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Maybe That’s Why You’re Here

An open letter to Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s new Minister of Diaspora Affairs

D

ear Ms. Hotovely,

I was happy to see the recent interview with you in the Makor Rishon newspaper, and after reading it, it’s clear that you’ve taken your recent appointment as Minister of Diaspora Affairs as a shlichus for Klal Yisrael. That said, I must admit it left me with a niggling feeling that something important had been omitted, and with your generous permission I would like to address that subject.

First of all, please accept my congratulations on having reached such a high position in Israel’s government. To you, perhaps, it seems perfectly natural that an Orthodox woman, who declares unabashedly that she keeps Torah and mitzvos, should ascend to the top tiers of the regime. But for someone like me, who remembers the Israeli politics of the ’50s and ’60s, it’s not something to be taken for granted.

Back then, an achievement like that by any religious person, and especially a frum woman, was inconceivable. I remember when the Mizrachi party nominated Dr. Mordechai Nurock for Israel’s presidency. He was an impressive personality and an accomplished leader within the party, but nevertheless his candidacy was rejected. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol of the ruling Labor Party explained the rejection unapologetically: Dr. Nurock was indeed fit for the job in most respects, except for one fatal flaw: the kippah on his head.

Well, baruch Hashem, times have changed. May Hashem grant you success in your role and may it serve as a kiddush Hashem.

However, perhaps it would be fitting to repeat to you now the words of Mordechai HaYehudi to Esther HaMalkah when Haman wriggled his way into power and an existential threat hovered over the Jewish People: “Who knows if for a time like this you came to royal status?” It could very well be, he was telling Esther, that Divine Providence sent you to become Queen Esther so that you should use your power as queen to save Am Yisrael.

Minister Hotovely, perhaps it applies to you too. Who knows if a frum woman such as yourself, whose responsibility toward the Jewish People stems from her faithfulness to the Torah, was chosen for her task in order to incline her Jewish heart toward the plight of a Jewish population now facing tangible danger of falling prey to assimilation and being lost to Am Yisrael? Minister Hotovely, it could very well be that you hold the power and authority to prevent this tragic loss. The community I speak of is the million Israeli Jews who left their homeland, each for reasons of their own, and now watch in dread as their children are swept into the quicksand of American culture.

I’m aware that you must conduct yourself with caution in your new role. I’ve seen the outraged responses from certain non-Orthodox sectors of American Jewry to the appointment of an Orthodox woman as diaspora minister, an appointment that has ramifications for their agendas. And you are acting wisely when you say you are maintaining a separation between your identity as a religious woman and your official position, which requires you to show equal friendliness and approachability to all sectors of the Jewish People. It could be that your amenability and willingness to accommodate them within the framework of your position might go far toward removing some of their resentment and feelings of alienation from Orthodoxy. You might even draw them a little closer to authentic Jewish practice, or at least open their minds to it, and this, too, will be your reward.

But when it comes to the silent cry of the yordim, our ears must perk up. The majority of these people are simple, traditional Jews without much Jewish knowledge, but they know without question that they want to remain Jewish, and they can’t sleep at night for fear that their children will be sucked into the non-Jewish culture that surrounds them. Often finding no Jewish alternative, they send their children to public schools, praying that they won’t come home one day with a “local” boyfriend or girlfriend. But in that social milieu, such prayers are essentially tefillas shav, and assimilation is practically inevitable. It’s rising from day to day, and only a handful of good people out there are working to turn this tragic situation around.

You might be wondering why this situation is so intensely troubling me personally, like a searing pain inside. In the 1960s, I was sent by the Jewish Agency as a shaliach to Brazil, where the situation is much the same as in the United States. I spent four years there teaching Judaism to the local youth to the best of my ability, but options for continuing their Jewish education were virtually nonexistent, and many of my former talmidim drifted away to public schools. On a return visit not long ago, it was very painful to meet some of them again, along with their pedigreed non-Jewish children, Hashem yishmor.

But now, the tribe of Israeli yordim can be salvaged. There is still time to provide them with a Jewish education and save a large portion of their youth from intermarrying. These Jews can be found in California, New York, Florida, Texas, and almost everywhere in between. Although they feel abandoned by their brethren, they cling stubbornly to the shreds of Jewish identity that are left to them. It’s still possible to stem the tide and prevent millions of Jewish souls from being lost forever.

Ms. Hotovely, it is only natural that here in Israel we all feel some resentment or antipathy toward these Jews who left the Holy Land en masse, mainly in search of a more comfortable life. But still, they are our brothers and sisters. True, some heroic efforts are being made to bring Jewish learning to the younger yordim and their children, but it’s not enough to meet the crying need.

This is a community that has no desire to be lost among the nations, but lacks the resources to save itself. I’m sure if your ministry were to devote some time effort to researching this problem, it would also find ways to help our unfortunate brethren who have gotten themselves into this disastrous situation. True, they brought it on themselves, but that doesn’t absolve us from taking action, and is no excuse for us to stand by and do nothing to save them.

I believe that in your new role, you hold a key to solving this pressing problem, and I hope that my heartfelt words will merit your concern and attention. May you be blessed with success in all your endeavors, and may a kiddush Hashem be revealed through your work.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 796)

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