A very large crowd of “Anglo” olim stood in line Wednesday night at Heןchal Shlomo, the Jewish Heritage Center in Jerusalem, to hear Jeremy Gimpel and Ari Abramowitz speak about the Bayit Yehudi Party.
Bayit Yehudi literally means Jewish home, one that potential party leaders want to fill with religious ideology, but also with an open door that welcomes all types of Jews.
The entry hall had a lot of elderly couples and a few youngsters hovering around the rugelach table. The goal was to persuade attendees to sign up to vote as party members so they could participate in the upcoming primaries.
Ari and Jeremy are focusing on the English speaking community because they want the group to have more of a voice. Their communicative abilities were demonstrated on stage. Energetic and dynamic performers, they expressed their points clearly. Almost too clearly. It felt like the scenes were scripted.
The videos shown throughout the session mimicked the feeling. They were professionally put together and definitely entertaining, but seemed more fitting for a late-night talk show than a political gathering. One featured the two on Ben Yehuda Street, asking advice about running for the Knesset and the issues that are really in people’s minds.
It was humorous and a little frightening to see some of the ignorance out there. It’s clear that Ari and Jeremy have the passion for the position and the desire to connect with many more than those the Knesset does now, but I felt myself yearning for a little more reality in their message.
There’s no doubt that the two men can relate to an audience. You feel like you could talk to them as if they were your neighbors and you were both running out to pick up the paper. Despite this, it’s what they said that distanced me from them. Clichés were rampant. It felt staged.
“Every Israeli is an oleh,” and “If we’re in, then we’re all in,” were some of the phrases tossed to the audience. It’s not that I disagree with their message. I don’t think many right-minded Jews would disagree with the sentiment of Am Yisrael or Eretz Yisrael. But I felt infantilized. It wasn’t dialogue, it was just a show.
The presentation got more interesting when they brought out two of the candidates running for head of the party. Zevulun Orlev, Current MK and former party leader, couldn’t make the event, but Naftali Bennett, Benjamin Netanyahu’s former Chief of Staff and CEO and co-founder of a successful hi-tech company, and Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, current party leader and Minister of Science and Technology, were there to answer questions from Ari and Jeremy.
The two candidates come from very different backgrounds, but both connected on main ideals.
Bennett focused on the vision. “The vision is a nation based not on only on Herzl, but on the Torah,” he said.
Hershkowitz agreed: “Without Torah, there are no Jewish people, and without avodah (labor), there are no Jewish people,” he said.
Despite the fact that they’re running against each other, Hershkowitz’s final message was that he thinks they would make a wonderful team in leading Bayit Yehudi.
The idea was that members of the audience, with the future leader, and with Ari and Jeremy, could make a difference.
“We’re here because we made Aliyah,” Jeremy said. “Now we have to keep making Aliyah.”
The night left me with a sudden urge to hold hands with some friends and sing songs by a campfire. Zionism is important, and maybe one day, ten or twenty years from now, the number of Jews in Israel will increase tremendously. Still, the presentation’s lack of a sense of reality made it seem more like a fantasy then a possibility.
I hope that the party succeeds, but in order to do so, they may need a more widespread approach injected with a little more realism.
Bennett said, “Let’s turn the state of the Jews into the Jewish state.” It’s been a wish of many for nearly a century. Maybe I’ll see the dream become reality in my lifetime.