Jump-Starting Zionism Among the Disenchanted of America
Yishai Fleisher is certainly a man with a mission. This summer, his jam-packed speaking tour of America, the Eye on Zion tour, reached 40 venues in 11 states. His goal: to re-ignite Zionism among America's discouraged and disenchanted. A whirlwind of action, Israel National News managed to pin Fleisher down for a few moments to get his story.
"I think a lot of people are dispirited and there are a lot of enemies of Israel who are working toward that," said Fleisher. "I aim to give people the sense that 'yes we can', that we are part of an amazing project, enabling them to actualize and move forward on their love of Israel."
For almost 7 years, Fleisher has hosted a highly popular radio show on Arutz Sheva's Israel National Radio, and serves as the station's director. His dynamic personality and captivating message of a growing, prospering Israel has earned him a following around the world, and especially in the United States. Fleisher said he was gratified by the "immense showing of support" on the part of listeners who came out to hear him speak.
Fleisher is also the founder of Kumah, an organization dedicated to the resurgence of the spirit of Zionism. Kumah's projects include grassroots pro-Aliyah activism, restoration and renovation of holy sites in Israel, and Knesset lobbying. Aliyah Day, a law drafted by Fleisher and backed by the National Union Party which would institute a national holiday celebrating the ingathering of the exiles, is up for an initial vote just after the Sukkot holiday. The Eye on Zion tour, Kumah's latest project, is as educational as it is inspiring, cutting through the myths about Israel and instilling pride in a burgeoning Jewish state. The tour is accompanied by an online presence, volunteers on the ground who will follow up with participants year-round.
This summer's Eye On Zion tour reached Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Nashville, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, New York, and New Jersey, and ran from mid-July to the end of August. Over the course of the tour, Fleisher's audiences were often a departure from the typical pro-Israel crowd, and included Israel-lovers of all denominations and flavors. "We were very successful with Reform, Conservative as well as Orthodox, Jews as well as non-Jews," Fleisher said. "Staunch Democrats, human rights advocates, and a wide array of liberal-minded folks found our discussion exhilarating and refreshing - not to mention something they could relate to. The message of a flourishing and fruitful Israel transcends stale party politics - it is a message of freedom and self-determination."
The many venues on this summer's tour necessitated an exhausting travel schedule for Fleisher and sometimes even braving the elements, "In my first evening in Chicago, Friday night, I spoke at Lakeview until late into the night. Then I walked three hours back to my hosts' house in Rogers Park from midnight to 3 AM in what must have been a monsoon. Even with a raincoat, I was soaked to the skin, from head to toe. Luckily the rain was warm! I woke up a few hours later and walked a few more miles to Skokie. It was real fun. There were Rabbis walking with me in the rain, converts, and lovers of Israel. This was towards the beginning of the tour, and it set the tone for having fun, going all the way to turn on Jews and lovers of Israel."
According to Fleisher, many people who would be supporters of Israel do not have an easy time putting their dream into action. "If you delete a startup file from the computer, it simply can't turn on," explains Fleisher. "People are stuck because they can't explain or answer challenges about Israel, and they can't turn on and actualize their love of Israel because of that. I want to help them answer the tough questions, help them see the justness of Israel's cause and the light of Israel so that even people who seem to be on the other side of the aisle really come around and get turned on."
Yishai Fleisher speaking at the Or Yisrael Congregation (Conservative) in Newton, MA
On the tour, Fleisher was often challenged by critical audience members. "In one case, a liberal-minded Jew asked me, "Why doesn't Israel care about the plight of the Palestinians? And why is it cruel to them?" I answered that, sadly, cruelty is part of the milieu of the Middle East, and we should work to remedy that - but that the overwhelming amount of cruelty is directed against Israel. I also asked the man to put himself in the shoes of Arabs living in Israel. An Arab living in Israel feels totally at home in this region. He looks south and sees Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and the Gulf. He looks north and sees Lebanon and Syria. To the east, Jordan and Iraq. A Jew living in Israel looks around and feels that his back is against the wall. He feels totally alone, surrounded by people who do not want him here, rejected by the European Union, abandoned by the US State Department. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that a Jew is concerned with his own survival and with the establishment of a Jewish state in the Middle East and not with the plight of the Arabs."
I also told him that we in the Middle East desparately need the liberal mindset to have an affect regionally," Fleisher said. "Our Arab cousins are under horrific despotic regimes that repress their rights daily. If liberal-minded Jews would turn their attention to freeing the Persians in Iran, the Arabs of Egypt and Syria, and would help spread a more liberal atmostpehere in our region, we would all benefit. But focusing on 'Palestine' is exactly what regional dictators would like us to do - turn away our attention from their repressive regimes only to fall for their deliberate and false propaganda about Israeli oppression. Let us not hand them that victory."
Fleisher also fielded questions from non-Jews. "At one of my talks, a young Christian woman came up to me and told me that she really enjoyed the speech. She then proceeded to tell me that she had just graduated from Christian Bible college and that every single one of her professors was anti-Israel and pro-Palestine. I asked her, "are your teachers also into Replacement Theology?" She said, "Absolutely." I told her that Palestine is the new replacement theology. They have created a narrative to supplant the historical truth of the Jewish people's connection to the land of Israel and to obscure international recognition of that fact. I added that in my opinion, all anti-Semitism stems from an attempt to replace the Jewish people,with the purpose of acquiring their land, or acquiring their status."
Above all other issues, Fleisher's core focus is unity. "There is nothing more powerful than our unity," Fleisher said. "Our opponents are highly organized, therefore, to exacerbate the divisions between us, so we must be highly organized to unite. Our enemies seek to replace Jewish identity and understanding of history with their own narrative, so we must be vigilant in providing high quality education, which empowers and inspires passion. We need a movement that will connect North American Jews to Israel and Israelis to their North American brothers and sisters - so that our nation will be one."
The Eye On Zion tour will return to the United States in February 2011, hitting university campuses, high schools, and large public gatherings. The Eye on Zion tour was developed in partnership with Chicago-based Jewish grassroots organizer Yocheved Seidman, who will serve as the project's director, and was orchestrated with the assistance of Manhigut Yehudit.