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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Kumah’

‘Judaism Rejects Zionism’

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

On a beautiful Sunday morning in May, I was driving south on the West Side Highway in New York City, heading towards the Israel Day Parade. As my car made it’s way along the mighty Hudson river, I marvelled on how awesome this city is. I saw myriads of buff joggers, happy barbecues taking place on well-tended Riverside park lawns, and of course, the imposing, surreal, gigantic skyscrapers that adorn this world-capital metropolis.

I travel often to New York to promote a stronger connection between North American Jews and Israel, and to encourage Aliyah, and every time I go I am struck by the thought: How is the Aliyah idea going to compete? This place just has too much of a magnetic pull and Jews have everything here – financial success, the best of world culture, freedom to worship, and all in relative safety, in the shadow of this great city.

While I was pondering this, I saw an airplane flying low over the Hudson River, at first thinking it was a WWII relic. But then I realized it was one of those propeller planes that tow a sign for people to read at the beach. I could make out the first letter was a “J” and so I guessed it was Christian advertising promoting you-know-who. “New York is still a non-Jewish town, and Jews will never feel fully comfortable here” I thought. But as the plane got closer, the sign said something else, something very Jewishy indeed.

It read: “Judaism rejects Zionism and the State of Israel -NK, USA.”

Yup, Neturei Karta rented a plane and flew an anti-Zionist sign from the Rockaways all the way up past Manhattan – all in an effort to push back against the Israel Day Parade. Now I felt totally dejected, because I realized how doubly hard it will be to detach Jews from New York. Not only is the city tantalizing, but there is a conscious effort being made to disconnect Jews from Israel.

You may argue that Neturei Karta is an extremist group and is unrepresentative of American Jewry, and that is true. But they are not the only ones mounting a distance-yourself-from-Israel campaign. On both ends of the Jewish political spectrum there are movements which seek to disengage Jews from Israel.

For some in the Progressive movement it has been in vogue to see Israel as immoral, repressive, racist, as an apartheid state, and even equivalent to the Nazi regime. In a recent article featured on Tikkun Magazine’s website, reprinted from Haaretz, the writer asserts:

“The practice of denying the Palestinians their basic civil rights in the occupied territories under the army’s colonial regime – exemplified by the scandalous policy of administrative detentions and the disappearing of people in Israeli prisons for years because of their opposition to repression and humiliation – is frighteningly similar to the persecution practiced by the dark regimes of the 20th century against their opponents.”

These Progressives may believe they are helping Israel through their criticism, but the real effect is that Jews who come in contact with them are distanced from Israel. Israel is decidedly not their country because it does not meet their progressive Jewish moral standards, or in other words: their Judaism rejects Zionism. “Forget it man, Israel is a mess,” says the liberal-minded Jewish student on campus.

The ultra-Orthodox Chariedim may come from the polar opposite world view, but they too have a Jewish moral reason to get some distance from Israel: Israel is not religious enough, not Torah enough. According to this doctrine Israel was built as a secular State by those antagonistic to Judaism and today is still run by those antagonistic to Judaism. The coercive secularism of Zionism is at the root of the real Israel, and the advent of Yair Lapid only prove that nothing has changed.

Hamodia, the self-described, “Daily Newspaper of Torah Jewry,” had this as the opening line of a recent article: “Secular politicians in Israel — not all of them, but those who are leading the campaign for an ‘equal sharing of the defense burden’ — want to deal the chareidim a crushing defeat.”

How ironic. Both of these Jewish groups could see Israel in a totally different light if they only chose to.

Light Unto the Nations from the Comfort of Home

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

When Zionism came around, it had many opponents. Among them was a group of serious rabbis and intellectuals who felt that the ingathering of the exiles would undo the first mission of the Jewish people, that is, to be a light unto the nations. They argued that in order to seriously impact the world with Jewish morality, one had to be in close contact with it, and not isolated in the remote Middle Eastern region.

This thought pattern exists today even with the apparent success of the Jewish State. Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, whom Newsweek called one of the most influential rabbis in America, wrote in the Florida Jewish Journal: “While Israel remains the destiny of the Jewish people, we also must not abandon the Diaspora. Firstly, the Torah demands that we, as a nation, commit to pursuing justice; to be warriors against injustice, it behooves us to be stationed everywhere around the globe. This work as an ohr l’goyim, a light unto the nations, is our raison d’être.” (Hat tip Rabbi Shimshon Nadel)

While Rabbi Yanklowitz’s statement seems logical, it is in contradiction to the biblical vision of ingathering. We are all destined to come home. And while being a light unto the nations is a paramount value, it is not in conflict with God’s promise that the Jewish people would one day be reunited on their soil.

