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May 22, 2015 / 4 Sivan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘land of israel’

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Three: A New Kind of Jew

Monday, January 21st, 2013

All of Tevye’s life, it seemed like he was always saying good-bye. Back in the old country, what now seemed like lifetimes ago, his Hodel had left him for Perchik. Then Hava had run off with her gentile, and Shprintza had drowned. Then the heart and soul of his being, his devoted wife, Golda, had departed for a more eternal world. His beautiful Baylke had left for America. Then the family had been chased out of Anatevka to set off like gypsies without country or home. When Tzeitl had died, a candle in his soul had been extinguished, but the need to take care of her children had made him stand strong. True, he had the joy of being united with Ruchel, but Tevye wasn’t convinced that his troubles were over. So, with one eye on his daily chores, and one eye raised toward the sky, Tevye waited for the next blow to fall. And so it was, when the time came to leave Zichron Yaacov for the new settlement site, Tevye had to say good-bye once again – this time to Hava who was staying on as a nurse in the hospital’s malaria clinic. She had made up her mind. None of his arguments had an effect.

“May the Lord protect you and keep you,” he said, laying his hands on her head and blessing her with the prayer which Jewish fathers had blessed their children for thousands of years. He hugged her and gave her a kiss, then once again climbed up into his wagon, just as he had been doing all of his life.

Fifteen pioneer families plus children were journeying off to establish the new Morasha community. Ruchel and Nachman. Hillel, Shmuelik, and Goliath. A near minyan of nine Hasidic families from Lubavitch. A family of Yemenite Jews. Tevye. And Reb Guttmacher, the undertaker, who repeated his motto to whomever he met, “I’ve dug enough holes for the dead. Now I want to dig holes for the living.”

“To life!” Tevye agreed as their caravan left the Zichron road to venture east across the flatlands which led to the mountainous spine of the country. “L’Chaim!”

“L’Chaim!” the Hasidim exclaimed. Instantly a bottle of vodka was afloat in the air, passing from hand to hand until all of the pioneers had made a toast on the success of their enterprise. Not wanting to be left out, Elisha, the dark-skinned Yemenite, took a swig of the harsh-tasting brew. Choking, he spit the vodka out on the ground.

Tevye laughed. “We’ll make a Jew out of you yet,” he said.

The others joined in with his good-natured laughter. Hillel gave the small, exotic-looking Jew a whack on the back.

“You’ll get used to it, don’t worry,” he said.

“You can keep it,” the Yemenite responded. “I have something better.”

He reached out a hand and one of his grown sons handed him a bottle.

“What is it?” Hillel asked.

“Arak.”

“What’s Arak?” the Russian Jew asked.

The Yemenite passed him the homemade brandy, distilled from the fruit of the etrog and herbs. Hillel raised it to his nose and inhaled a deep scent of licorice.

“If it tastes as good as it smells, I’ll buy a few bottles,” he said.

Throwing his head back, he took a big gulp. Suddenly, it was his turn to choke. Beneath the liquor’s sweetness was the kick of a mule. Hillel bent over coughing. Now it was Elisha’s turn to slap Hillel on the back. Soon both bottles were being passed through the air. Urged on by the Hasids, everyone, including the Yemenite, began singing a lively Baruch Haba welcome to Mashiach.

Baruch Haba, Baruch Haba,

      Melech HaMashiach.

      Baruch Haba, Baruch Haba,

      Melech HaMashiach.

      Ay yay yay, Melech HaMashiach,

      Ay yay yay, Baruch Haba,

      Ay yay yay, Melech HaMashiach,

      Ay yay yay, Baruch Haba.”

When the long-gowned, long-sidelocked, prayer-shawl enswathed Yemenite had first arrived in Zichron Yaacov, the Russian Jews had found it difficult to believe that this golden-skinned apparition could be a Jew. The first time Tevye saw him, he mistook him for an Arab. But an Arab with tzitzit and peyes? The sight was a puzzle. When Elisha joined them in prayer, this seemed even stranger. Everyone knew that only a Jew could be included in an official prayer minyan of ten. Still more bewildering, the Yemenite spoke Hebrew more fluently than all of them. True, the melodious wailing which ushered from his lips was a Hebrew which Tevye had never heard, but it was the language of his forefathers nonetheless.

I’m Not Such a Bad Guy After All!

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

I know most of you think I’m just another pretty face. Others think that I’m just another hack blogger. And still others believe I’m like a bothersome fly that won’t go away. But the truth is that by the grace of God, I’m one of the most important novelists that the Jewish People have today. I’m not speaking about the bestselling darlings of the goyim, like Philip Roth, and those other mockers of Judaism and peddlers of assimilation. Sure, they know how to put a sentence together, but from a Torah point of view, their stuff is traif. Cut off from Torah, they write about sin and despair. In contrast, my novels are filled with an unabashed love for Torah, for tshuva, for the Holy One Blessed Be He, and for Eretz Yisrael. Plus, they’re all very well-written, inspiring, and packed with humor as well.

