How Orthodox American Zionists Need to and Can Aim Higher

We are a sleeping tiger, the American Jewish Orthodox Zionist community.  Our voices barely are heard.  Our numbers barely are rallied.  Yet, with vision and determination, we can change the face and values of American Zionism.

We have the entire infrastructure in place.  Children and teens in yeshivot.  Their parents and grandparents, their uncles and aunts, and their parents’ friends and relatives in American Orthodox Zionist shuls. Summer programs and camps.  Youth groups.  College campus organizations.  Orthodox Union.  Rabbinical Council of America.  Religious Zionists of America.

The Struggle for Soviet Jewry

We have so much power, so much strength.  This became clear forty years ago as we fostered the Soviet Jewry struggle, forcing it from invisibility and anonymity onto the front burners of American Jewry’s conscience.  

It was we — “The Orthodox.”  Orthodox Jews from our camp, including Jacob Birnbaum z”l and — yibadlu l’chaim — Glenn Richter, Rabbis Shlomo Riskin and Avi Weiss, founded the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry.  Orthodox Jewish lay leader Malcolm Hoenlein oversaw the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry.  Rav Meir Kahane, z”l, founded the Jewish Defense League with others in the Orthodox community.  The Soviet Jewish demonstrations were attended primarily by Orthodox demonstrators, kids from yeshivot.  I was there; I saw. 

In time, we — the American Orthodox Zionist community — so successfully forced the Soviet Jewry issue onto the American Jewish communal agenda that others jumped in, taking credit, and leading the way.  We had changed the paradigm of American Jewry — from the fear that inhibited public street protests during the Holocaust years to a forthrightness in marching on Washington in our hundreds of thousands by the 1980s.

Soviet Jewry now are free to go, to stay, to return.  It is time to recreate that moment for Israel.  We have the people, resources, and institutions.  All we need are the leaders and vision of what we can achieve.

The Struggle for Judea and Samaria

First, we American Orthodox Zionists, in overwhelming numbers, oppose any talk of a “Two-State Solution.”  We believe that Yehuda and Shomron (Judea and Samaria, Yesha for short) are ours and must remain so.  We support Jewish communities throughout Yesha, and we do not even call them “settlements.”  Nor do we speak of a “West Bank.”  

It is time for us to go on the offensive and change the American Jewish paradigm, to help American Jews outside our orbit learn, as our evangelical Christian neighbors already know, that there is no Palestine and that Yesha is ours.

But how to do it?

Orthodox American Zionist rabbis must start speaking openly and forthrightly from their pulpits. Every Shabbat, tens of thousands of us gather in shuls throughout America.  We should dedicate four Shabbatot each year — one every three months — on which every one of our pulpit Rabbis commits to speak on this theme.  Like the power in every Jew in the world reading the same weekly Torah portion, like the power in the Daf Yomi program that sees Jews around the world learning the same Gemara page as everyone else on any given day, so there is power if every RCA rabbi and OU shul devotes four specified Shabbatot per year to hammer home the messages:

  • Judea and Samaria are ours and we must build and live there.  
  • There is no Palestine.  
  • There must never be — and there never will be — a “Two-State Solution.”  
  • Begin with Parshat Chayei Sarah, coordinated with Avraham’s purchase of a cave in Hebron. 

Marking Yom Hazikaron

Next:  Except for a very few outliers, American Jews — until now — overlook Yom Hazikaron, Israel Memorial Day for IDF Soldiers and Victims of Terror.  That can and must change.  Tragically, several wonderful, young and idealistic, American Jews have been victims of terror in Israel.  Every yeshiva high school in America should devote a significant program — even city-wide, busing in students from all other yeshivot in the city, filling an auditorium with hundreds, even thousands — on Yom Hazikaron. 

Photos of American teens from that very city, or from other cities or Israel, should be enlarged, as students assemble to hear these young martrys’ invited relatives tell their stories.  Memorial plaques and photos should be mounted each year in the yeshivot to commemorate past programs.  The news media should be called.  

And, at the end of the program, all students should be given pen and paper, instructed to write a letter to their Congressional Representative and U.S. Senator, asking for action in moving America’s Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

At colleges, Orthodox Jewish students should be at the forefront of two movements:  

(i) demanding that the respective universities boycott, divest, and sanction Saudi Arabia because of its persecution of women, social liberals, and Christians; and

(ii) petitioning that each university increase its investments in companies that deal with Israel.

The wonderful Birthright efforts need to be expanded, with every effort aimed at attracting non-Orthodox young people to come to Israel on Orthodox-operated Birthright programs.  The difference between an Orthodox Birthright program, and one that is not, is like the difference between  night and day, in building passion for Israel.

In time, there will be much more to do.  These first steps will plant the seeds.  Now is the time.


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