World Mizrachi trip to Vilna
World Mizrachi trip to Vilna Courtesy of World Mizrachi

A year-long series of commemorations marking the 120th anniversary of the modern Religious Zionist movement was launched this week with a historic visit of World Mizrachi leaders and representatives to the very site in Vilna, Lithuania, where the movement’s origins can be traced.

In February 1902, 70 Religious Zionist delegates gathered in the Great Charity Hall (Beit Agudat Tzedaka Hagedola) in Vilna and founded the Mizrachi Movement as part of the World Zionist Organization. This was the first formal gathering of religious Jews in a Torah-driven movement officially aligned with the World Zionist Organization. The following year, the same venue was the scene of a visit by Theodor Herzl, where he was warmly welcomed by religious leaders in the city famed for its rich rabbinic tradition. That visit served as an informal “stamp of approval” linking many religious figures to begin supporting modern Zionism through the Mizrachi Movement, allowing for the sustained growth of Religious Zionism over the course of the ensuing decades.

On Tuesday, November 14th, a mission of about 50 participants of World Mizrachi, led by Executive Chairman Rabbi Doron Perez, gathered at the site. While the precise home where that original meeting took place is privately owned, the group came together at an adjacent restaurant.

“Even the most visionary thinkers could have never anticipated the impact that Religious Zionism would have on the development of modern Zionism and the founding and flourishing of the State of Israel,” Rabbi Perez said.

“We therefore welcomed the chance to come together in this historic site where the bond between authentic Torah Judaism and the modern Zionist movement was forged. Like a soul to the body, so is the Torah to the Jewish people. The spiritual and national aspects are complementary and this synthesis of Religious Zionism has, since then and until today, played a transformative role in nearly every aspect of Jewish life in Israel and Jewish life across the Diaspora.”

The visit in Vilna, part of a week-long mission of World Mizrachi to sites of Jewish history in Eastern Europe, served as the launch of the 120-year anniversary of modern Religious Zionism. The highlight of the commemoratory events will be the first-ever World Orthodox Israel Congress organized by the World Mizrachi Movement to take place in Jerusalem on April 24th-26th, connecting to Israel’s 75th anniversary. The Congress, which will consist of a series of high-level meetings, sessions, site visits, and entertainment events, will welcome thousands of Religious Zionist delegates from over fifty nations.

“This gathering will provide us with the opportunity to bring together representatives from 1000 institutions from 250 cities and 50 countries to connect and discuss the major issues we face as a global community in the spirit of our Religious Zionist values,” Rabbi Perez said.

“The Congress will challenge us to deepen our mutual passion and commitment to Israel and our Jewish communities across the globe and to discover and reimagine new avenues to re-awaken our critical message, particularly among the younger generations.”