Like my novel, “Tevye in the Promised Land,” which the Jewish Press has been serializing. A sequel to “Fiddler on the Roof,” the inspiring, fun-filled saga takes Tevye the Milkman from his plundered village of Anatekva to the Holy Land, where he becomes a pioneer settler. One of the reasons I wrote the novel was because I realized that both Jewish students and their parents didn’t really know anything about this fantastic period of our history, a period filled with heroism and adventure.

So I took the world renowned character of Tevye and placed him and his daughters smack in the center of the early pioneer rebuilding of Israel, surrounded by colorful characters like the Baron Rothchild, Rabbi Kook, and David Ben Gurion. The novel won the Israel Ministry of Education Award for Creativity and Jewish Culture. It’s wonderful reading for the entire family, especially for teenagers. And you can read it for free, right here, at the Jewish Press.

To give you a taste, here’s an excerpt from this week’s chapter, which brings Tevye to Yafo to meet with Rabbi Kook, to ask his advice about a gift of money that was sent by the Baron to help him raise his orphaned grandchildren. Afterward, Tevye pays a visit to the nearby yeshiva where Hevedke, the gentile poet who wants to marry Hava, is studying toward his conversion:

From Chapter 22:

Arriving in Jaffa, they traveled straight to the house of Rabbi Kook. Once again, the Rabbi’s kindly wife led them into his study. Once again, Tevye was amazed by the aura of holiness which seemed to surround his saintly figure and suffuse the whole room. Rabbi Kook’s eyes shone with both a mystical light, and a kind, compassionate smile. He listened as Nachman explained the dilemma. Tevye waited anxiously for his answer.

“While it is true that the money is legally yours,” the Rabbi decreed, “to be clear of any possible doubt, it is, as you suggest, a prudent idea to write the Baron himself and hear what he has to say.”

Tevye frowned, but he didn’t dare refute the Rabbi’s advice. There was nothing to do except pray that the Baron would stand by his benevolent gesture.

“As to your decision to leave Rishon LeZion, you should not harbor any doubts,” the Rabbi said to Nachman as if sensing the uncertainty in his heart. “Thank God, Rishon LeZion is an established community, and another teacher of Torah can surely be found. But what you and your family are doing, venturing forth to build a new settlement, this is an act of supreme importance. The person who most sacrifices himself for the rebuilding of our Land will receive the most bountiful blessing in Heaven.”

Nachman blushed and lowered his head. Then, Rabbi Kook turned a profoundly serious glance at Tevye. Instinctively, the milkman looked around to see if the Rabbi were gazing at someone more important behind him. But there was no one else in the study. The words of the Rabbi were addressed directly to him.

“Until all of our scattered brethren come to settle in our uniquely Holy Land, each of us has to demand all that he can of himself. We must always remember, that the Land of Israel is only acquired through trial and suffering. However, the Almighty does not test a man with more difficulties than he can bear. On the contrary, He gives us the strength and the courage to persevere. If we encounter problems, tragedies, and setbacks, it does not mean that the path we have chosen is wrong, but rather that the Almighty, in His great love, is providing us with a test to strengthen our faith. When we cling to Him with love and with joy, even in difficult times, like our Forefathers did in the past, we rise up in His service to the holiest levels which a person can reach. And this closeness to God is a greater gift and blessing than all of the comfort and wealth in the world.”

Tevye nodded. His palms moistened with sweat. Was he made out of glass that the Rabbi could see all of his inner doubts and fears? He remembered Golda’s words, “Be strong, my husband, be strong.” All he could think about was getting out of the room before the scholar’s searing gaze transformed him into a pile of ashes. Then, a kind smile flashed over the Rabbi’s face, putting the milkman at ease.

“Your family is depending on you to be strong, Reb Tevye, and to show them that our allegiance to God and our holy traditions will forever be a beacon to light up whatever temporary darknesses that life sets in our path.”

Tevye turned the conversation to Hevedke. Rabbi Kook reported that he was learning day and night in a small yeshiva nearby, and his progress was truly astounding. Hearing this, Tevye was not overjoyed. In his heart of hearts, he harbored the hope that rigorous discipline of Talmudic studies would prove too much for the Russian poet’s mettle. Rabbi Kook said that the secret to life lay in a man’s will, and that Hevedke was driven by a passionate desire to overcome the barriers which lay in the path of every soul who sets forth to climb up the ladder of holiness.

“A passionate desire for my daughter,” Tevye thought, still unconvinced of Hevedke’s sincerity in becoming a Jew.

While Nachman lingered to converse with the Rabbi, one of the Rabbi’s disciples escorted Tevye from the house to the yeshiva where Hevedke was learning. Standing in the doorway of the Beit Midrash study hall, it wasn’t hard to pick out the blond Russian from the other dark-haired students. Sitting with his back facing Tevye, Hevedke’s head and broad shoulders towered over the lot. Bobbing back and forth like a Jew daveningin prayer, he listened in fervent concentration as the scholar across from him explained a polemic of Talmudic law. Hevedke’s study partner made a movement with his hand and his thumb, as if he were scooping up some insight from the pages of the large volume ofGemara which lay on the table between them. He glanced up at Tevye just long enough to cause Hevedke to turn and look up at the visitor. Seeing Hava’s father, the young Russian leaped up with a bright happy grin.