So how do you answer the concerns that the Jews will no longer come in contact with the gentiles, how could you be a light unto the nations, if you do not live amongst the nations?

God has a plan: notice the amazing historical confluence of the ingathering with the communications revolution: just as the Jewish people were set to start off on the adventure of building a state in the Middle East, so too did the technology to communicate and broadcast globally explode – from the wire, to the radio, to the TV, to the internet, to the iPhone – there are no boundaries to the exchange of information.

Indeed, the Jewish people’s ability to influence and to transmit knowledge has never been paralleled. The internet has allowed the Torah to flow forth from Zion, and the news cycle never seems to get enough of Israel. Jews need not live in Poland, Germany or the US to effect change in nations around the world. Just start a picture blog or a successful Facebook account from Jerusalem and you can touch the lives of millions and be right in their Kansas or Kyrgyzstan home. Now, the dual missions of the Jewish people, to ingather and to be a light unto the nations, need not be bifurcated – the story of the Jewish people today is more famous than ever.

Sadly though, one cannot be blind to the fact that most of the reports dealing with Israel, most of the YouTube videos, and most of the images coming from the Holy Land are far from positive. This puts a little dent in the theory that we can be a remote light unto the nations. If all the channels of broadcasting are actually used to disparage Israel, then what have we achieved?

And in this instance, we are our own worst enemies, with Israeli and Jewish media outlets being the harshest critics of Israel, often unearthing subterranean dross for all to see. It is amazing to see how negative Israeli radio, even army radio is. From listening to it, you’d think the whole country is made up of corrupt politicians and rapists.

It is interesting to note that the Exile itself is a product of negative marketing and broadcasting. When the spies Moses sent into Canaan returned to camp, they brought back a frightening report they repeated in all the tents. They created an atmosphere of dread and doom which melted the hearts of the Children of Israel, causing them to doubt their ability to enter the land. At this point, God’s wrath was kindled. He sentenced that generation to die in the wilderness, because they could not be cured of the slave mentality keeping their minds shackled to Egypt.

Israel Celebrates Tu B’Shevat

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

School children, families and communities across Israel celebrated the holiday of Tu B’Shevat on Wednesday, planting trees and eating fruits native to the Land of Israel in honor of the New Year of the Trees.

Tu B’Shevat is one of four “New Years” mentioned in the Mishnah.  Occurring on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat, it is the first day of the yearly agricultural cycle, and is important in terms of calculating biblical tithes and the appropriate time to begin cultivating fruits for eating.

According to Jewish law, a tree which is under the age of three may not be farmed for its fruits, but must be allowed to grow uninhibited, a law called Orlah.  Only after the tree reaches the age of three may its fruits be taken for eating.  Fourth-year fruits crops are brought to Jerusalem as a tithe, a law called Neta Revai.  Tu B’Shevat is the cut-off date for calculating the age of a fruit-bearing trees, and is important today for maintaining kosher standards  for the religious community, which continues to follow the laws of permitted fruits according to age.

In the 16th century, the great kabbalist and mystic Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Tzfat (the Arizal) instituted the tradition of making a Tu B’Shevat seder including fruits grown in the Land of Israel and featuring those which constitute the seven species noted in the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 8: “For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey.” The purpose of conducting the seder, which involves eating specific fruits, drinking four cups of wine, and saying blessings would raise people and even nature up to a higher spirituality.

Tu B’Shevat is also the time when members of the Chassidic and Sephardic communities pray for the etrog they will use during the holiday of Sukkot.

Planting a date palm in Hebron with the Kumah organization, 2006

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin planting a tree with the Jewish National Fund, 2012

Pack containing the Seven Species, all grown in Israel

‘We Need To Put The Spirit Back Into The People’: An Interview with Arutz Sheva’s Yishai Fleisher

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

A vigorous advocate of aliyah, Yishai Fleisher uses his position as Internet radio personality and director of programming at Arutz Sheva’s Israel National Radio to promote the merits of living in the land of Israel. On his popular show “Yishai and Friends,” Fleisher deals with Israeli politics, history and tradition and has interviewed personalities ranging from Dutch politician and filmmaker Geert Wilders to actor Jon Voight.

