For 2,000 years, Jews faced Jerusalem during moments of prayer and contemplation, longing to return to Israel. After 2,000 years of exile, including pogroms, crusades, expulsions, and the Holocaust, so many Jews have finally returned home.
In the years surrounding the establishment of Israel, Jews from around the world made the difficult and often life-threatening journey to reclaim the land of our forefathers. Their trials and tribulations are inspiring and a tribute to both Jewish tenacity and human spirit.
Among the standouts are Holocaust survivors, brave individuals who suffered the horrors of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and other extermination camps and somehow endured, rising from the ashes and establishing a new national hope in the Land of Israel.
In many cases, these heroes hit a roadblock during their homeward journey, finding themselves once again locked behind barbed wire, this time in British internment camps. Some would not allow themselves to be denied entry to their homeland, showing fierce determination by swimming ashore to avoid the British blockade.
Aliyah from Arab countries was also a complicated endeavor. Families had only one chance to leave or they would find themselves in mortal danger. Many were told to flee in the dead of night, leaving everything they knew behind in order to claim their birthright in Israel.
Stories are told of Ethiopian Jews who walked for days through dangerous terrain to cross the border into Sudan and then sail or fly to Israel. Many perished on the first leg of this grueling journey, succumbing to hunger and disease.
In the years that followed, governmental agencies took notice and Operations Moses, Joshua and Solomon were launched, shuttling thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in overstuffed air transports.
The Russian Refuseniks continued the trend, rallying for the right to immigrate to Israel. They were systematically denied these rights, and many activists were imprisoned and incarcerated in solitary confinement as a result of their actions. The stories of Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich and Natan Sharansky are well known, but they are just two of the many who spent much of their lives fighting for the right return to the Jewish homeland.
The resurgence of Jewish life in Israel thanks to global aliyah is truly remarkable. Israel is a portrait of cultural diversity, with the self-sacrifice of those who struggled to return home now embedded in our “Jewish DNA.” It is clear that we cannot live without Israel, and that we will do whatever is necessary to live in and protect the land and make it flourish.
While we should commend ourselves for our resilience and our many successes in returning to and rebuilding the Land of Israel, we must realize that we face a huge internal threat. Assimilation continues to distance so many Jews from grasping the beauty of our traditions and the importance of securing and building our land.
People often make the mistake of defining assimilation as a “religious threat,” not realizing it also undermines the Jewish connection to Israel. Without question, the two go hand in hand, and the only real way to combat assimilation is through widespread Israel education.
We must teach our fellow Jews about our shared heritage and proud history, including the aforementioned struggles to live in our homeland. We must encourage them to take advantage of the numerous programs available to them to experience the pristine beauty and intense holiness of the land. Only by forging a connection with Israel will they develop an interest in reconnecting with their Jewish roots (of this, I am confident).
This can become a reality if it becomes a priority, and it will only become a priority if the correct people are chosen to guide the program development and spending of the world’s most influential Zionist organizations.
The promotion of aliyah, the development of outreach programming, and the growth of global Israel education are core values and goals of the Religious Zionist Slate (www.VoteTorah.org), a party in the World Zionist Congress. Because the World Zionist Congress sets the agenda for the World Zionist Organization and decides on the allocation of one billion dollars of funding for Zionist organizations around the world, it is essential that a strong Religious Zionist Slate delegation be seated in the 37th World Zionist Congress.
During the current elections for the World Zionist Congress, I have cast my vote for the Religious Zionist Slate because Israel is a precious gift that cannot be squandered, and only this group of delegates has the experience and combined vision and skills to tackle the challenge at hand appropriately.
It begins with celebrating the lives of both those who reached the land as well as those who died trying, and then continues with extending our hands to our brothers who don’t yet even know about the importance of Israel in their own lives, let alone our national identities.
There is a serious struggle ahead, but with the proper guidance we can succeed in helping every Jew connect with their heritage through our land.