“Tevye!” he boomed.

All of the students looked up. The clamor of their learning turned to a hush. Hevedke rushed over to Tevye, grasped him in a bear hug, and lifted him off of his feet. “Tevye,” he said. “Reb Tevye!”

When Hevedke returned him back to the floor, Tevye stared into a strange, unfamiliar face. Hevedke’s smooth, angular jaw was now bearded. A yarmulka covered his head. But the very great difference lay in his eyes. Tevye couldn’t explain it, but they were not the same eyes he remembered. A beautiful light shone within them, as if a candle had been lit from inside. The face of Hevedke, the Russian, had vanished. Confronting Tevye was the face of a Jew. It’s a great book! Here’s the link to Chapter One for readers who want to start at the beginning. For free!

What Judea & Samaria Mean to the Jewish People

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

For Jews, the ancient tribal territories of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and west Menasheh – a.k.a. Judea and Samaria or the West Bank – form the very heartland of the homeland. Sadly, ceding these central areas to the Arabs remains a political possibility and far too many Jews who are disconnected from their history and heritage are wholly unaware of what these crucial regions of the Land of Israel mean to Jewry collectively.

Here, then, is a précis outlining the provinces’ most important geographical sites, figures, and historical contexts, in the hope of underscoring their great significance to all the People of Israel:

1. Samaria (Shomron) – Capital of the Omride kings of Israel (Omri, Ahab, Joram, etc.), and the ancient center of a thriving wine and oil industry. Mentioned in I & II Kings and II Chronicles, as well as by the prophets Amos, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Obadiah. Samaria also appears in Josephus and its orchards are praised in the Mishnah. The ruined city was later possessed by Hasmonean king Alexander Yannai, rebuilt and renamed Sebaste (Sabastiyah) by Herod the Great and controlled by Jewish king Agrippa I until the Roman occupation and colonization. The prophet Elisha is said to be buried here, as is the Jew known as John the Baptist.

2. Shechem – Situated in the narrow valley between Mounts Ebal and Gerizim, Shechem is where Abraham built an altar under the oak of Moreh; where Jacob encamped, bought a field, and buried idols and earrings; where Dinah was raped and brutally avenged; and where Joseph the Righteous is buried. Here Joshua drew up the Mosaic statutes, erected a stone monument under the oak tree, and convened the elders and judges of Israel before his death, adjuring them to pledge allegiance to God. Gideon’s sons fought over the city after that great judge’s death. King David twice versified the city in the Psalms. King Rehoboam was crowned here and King Jeroboam was elected here and made it his initial capital. Shechem is also a Levitical city and one of the biblical cities of refuge. Vespasian built Neapolis (Nablus) on the ruins of the destroyed city, which is also mentioned by the prophets Hosea and Jeremiah, Josephus, and in the Midrash Rabbah. For the sectarian Samaritans, Shechem equals what Jerusalem is to mainstream Jews.

3. Mount Ebal (Eval) – Here Joshua built an altar of unhewn stones and made a peace sacrifice to God following the fall of Ai, also inscribing and reading the Torah before the Israelites and in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant. The taller counterpart of Gerizim, toward which the Levites pronounced the Mosaic curses.

4. Mount Gerizim – Where the other half of Israel stood listening to Joshua, and toward which the Levites pronounced blessings. The smaller counterpart of Ebal is known foremost as the holy mountain for Samaritans, who celebrate Passover atop its peak. It is also where Johanan Hyrcanus destroyed the pagan shrine built by the Seleucids, and where the Samaritan leader Baba Rabbah built a synagogue.

5. Shiloh – From this town Joshua made plans with the assembled people to finish apportioning the land to the tribes. Shiloh was for centuries home to the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and the Ark of the Covenant after the settlement in Canaan, and where the High Priest Eli and his sons officiated. The first religious center of the Israelites, to which Elkanah made an annual pilgrimage and where his barren wife Hannah vowed to consecrate a son to God if she could conceive. After giving birth to the prophet Samuel, Hannah recited her song of praise here. Mentioned repeatedly in Jeremiah, Shiloh was also home to the prophet Ahijah.

6. Ma’aleh Levonah – Site of the first major Maccabean battle and victory, in which Judah Maccabee defeated the Syrian Greeks and killed the Samarian mysarch Apollonius, taking his sword for himself.

7. Gilgal – First campsite and base of Joshua and the Israelites upon entering Canaan, where Joshua erected the twelve stones gathered from the Jordan River, and where the people celebrated Passover and circumcised those born in the desert. The prophet Samuel also judged Israel here, and King Saul was crowned at this sacred site. The prophets Elijah and Elisha passed through the city prior to Elijah’s whirlwind ascent. Gilgal was a Levitical city in the time of Nehemiah. Mentioned by the prophets Amos and Hosea, and in the Talmud.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Two: A Visit to the Yeshiva

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

 Not only was Tevye’s family going to be together, they were going to be rich! The Baron’s gift of 5000 francs would make them the new aristocrats of Palestine. But Tevye’s daydreaming didn’t last long. When he heard that Nachman was planning on returning the money, Tevye nearly fell out of the wagon.      “I won’t allow it!” he said, dizzy from the shock.

