Friday night at the “Mizrachi La Casa” (“The Home”) community in Buenos Aires. Mizrachi La Casa is young, Religious Zionist community that was established six years ago by a group of young businesspeople and idealists. Shabbat starts at 5:30 pm but the Friday night tefillot start at 8:00 pm every week – summer and winter – because many have to finish work before coming to shul. The shul fills through word of mouth.
Rabbi David Sa’id, the shaliach of the World Zionist Organization, and his wife Sara, the shlicha for World Bnei Akiva, who both also serve as the community’s Rabbi and Rabbanit, distributes a l’chaim to all who enter. Rabbi David enthusiastically gives a hug to everyone who comes, and they respond with a huge smile and a prolonged embrace. In an instant, the entire gathering stands on their feet and begins Kabbalat Shabbat full of melodies and joy. It is clear that the vast majority of the congregation have recently become ba’alei teshuva.
The climax of the tefillot is immediately after “Mizmor l’David”. Rabbi David gives a sign, and Rabbanit Sarah in the ladies’ section gathers all the women around her, and in one fell swoop two circles – one of men and one of women – are formed and for an extended period of time, those in the circles stand linked together and singing with devotion – “everywhere I go I am going to Eretz Yisrael.”
At the end of tefillah, towards 10:00 pm at night, Rabbi David introduces to the entire community those making Aliyah to Israel in the coming week – and again dancing circles spontaneously take place, raising on their shoulders that week’s olim.
This empowering experience was experienced by my friends and me, this week at the Renewed Religious Zionism Conference that the WZO’s Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora led together with the Religious Zionist Shlichut organizations for the community leaders in Latin America.
But I’m worried.
I’m worried because I see that in all the communities where there is active Religious Zionism, the communities are getting smaller. Many members of the communities immigrate to Israel, the senior leadership immigrates to Israel, and the direct result is that schools are closing, communities are weakened, “holes” of age groups that immigrate to Israel are created, and thus there is a lack of Religious Zionist leadership.
We are delighted with every new oleh to Israel and believe that every Jew’s place is in the Land of Israel – but unfortunately, if we continue only in this way, we will only be able to reach 5% of the members of the community who immigrate to Israel and we will abandon the 95% of the Jews in the various countries, most of whom are not members of communities and who don’t participate in any kind of Jewish Zionist activity.
I am worried that Religious Zionism cannot and must not fly a single flag of “Aliyah! Aliyah! Aliyah!” and to abandon the majority of the Jewish people who are not yet ready or do not want to make aliyah to Israel. Assimilation is taking our place and, on the other hand, the ultra-Orthodox world recognizes the challenges and responds with devotion.
The ultra-Orthodox world is fully mobilized. It recruits many millions of donors, it appeals to new audiences and runs programs around the world and in Israel for young Jews abroad; new educational institutions are opened frequently – and I am concerned because it seems that in many of the communities in Latin America there is only one path offered – Orthodox Judaism without representation of the State of Israel.
I am worried because I found at the conference leaders at a loss – schools are shrinking and the economic burden is increasing, there are no spiritual leaders who speak the local language and speak Religious Zionism, and unfortunately the leaders are turning to the ultra-Orthodox world, which occupies the positions of the educational leadership within the communities.
And I’m worried because I see the loneliness of the leaders. They are alone. They have chosen to take responsibility and burden their shoulders on the future of the community and they feel a severe sense of failure. The glorious communities are disappearing – and all this is under their watch.
And I am worried because I know that we find it so difficult to find shlichim who will agree to go on shlichut for a significant period of time as rabbis of Zionist communities, as school principals, as teachers – and I know that we find it difficult to fulfill our duty to our leaders in these communities.
I’m worried – but I’m not discouraged. Because we have to make a shift in our perception of work and start walking a new path
It is our duty to continue to fly the Aliyah flag, but we can only do so if another flag is added to it and it is raised with the same intensity – the flag of strengthening Jewish communities and continuing to build Jewish Zionist communities in the Diaspora. We will raise both flags with pride and say that both are our duty.
We will work with full force to inspire the Religious Zionist public in Israel to dedicate their lives to shlichut in the Diaspora. No more shlichuyot for two or three years, but rather five- and ten-year shlichuyot. Shlichut that can allow us to build processes and reap significant fruits.
We will work with great love to seek out Jews who are not connected to the community and to offer them the path of Religious Zionism that is close to their hearts, natural to them, captivates their world and can bring distant people back to their borders.
We will work with full force to mobilize the philanthropic world to invest its fortune to ensure that the doctrine of Religious Zionism continues to be heard within the walls of schools, synagogues and youth movements.
The community of La Casa is different from the phenomenon that is causing me concern.
One of the highlights of the conference was a meeting with the “Beit Sefer l’Shluchut” (Shlichut training academy) of the La Casa community – a group of local young people aged 25-30 who took it upon themselves to become “shlichim”. The understanding that everyone must be an “shaliach” no matter if they are from Israel or from the community, everyone has a mission to strengthen their Zionist and religious identity. Rabbi David and Rabbanit Sarah understood that in order to ensure the prosperity of the community even after rabbis from the community make aliyah, they cannot rely only on themselves.
After their years of shlichut will be over, who will ensure that new forces will come from the country to continue the work? They understood what we needed to understand and internalize. Without strengthening the local Jewish community and engaging with 95% of the Jewish community that has not yet immigrated, we will not be able to continue the aliyah project that we are so proud of, we will not be able to continue singing “everywhere I go I am going to Eretz Yisrael.”
Adv. Roi Abecassis is Head of the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora at the World Zionist Organization and a representative of World Mizrachi in the national institutions.