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April 19, 2018 2:01 pm

Putting the Zionism Back Into Religious Zionism for Israel’s 70th

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The Western Wall and Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – To celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary, World Mizrachi — a movement that prepares the next generation of world Jewry to love and appreciate the nexus between religious Judaism and Zionism — is sending 70 inspirational speakers to 70 communities across the English-speaking world to infuse the Diaspora with the religious significance of the Jewish state’s rebirth.

Through the Mizrachi World Movement and the Religious Zionists of America (RZA-Mizrachi USA) “Seventyfor70” program — under the direction of Rabbi Reuven Taragin — inspirational rabbis, academics, and other leaders from Israel hope to bring the spirit of Israel to Diaspora communities to reinvigorate passion for Religious Zionism. Some 70,000 people are expected to participate in lectures across America and additional speakers will be going to Canada, South Africa, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Rabbi Doron Perez,the  CEO of the World Mizrachi Movement, said that “this illustrious list of speakers is shaping the future of Israel and shares a common love for its land, Torah, and people. We hope that they will infuse thousands of Jews with a deeper and more meaningful connection to the national state of their people.”

At the same time, 150 of Mizrachi’s leadership and supporters from around the world will be in Israel for a five-day seminar, starting on Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s day of remembrance for its fallen soldiers), when they will tour the country and celebrate together with the people of Israel.

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According to Perez, the educational program will include meetings with high-profile Religious Zionists who are shaping the future of Israel, complete with “a re-enactment at the Hall of Independence in Tel Aviv with professional actors to reflect on Israel’s first 70 years and create a vision for the next 70 years.”

Perez said that “we want to bring the centrality of Israel and the Torah of Israel — the spiritual part of Israel — to communities around the world to feel more connected to Israel, making Israel central to Jewish identity.”

He explained the inextricable link between Israel and Jewish identity: “The first thing that God said to Abraham was to ‘leave your house for a land I will show you.’ After 1,500 years, the fact that the majority of Israel is now Jewish is of enormous importance; we have reinstated Jewish sovereign life in a prophetic ingather of exiles. Since 1948 until today, there hasn’t been one day of restriction for Jews to come back to the land. Over 3 million have returned in a sign of redemption of the land, the people, and the Torah.”

He voiced his hope that this month’s program will further rebrand, re-energize, and rejuvenate the Religious Zionist movement, which he said is “currently going through a failure as a product of our own success.” As Perez explained, “formerly, the Religions Zionist movement had only one message: make aliyah, which had great success.”

Indeed, 46 percent of global Jewry lives in Israel today, compared to 6 percent in 1948. “But what about communities left behind?” Perez asked. “What’s our vision for” them, the remaining ones?

Ki mi-tzion tetzeh Torah, ‘the word of God comes from Jerusalem,’” he replied. “Israel should be the heart of the Jewish people, and it should pump vitality to all its organs, invigorating and uplifting them and forming deepening connections.”

His vision is to find a sense of oneness in the “twin values” of Jewish identity and Zionist identity. He maintained that one of the greatest challenges within the Diaspora is organizations that are “trying to sever the connection between Judaism and Zionism,” such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which “tries to say that being a good Jew is not supporting Israel — and tries to weaken the connection between Israel and Jewish identity because of political challenges.”

“Yes, the land comes with challenges,” Perez acknowledged, but being a Religious Zionist “is about learning how to reconcile that by connecting traditions and values.”

“We are trying to build a model society, a light unto the nations,” he said. “We are center stage of the world and we are not perfect, but the light is shining.”

Perez also maintained that within this challenge comes an “incredible opportunity to impact Jewish identity and destiny in a big way through understanding how to teach about Israel — the greatest story of the Jewish people in the modern era.”

Since entering the position almost four years ago, one way that Perez is meeting this challenge is through re-energizing the movement through young leadership and local branches: “It has been a concerted effort in the last three to four years to bring in young and dynamic leadership.”

Perez concluded: “Mizrachi and Religious Zionism were integral in the establishment of the Jewish state, and today, our influence can be felt across Israeli society. There is a lot to celebrate this week, and we want to share our passion with the world.”

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