“The Baron gave the money to us on the premise that we would raise up the children in Rishon,” Nachman explained. “In the Talmud, it is called a Mekach Ta’ut, meaning that the money was given on the basis of false information.”

“Don’t quote the Talmud to me,” Tevye stormed. “The money was given for the children, and as their guardian, I am in charge of their interests.”

Ruchel looked at her husband. “The Baron didn’t stipulate in his letter that we couldn’t move to another yishuv,” she said.

“It was obvious that the adoption was to take place in Rishon, and not somewhere else,” the young rabbi insisted.

“Why don’t we write him and ask him before we give up the money?” Ruchel suggested.

“Why tell him at all?” Tevye said. “I am not a scholar in Talmud, but the money is in your pocket. If the Baron has a claim, then he is the one who has to prove it.”

“I want to be fair to the Baron,” Nachman answered.

“With all of his billions, a man like the Baron doesn’t even remember that he wrote out a check. To him, 5000 francs is a tip. But think what the money will mean to the children.”

Nachman fell silent. It was true that the money was a blessing to the orphans, but honesty was a foundation of Torah. Especially in matters of money, where greed and temptation could make a crooked line seem straight, a man had to be cautious.

” God performs a miracle, and you want to tell Him no thank you,” Tevye said. “Don’t be such a big righteous tzaddik.”

“All right,” Nachman said. “We will hold onto the money for now. But in Jaffa, we will go and ask Rabbi Kook. Whatever he advises, we’ll do.”

Tevye grumbled. He didn’t like putting the decision in someone else’s hands, but what could he do? The money had been sent to Nachman and Ruchel, not to him. The main thing was getting the money out of the Company safe. With the money in hand, at least for the time being, his family would be rich. And maybe Rabbi Kook would have compassion on the plight of the children.

The whole argument turned out to be pointless. When the colony Director, Dupont, heard that Nachman and Ruchel were leaving Rishon, he refused to open the safe and give them the funds. Either they stayed in Rishon with the children, and the money would be theirs, or the money would be sent back to France.

Tevye felt like picking up the little Dupont and strangling him until he opened the safe. But he remembered that his assistants had guns.

“If that’s the case, I suggest the children stay here until we hear from the Baron himself,” Tevye said. “We can telegram him for an immediate answer.”

But Nachman’s mind was already made up. The happiness of the children was the most important thing, and they wanted to be with their grandfather. Money was secondary. With or without the Baron’s assistance, God would provide for their needs. So, trusting in the Holy One Blessed Be He, Nachman made the decision to set off without the money in hand.

All the way to Jaffa, Tevye brooded over the loss of the gift. It was a glaring injustice, he said. Dupont should be hanged! Who was he to decide for the Baron? Tevye was even prepared to journey to Paris to appeal to the Benefactor himself.

Nachman reminded Tevye that it was decreed on Rosh HaShana everything that would befall a man in the coming year. If the money was truly destined On High for the children, it would get to them, no matter how much Dupont protested. Tevye knew that, but still, a man was commanded to do whatever he could down on earth before relying on assistance from Heaven.

Would American Jews Have Told Moses to Get Lost?

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Imagine if Moses were to come to America today with the mission of bringing the Jews to Israel. Chances are that his call would be met by deaf ears. Maybe he’d be stoned. Let’s face it – outside of a few weirdos, who would listen? He’d be interfering with their plans, their college degrees, their careers, their businesses, their golf games, and tennis lessons. Some would question his authority. Others would want to see proof that God had really sent him. Reform Jews, like Pharaoh, would say, “Who’s Hashem that I should listen to him?” Others would laugh at Moses’s biblical garments and staff. Probably most of them would tell him to get lost.

Not that it would ruffle Moses. After all, he had witnessed the very same scenario before, when he came to take the Jews out of Egypt. Back then, only a fifth of the Jews agreed to follow him to the Land of Israel. Four-fifths of the Diaspora-loving Jews died in the plague of darkness, as this week’s Torah portion reveals.

The Torah describes the plague as darkness that could be felt, darkness “mamash” (Shmot, 10:21). The darkness was so thick, you could literally reach out your hand and feel it. Rashi says that Hashem brought the plague of darkness upon Egypt “because there were Jews in that generation who were wicked and they did not want to come out of Egypt, and they died in the three days of darkness, in order that the Egyptians should not see their fall and say, ‘They too are smitten as we are’” (Shmot, 10:22). To avoid the great embarrassment that His people, the Children of Israel, did not want to go home to the Land of Israel, G-d brought a thick, tangible darkness over Egypt so that the goyim wouldn’t see this terrible disgrace.

