely heard in American Chareidi circles. Recently, I bumped into my grade school teacher who now works for a Chareidi institution in New York. She said that the first question that they asked her was: “Are you a Zionist?” When she replied in the affirmative they told her it was fine, as long as she kept silent about it.
In my travels I have seen this phenomenon metastasizing in parts of the American Chareidi society: taking down the Israeli flag in synagogues, speaking derogatorily about the State of Israel as being anti-Torah, and of course, not recognizing Israel Independence Day, Yom Yerushalayim, nor attending the Israel Day Parade. Anything that smacks of Zionism or associated with the state is pas nisht or trief. And of course, this attitude negatively impacts on Aliyah, and therefore it is not only the State of Israel which suffers, but the land of Israel which will continue to be bereft of her children.
Why is this happening? Could it be that the leadership of certain parts of Jewish society (be they self-defined as Chareidi or Progressive) are trying to subdue a positive perspective on Israel in order to consolidate their power and keep their community from flying the coop? I’m not sure, but it is clear that the ideological extremes on the American Jewish community both seem to be in agreement that Israel is antithetical to their values.
So there I am heading down the West Side Highway thinking about all this: the magnetism of New York which seems to want to embrace Jews forever, the Neturei Karta flying a banner that Judaism rejects Zionism, the Progressive Jewish disappointment with Israel, and the Chareidi public assessment that the State of Israel is anti-Torah. So now I am left wondering: Who is left to attend the Israel Day Parade?
To my surprise, however, I saw myriads of brightly clad youth marching with strong Israel pride and a burning love of Jerusalem. I saw an innumerable mass of empowered Jews lining 5th Avenue, religious and non-religious together, loudly cheering every float that came by. I saw the half-million strong Jewish New York coming out and showing their love, yes love, for our homeland. And I took that energy one step further, signing up people for a free drawing to win 2 free tickets to Israel with the caveat that participants will get information about Aliyah. And the Jews gobbled it up.
In the streets of New York I saw that Judaism resoundingly embraces, and in no way rejects Israel and the movement to return to Israel, that is, Zionism.
To be sure, many diseased thoughts try enter the collective conscious of our people and we will have to work hard to root them out. But thank God, there is a natural resistance to the illness; some unseen mechanism, like a gyroscope, that gets us right back up. This is why, in the end, no NY magnetism, no anti-Israel rejectionist-theories, no New York Times cynicism, and no Jihadist fear mongering, will subvert the truth which is that we, as a nation, are heading towards Jerusalem and we are living in the amazing times of the ingathering of the exiles and the building of the Jewish State. Despite many efforts to the contrary, the nation of Israel, at its core, is alive and well. In fact, with the rebirth of Israel, we are more alive than ever before.
The love of Israel was evident at the Israel Day Concert which took place in Central Park following the Israel Day Parade – organized by legendary Israel activist Dr. Joe Frager – and it was there that I was able to get the most people to sign up for Aliyah info. Hasidic Superstar Lipa Schmeltzer along with community leaders and Israeli government officials graced the stage. The third pic below is of Elron Zabatani a rising singing star from the Old City of Jerusalem along with Concert Chairperson, Dr. Paul Brody. The last photo is of the author and his mother at the Israel Day Parade.