(Photo: Howie Mischel)
Religious Zionism in Shul?
BY RABBI SHMUEL SLOTKI
What does it mean to be a Religious Zionist shul? What actually expresses or demonstrates the Zionist nature of a community? Is it the type of kippah the men wear or the women’s preferred style of hair covering? These are merely externalities; there must be something deeper and more fundamental that expresses the identity of a Religous Zionist community.
At the core a shul’s Religious Zionist identity are the tefillot, the prayers, that they recite together. Tefillot recited every week, such as the prayer for the State of Israel and the IDF, and tefillot said on special occasions, such as a celebratory Hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim, reflect a synagogue community’s deeply held beliefs.
This year, the World Organization of Orthodox Synagogues and Communities is proud to present a new Sefer HaGabba’im, a guide for gabba’im, which will help Religious Zionist shuls strengthen their connection to Eretz Yisrael even further. Alongside the regular blessings for personal and family events, this unique book includes blessings that stress the connection of the community to the State of Israel and the IDF.
The ancient custom of adding blessings and mi sheberachs to our standard prayers reflects the shul’s role as not merely a place for individuals to pray but as the focal point of the community. The shul is where we express, communally, our support and sorrow during difficult times such as bereavement, and our joy and celebration at joyous events such as births, bnei mitzvah celebrations and weddings. When we share our important personal life events together with the community in shul, we emphasize that no individual is an island; what is significant for me is important to the community as well.
The Sefer HaGabba’im includes a blessing for a family that has made Aliyah to Israel. We are living during a special time in Jewish history, at the beginning of our redemption, and we must recognize, as a community, those who are making the incredible step of moving to Israel. A shul can be on the other side of the world, but when this blessing is recited on the Shabbat before the family makes Aliyah, the community demonstrates that it values Aliyah, recognizes its awesome significance, and aspires to join this family on Aliyah in the future.
We also added a special blessing for individuals about to join the Israel Defense Forces. It is critically important that the community recognize and celebrate someone who has made the decision to defend Am Yisrael through the tremendous mitzvah of serving in the IDF. By making this blessing in shul, the community is celebrating a role model who will hopefully inspire its young people to volunteer for the IDF! Along these lines, we have also added a special blessing for those who have completed their army service to express our thanks that they have completed their service in good health.
These are a few examples of the many blessings in the new Sefer HaGabba’im, which we hope will strengthen Religious Zionist shuls both in Israel and the Diaspora.
Rabbi Shmuel Slotki is the Director of the World Organization of Orthodox Synagogues and Communities.