Unfortunately this same dense darkness has enveloped Diaspora Jews today. It is a darkness so thick, you can actual feel it. Jews who have made aliyah, and who go back to America, or France, or England, to visit relatives, know what I mean. After speaking with fellow Jews there for a few minutes, you get the creepy feeling that they are totally out of touch with what’s really important. They think they know what’s going on, but they don’t know what’s going on at all. You can talk about aliyah until you are blue in the face, but they don’t understand a thing. Things that aren’t important at all, like the latest hit movie, their new car, their jobs, and the standing of the Knicks, are what really turns them on, not what’s going on in Israel. Whenever I have to go there, I get the feeling that I am in a gigantic Alzheimer’s ward, where the patients have forgotten who they are.

I’m not talking about the many devoted addicts of The Jewish Press, who click on every day to see what’s happening “b’Aretz.” I am talking about your average Haredi, Modern Orthodox, or assimilated Jew. For them, Washington D.C. is their nation’s capital. America is their homeland. Judaism is their religion, not their nationality. They are Americans first. Hearing the “Star Spangled Banner” at baseball games gives them goose bumps. Their children pledge allegiance to the American flag. Their forefathers are Betsy Ross and George Washington. If Moses himself came and tried to persuade them that the Land of Israel was their real home, they’d look at him like he was nuts.

That’s the meaning of darkness so dense you can feel it.

I am not blaming them. The darkness of materialism is so great, who can fight against it? And there is nobody there to teach them about true Judaism and the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Torah. So instead of working to bring an end to the exile, they endeavor to lengthen it by strengthening their local Jewish communities. That was all well and good before God established the State of Israel, but now that we once again can live in our own Holy Land, strengthening Jewish life amongst the gentiles in American, France, Mexico, Argentina, and South Africa, is darkness “mamash,” just like back in the days of Egypt when 80% of the Jews didn’t want to leave and follow Moses to Eretz Yisrael.

I Love Jewish Women!

Monday, January 7th, 2013

That’s right. I love Jewish women. Especially my wife. The last time she came back from a family wedding in chutz l’aretz, I met her at the airport with a bouquet of flowers and a balloon, “I Love You.”

Some readers in the Diaspora think I’m a monster, but I’m really a sweetheart. Ask my wife. I agree with her in everything. That way we never have fights. If she says I’m grouchy, I don’t argue. I know it’s really G-d telling me that I’m grouchy, speaking through my wife. So I try to be less grouchy and smile more around the house. And if she tells me I’m cheap, then I go out and buy her a dress. I’m happy with her every criticism, because I know it’s all coming from G-d to make me a better person.

I didn’t go with my wife to the wedding in New York, because I can’t breathe there. I feel like there’s no air. It’s not because of the pollution – I feel the same way in Colorado. It’s because there’s no holiness in the air in America. If I have to leave the Land of Israel, I’m like E.T. the Extra Terrestial, who couldn’t breathe in the Earth’s atmosphere. I feel like I’m suffocating. The only way I can survive there is by taking a tank of oxygen with me wherever I go, filled with air from the Land of Israel. So I just don’t bother to go.

Actually, Rabbi Kook teaches that it’s really a blessing if you can’t tolerate the air in the Diaspora, and if everything there seems foreign to you. It’s a sign that a person has made a living connection to the holiness of the Land of Israel, and that his soul can’t tolerate to be anywhere else. That’s the way all Jews should feel. But Diasporians who were born there and grew up without any holiness in the air, they don’t notice that it’s missing. They’re used to living in a place without holiness. Compared with Eretz Yisrael, the Diaspora is a different planet.

Remember the video of the guy who jumped out from some space capsule last year and plummeted miles and miles toward Earth before opening his parachute? For me the thought of leaving the Land of Israel is just as terrifying. I feel so lucky to be here in the Land of Israel, I never want to leave.

But getting back to Jewish women – you have to love them. After all, they saved us in Egypt. That what our Sages tell us – we were saved from extinction in Egypt because of the righteousness of our women. It was the fearless bravery on the part of Miriam and Yocheved in not following the orders of Pharaoh to kill the male babies that saved the Jewish Nation. Also, when the men were crushed under the burdens of slavery, and fell to the lowest levels, their wives strengthened them and kept bearing children, so that the more the Egyptians tortured us, the stronger we grew.

And when we left Egypt, it was only the men who listened to the Spies in the wilderness and refused to travel on to Eretz Yisrael. All of the women made aliyah, which shows that Jewish women are smarter than Jewish men, which is another reason why we should listen to them.

We owe our women so much, no matter whatever they might do to upset us, we can never pay them back for all the good they’ve done for us. I love my wife so much. You know what? I’m going out right now to buy her a new dress. She deserves it.

Your wife deserves it too.

Investor’s Guide to the Political Market

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

The 2013 elections were supposed to have been boring. “The final result is already clear and there is nothing new under the sun,” the pundits promised. However, with just about three weeks until the polls open, we are in the throes of one of the most fascinating election campaigns that Israel has known: It is a campaign that faithfully reflects the deep currents of change in Israeli society. Nobody can yet predict its final outcome.