Fleisher, a graduate of Cardozo School of Law, is also director of Kumah, an organization dedicated to encouraging Jewish immigration to Israel. An address by Fleisher to the Knesset Absorption Committee helped lead to the establishment of International Aliyah Day in 2008, five years after he himself made aliyah and settled with his family in Beit El.

The Jewish Press: How did your background contribute to your Zionist beliefs?

Fleisher: I was born in Haifa to Russian refusenik parents who came to Israel in the early 1970s. While in Russia, my mother was constantly being interrogated by the KGB and my father was imprisoned for Jewish activities. They managed to get out and were great Zionists who raised me with lots of love for the land. That set the tone for the rest of my life.

When I was eight, we moved to America due to economic considerations and became close to Yiddishkeit. I ended up going to an Israeli Hesder yeshiva in Ma’ale Adumim when I was seventeen, served as a paratrooper with the IDF and was injured in Lebanon. I returned to America but, after finishing up law school, came to the conclusion that the center for the Jewish future is not going to be in New York. The center for the Jewish future is in Israel. It was time to come back home.

You started Kumah, a self-described “neo-Zionist lobby.” What is the aim of this organization and how do you explain its slogan?

Kumah is a revivalist movement with a classic message for the Jewish people. To me Zionism is the yearning of the Jewish people to come back to the land of Israel with the creation of the Jewish commonwealth and the era of the third Temple. It’s a renewal of lost values, and an answer to post-Zionism. If post-Zionism is the theory that Israel was created and the project is now finished, then neo-Zionism states that we are far from done with the project. The Jewish people are not yet back home, and we have yet to educate Jews to the concept of living a Torah life in the land of Israel.

Rather than the idea that the Zionist project has been completed, isn’t post-Zionism more a negative spin on the nature of Zionism?

No question about it. Post-Zionists are anti-Zionists. There are a few of them that are real leftists – a people who care about social rights, the environment and such. I should really be considered left wing because I care about the rights of the aboriginal people to come back to live in their homeland, i.e., the Jewish people to live in their homeland. This tiny minority of people fighting against the UN, the EU and the U.S. is really the epitome of what the left should represent – protecting the weak. That’s why I really don’t use the term right and left anymore. I think better terms are nationalists versus post-Zionists.

How do you view your position as Arutz Sheva radio host?

I do not sit around all day complaining about the Israeli government. My job as I see it is to fight cynicism. I see so much cynicism, so many people not seeing that we are living in amazing times. I am the head of the radio department, a job that I see as all about sharing ideas and a spirit, and we’ve been pushing aliyah with a lot of success. We got halfway done with bringing Jews home and creating the state of Israel. What’s so ironic is that at this time, with so much foundation for Israel to be that amazing thing called the “light unto the nations,” suddenly the motivation and the ideology have totally bottomed out. We need to put the spirit back into the people and get through this [negative] husk that has been put over our eyes.

Do you see Arutz Sheva’s nationalist ideology driving many of its news stories?

I think Arutz Sheva has an agenda and a perspective. But I respect Arutz Sheva for not masking that or hiding it under the guise of objectivity, like Haaretz for example, which is really the mouthpiece for post-Zionism. The media is not this god of objectivity – that’s a lie. To think that The New York Times is objective is a farce. It’s much more honest for us to say we have a nationalist perspective.

Would you agree that the Israeli government’s decision to shut down Arutz Sheva as a radio station in 2003 highlights a systemic and one-sided problem of freedom of the press in Israel?

No doubt about it. Arutz Sheva was shut down for a reason, in order to stop its perspective from getting out. Its perspective was painted as violent and inciteful, but nothing could be further from the truth. Arutz Sheva’s perspective is one of love of Jews and patriotism. It was shut down months before the Disengagement was announced, and that is not a coincidence. Ariel Sharon understood the power of Arutz Sheva, which was giving people what they want – a true, proud Hebrew and Jewish culture. It was cut off to stifle that opinion.

A free press is the cornerstone of an open and vibrant democratic society. Here in Israel, every time there’s any move toward free press, they clamp right down on it.

In the face of Israel’s uphill battle on so many fronts, what advice would you offer Jews living in Israel and those contemplating aliyah?

Even though there is so much wrong here, it is incumbant upon Jews not to give up on this country; we all need to say, “I’m going for the long haul.”

I was born in this time to fight this battle and help Israel get through this phase. Every indicator out there [pushes] us to give up on this country. That’s exactly what the terrorists want, and that’s exactly what we have to fight against.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/we-need-to-put-the-spirit-back-into-the-people-an-interview-with-arutz-shevas-yishai-fleisher/2010/02/10/

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