Let us try to analyze what is taking place, from Left to Right. First, though, we must understand the factors that influence the power of any political party:

The political world is very similar to the financial world. The “stock exchange” of the political world is elections. The value of the stocks – the political parties – is actually determined by a number of parameters. There is the stock’s current value: how many people voted for the party in the previous elections. There is also its real market value and the value at which it is traded at the given moment.
For example, as these words are being written, the current value of Kadimah is 27 mandates. But the real market value of the party (which has established mechanisms and registered members) is much lower. At the current moment, Kadimah is being traded even below its low value and will apparently disappear off the charts.

When we try to understand what is happening now in Israel’s political arena, we must first assess the true value of the different parties. In this way, we will be able to differentiate between deep processes and processes that have no long-term significance.
The true value of a party is determined by the following 6 factors:

1. Message. When all is said and done, political parties are supposed to herald some sort of message. That is why they are established.
2. A consistent nucleus of voters that identifies with the party. (In the financial world, this is called trademark)
3. Identification of voters at large (the market) with the party’s message.
4. Identification of voters at large with the party’s actions or accomplishments.
5. The party structure. In other words, an independent party that has established respectable party institutions, an internal voting mechanism and member participation in decision making and choice of representatives.
6. The party leaders.

When Kadimah was established and leapt to a decisive victory, I claimed that it would disappear off the political map within a few election campaigns. The reason for this evaluation was the understanding that Kadimah’s “stock” was overvalued. The party did enjoy an extraordinarily strong Factor #6 – its powerful and charismatic leader, Ariel Sharon. However, it lacked all the other components and it was clear that it was living on borrowed time.

At the same time, when many were already eulogizing the Likud, I already publicly went on record with the assessment that the Likud would return to the helm of government. The reason for this evaluation was that the Likud, on one level or another, enjoys all the other components above. So if it won only 12 mandates due to a political “accident”, its market value did not reflect the true value of the stock, but rather, its current value at that given time.

With these 6 components in mind, we can now analyze the current political picture:

On the Left end of the political spectrum in Israel are Meretz and the Arab parties: Hadash, Ra’am, Ta’al and Bal’ad. No real change can be expected for any of these parties. They have all six components and we can expect them to more or less maintain their strength.

On the Right end of the political spectrum, things are a bit more complex. Otzmah L’Yisrael (Eldad and Ben Ari), the rightist parallel of Meretz, certainly has a clear message, public identification with its message that should get it past the 2% threshold and well-known leaders. But it is a new party with no clear party structure.

The same is true for Am Shalem, Rabbi Amsalem’s party. It has a message and leadership, but it is not clear if it has the critical mass of the other components to create a real party and get it over the threshold.

The Ashkenazi Haredi parties, just like the Arab parties, enjoy all six components and will likely maintain their current strength.

The picture is less clear for Shas. For many years, Shas was overvalued, due to the major dominance of its leader, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. The Rabbi’s dominance is naturally diminishing, but the party does enjoy all the other components. It will not disappear, but in the future, Shas will contract to its real market value. I assess that at approximately 8 mandates.

It is important to remember that while the Arabs will not enter a rightist coalition, the Haredim are certainly willing to enter a leftist coalition and have done so in the past.

Let us now analyze what is taking place in the relevant Left. ( As opposed to Meretz, the ideological Left that is not confused by the facts.)

The shattering of the Oslo vision has left the Israeli Left with no relevant message. When there is no message, things get out of control and the first to be affected are political parties. Their politics become personal and not ideological, tension within and between the parties grows and break-offs and new, strange bedfellows flourish. In the past we have seen the same phenomenon in the Right, also as a result of lack of relevant vision. There have always been hatred and jealousy in the Left and in the Right. But when the passengers believe that the driver knows where he is going, they fight for a good spot behind him – and not for the driver’s seat.

The Labor Party

The Labor party has always enjoyed all six of the components above. In addition, it is a party with history and a leadership mentality that knows how to address the entire public. For this reason, Labor will always be a leadership option. I estimate that Labor’s current market value is between 25 and 30 mandates. The party that under Ehud Barak’s leadership deteriorated to an all-time low, lept back to its real value as soon as it rid itself of its problematic leader and put a young and charismatic new leader at the helm. Sheli Yechimovitz understood that she must propose a new vision to replace the shattered Oslo, and had the wisdom to focus on social and economic issues. However, the founding ethos in Israel was and remains the security ethos. In Israel, “It’s the security, stupid.” As long as Labor will not be able to establish a political/security alternative, it will not surpass the Likud. In addition to this basic fact, competition from Lapid and Livni on the one hand and problematic primaries that put anarchistic candidates at the top of the list, on the other – have eroded Labor’s value. Today, the party’s market value is lower than its real value (17 mandates, as per the latest polls).

Lapid’s Party (I Can’t Remember its Name)

Clearly, Lapid’s current market value (11 mandates) has nothing to do with its real value. The party lacks all of the components except #6 – a young and widely recognized leader (thanks to his media career). The reason that I don’t remember the name of the party is that it really isn’t a party: It is a person. Lapid’s party is a shopping cart picking up dissatisfaction and hopelessness without proposing any real alternative. Just like Kadimah and Lapid Senior, this party will disappear off the map in a short time.

Livni’s Party (I Can’t Remember its Name)

Clearly, Livni’s current market value (11 mandates) has nothing to do with its real value. The party lacks all of the components except #6 – a widely recognized leader. The reason that I don’t remember the name of the party is that it really isn’t a party: It is a person. Livni’s party is a shopping cart picking up dissatisfaction and hopelessness without proposing any real alternative. Just like Kadimah, this party will disappear off the map in a short time.

Likud

Except for a clear message, the Likud enjoys all the other components that make up a real party. Like Labor, the Likud is also a ruling party. But unlike Labor, the Likud boasts a large membership that plainly reflects Israeli society as a whole – as do its voters. The method for internal elections in the Likud is far from perfect. The political mechanism is problematic. Nonetheless, the party manages to faithfully express the main will of its voters and to ensure (with safe slots on the party list) a high-quality roster that authentically represents the multi-faceted Israeli society.

The Likud evades its own message, preferring to be “not Left.” This is an effective method when there is no alternative to the Right. But it becomes problematic as soon as such an alternative appears. In my estimate, the true value of the Likud is approximately 40 mandates – even more. But for a long time, it has been traded well below its market value. This is due to the Russian vote that has migrated to Lieberman’s party, the Sephardi vote that migrated to Shas and Likud’s inability to establish a political/security alternative to the Left’s platform. In the current elections, the Religious Zionists are also retreating into sectoral politics, thanks to Naftali Bennett. The Likud’s ridiculous fight against Bennett has accelerated the under-market-value phenomenon.

The Likud’s attack on Bennett’s declaration in favor of a sort of insubordination established it in the eyes of the Religious Zionists as a party that could once again initiate large scale expulsions. When Bennett reneged, the Religious Zionists understood that once again, their party would be a tool in the hands of possible future evictions. But the Likud’s attack saved Bennett from the results of his zigzag and featured him in the right place nonetheless: His proponents heard him say that he would fulfill expulsion orders, but they don’t believe him.

Liberman (Yisrael Beiteinu)

When people thought that Lieberman would be prime minister someday, we explained that Yisrael Beiteinu would disappear from the political map. The reason is that, like Kadimah, Liberman’s party is also about a person and not about a party. Lieberman is a talented and very charismatic leader who created a party with a steady and loyal voter base. The real market value of Yisrael Beiteinu (as long as Lieberman is able to head it) is 8 mandates. In the previous elections, the Likud lost approximately 10 mandates as a result of Netanyahu’s battle against yours truly. Most of those mandates migrated to Lieberman and raised the party’s market value way above where it should really be. As the State’s Attorney has managed to sideline Lieberman, his party will shrivel up and its voters will disperse (temporarily) to a number of parties – primarily to the Jewish Home party.

The Jewish Home (The New NRP) – Naftali Bennett

This is undoubtedly the most fascinating story of the election campaign. For about twenty years, the NRP stock has been traded way below its true value, which I estimate to be about 8 to 10 mandates.

The reasons for the political downfall of Religious Zionism are a combination of irrelevant ideology and aging leadership that did not have the wisdom to involve the public in choosing the party’s ideological path and its leadership. Of the six party-building components, the first (message), fifth (mechanism) and sixth (leadership) were extremely problematic.

The general public that in the 70s expected the “new generation of crocheted kippot” to take responsibility and lead – despaired of the Religious Zionists and turned to other alternatives. Over the years, those who had represented Israeli hope turned into a type of “nudnik.” The NRP, which had won 12 mandates in 1977, was hounded by infighting, split time and again and practically disappeared.
Religious Zionism is a unique sector that feels all-inclusive responsibility for the Nation of Israel. It contributes to society, volunteers and serves more than any other sector in the country. But it is this very sector that has found itself harassed, expelled from its status and sometimes even from its own homes.

The Haredi parties do not participate in the Zionist endeavor and the Religious Zionists tended to scorn them. But they have many more mandates than the NRP. The Religious Zionists, more numerous and higher quality, looked on for an entire generation as Israeli society turned its back on them, stopped taking their needs and opinions into account, ignored their great contribution to the state and cozied up to the sectoral politics of its Haredi competitors.

The NRP’s message is not sectoral; it appeals to the general public. But its political tool is sectoral. The Religious Zionist nationalist/rightist ideology prevents it from skipping between Right and Left, as the Haredi parties do. This built-in political glitch leaves them empty-handed on both ends. They don’t really enjoy the privilege of turning to the general public, for this privilege is reserved for those parties that truly are not sectoral. On the other hand, they don’t enjoy the bargaining advantage of sectoral politics. After all, the Jewish Home party will never endorse Sheli Yechimovitz as its candidate for prime minister.

If the Likud continues to lose height in the polls until its continued rule is in danger, the Jewish Home voters will rush to vote Likud because the Jewish Home really does not supply the merchandise. It does not offer a ruling alternative or sectoral advantage. All it really supplies is a psychological sense of ease.

So what caused the Religious Zionist stock to almost double its value? After all, it did not solve its basic problem, the dissonance between its all-inclusive ideology and its sectoral political tool. In these elections, the Jewish Home party provides the opportunity to restore the lost honor of an entire generation. Once again, “we” matter. A long list of very worthy representative of the Religious Zionist community will enter the Knesset, making the Jewish Home party the third largest in the parliament. Once again, the Religious Zionists feel, they are taking their rightful place in Israeli society.

The successful registration drive and primaries restored a well-run party mechanism (fifth component) to the Jewish Home. It reconnected the party to its natural membership base and its ideological supporters (components 2, 3 and 4) and installed a new and charismatic leader at its head (component 6). Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett does not project himself as sectoral. This has opened the party to people who, until now, did not have the tools to connect to it.

The Jewish Home is now being traded for 13 mandates and counting. It can certainly get more in the elections. But in the future, it will shrink back to its real value. This is because its charismatic leader does not really herald a new message and does not really solve the dissonance described above.

It is no accident that the contentious subject of conscientious objection was laid at Bennett’s doorstep from the very start. This issue digs deep into one of the most basic dilemmas in the National Religious ideology: the relationship between faith and state. The conscientious objection issue is the civil language that frames the faith-based question that asks who is King. G-d? Or the State? Bennett’s zigzag and the fact that his entire roster stood behind him when he gave his second answer placed the amazing achievement of the reunification of the Religious Zionism on a very shaky ideological foundation. It also negated its ability to herald the message that it pretends to carry. Voters for the Jewish Home can be absolutely sure that their party will not expel Jews from their homes – on Shabbat!

Before the elections, the Jewish Home candidates have managed to remain silent and to close ranks in the face of theoretical challenges. They all stand firmly behind their ascending leader who avoids ideological statements. But when faced with reality’s challenges, the arguments and divisions will begin, highlighting the fact that the party is sectoral and driving away voters who are not from the sector. The Jewish Home party will return to its natural size.

What is Going to Happen in the Next Elections?

With great “talent” and partly due to its assault on Bennett and its decisive stand against conscientious objection, the Likud has distanced the Religious Zionist public which had been joining the party over the last number of years.

The votes that should have been coming in from Yisrael Beiteinu will disperse in every direction when their leader is forced to step down. The person most likely to benefit from this is – once again – Naftali Bennett. But he is not the only one. Some of those mandates will remain in the Likud, nevertheless. Some will migrate to Lapid, the Russian party or even to Otzma L’Yisrael.

It is reasonable to assume that despite all the setbacks, the Likud will form the next government. This is not a sure thing, though. It is enough for some other factor (like criminal charges against a senior minister) to enter the picture in the remaining weeks to redirect more mandates away from the Likud. If the Likud goes under the 30 mark and Yechimovitz rises above 20, Deri (who certainly prefers Yechimovitz) will abstain from endorsing Netanyahu for PM. In that scenario, Deri’s move would enable the president to appoint Yechimovitz to form a government, and she could certainly succeed. (A “social” platform with Shas).

One way or another, the Jewish Home will win 15 mandates – possibly more. If Netanyahu will add Bennett to his government, Bennett will be forced to go a very long distance with him in the face of negotiations and political surrenders. For after all, Netanyahu could always exchange him for Sheli, Livni, Lapid – or all of them together. The Jewish Home will never have any option at all except for the Likud. It is also very likely that Bennett will never make it into the coalition at all.

There is no choice for those loyal to the Land of Israel but to remember that the game is not between Likud or Labor or Likud or NRP. The real name of the game is leadership of the national ruling party; leadership of the State of Israel.

The generation of Yamit did not understand this crucial point and did not draw the obvious conclusion that a faith-based alternative must be established. Instead, it rolled the ball to the next generation: the generation of the expulsion from Gush Katif. It seems that the Disengagement generation also did not understand and despite the great progress that Manhigut Yehudit has made in the Likud, Religious Zionists are now returning to sectoral politics. If this trend continues, our children will also find themselves negotiating between a leftist government that wants to expel them and a rightist government that expels without asking.

The solution is not to jump off the train. The solution is to progress slowly but surely to the steering wheel. Those who understand this do not leave the Likud and consider the true market value of the various parties and not the current political fads. We should not make light of the parties being traded under their value, but we must also not become overenthusiastic when a party leaps way above its true value.

From this perspective, the Likud was and remains the party with which to build faith-based leadership for the State of Israel. It is the only party that gives political hope for a true solution. We must remain loyal to the political earth under our feet – even when it is trembling. Those who choose to vote now for the Jewish Home party are basically removing themselves from the relevant arena.

The Likud is not a rose garden. It has expelled Jews in the past and is still capable of doing so. But we cannot ignore the fact that within the parameters of its tactical abilities (when there is no political plan on the table) the Likud does more for settlement than any other party.

In a 12 year struggle, we have led the Religious Zionists deep into the ruling party. The Likud, in turn, gladly opened its gates wide. There are more settlers at the top of the Likud list today than on any other list. We must not stop this important process – the only process that is the right solution for the real problem: The process that will create authentic Jewish leadership for Israel.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/moshe-feiglin/investors-guide-to-the-political-market/2013/01/06/

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