Sharing the Burden, Taking Responsibility

BY ROI ABECASSIS

Why did G-d give us the mitzvah of kiddush haChodesh, sanctifying the new moon, just before the Exodus? What is so special about this mitzvah that it had to be given at this critical juncture in our history? There are plenty of other mitzvot He could have commanded us! Perhaps it’s because the timing is moments before the birth of the Jewish people. Hashem gave His young people this mitzvah precisely because He wanted us, as a nation, to become partners in His creation.

Until this moment, it was G-d Who created the world, guided our forefathers, orchestrated the slavery and Exodus and changed the course of nature through the ten plagues. Then, moments before Am Yisrael left Egypt, G-d told His people: “It is time for you to step up and be involved.” The divine message is clear. It’s up to us, Am Yisrael, to take responsibility.

This lesson is particularly relevant today, as the Charedi community’s refusal to serve in the military and the government’s continued allocation of funds to their yeshivot are once again hot button issues. In the current war, the IDF has been forced to fight simultaneously on multiple fronts, raising the question of whether the army needs a larger fighting force. Should tens of thousands of yeshiva students be exempt from service at this hour of need, when Israel needs every young Jew to stand up and be counted?

Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef recently threatened that if Charedim are forced to enlist, they will leave the country. This statement was particularly painful because it was not only said by a Torah scholar, but by the “Rishon LeZion,” the Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel and the most senior spiritual representative of the Sephardi community – a community known for its moderation, acceptance and warmth. How could he say such a thing and show so little responsibility for Am Yisrael

Rav Yosef made this statement as dozens of Religious Zionist soldiers pay the ultimate price for our people. The hesder yeshivot and mechinot have lost their finest. Young heroes who shouldered responsibility, with a rifle in one hand and a Gemara in the other. Heroes who understood “it is a time of trouble for Ya’akov” as they left the study halls and went to war.

As a father of a combat soldier still in Gaza, I have many sleepless nights of worry and anxiety. I cannot shake a persistent thought. How can our Charedi brothers still be living in another world? “Will your brothers go to war and you stay here?” (Bamidbar 32:6). Where is the responsibility that Hashem expects from us?

A few weeks ago, the World Zionist Organization’s (WZO) Va’ad HaPoel, composed of representatives from both Israel and Diaspora Jewry, met in Jerusalem. Like the State of Israel, the WZO is made up of diverse political factions with frequent disagreements on fundamental issues. One of the proposals for discussion was to add the clause of “encouraging military and national service as a strengthening force for the Jewish people in Israel” as part of the Jerusalem Program, a document collating the WZO’s core values. The joint World Herut and World Mizrachi delegation managed to mobilize a huge majority from all the factions (ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and the secular movements) to insert IDF and National Service as pivotal values in the WZO constitution. 

Roi Abecassis, Yaakov Aharoni, Director General of the WZO and Gael Grunewald at the Va’ad HaPoel meeting.

Something has shifted within World Jewry and its relationship towards Israel. Sectors with opposing views can today meet each other and discuss – and even agree upon – issues that were previously a source of deep division. 

Pro-Zionist sentiments are growing in many liberal and progressive communities. Organizations previously angry at Israel over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are fully backing the State of Israel in this war. In addition, a portion of the Charedi community in the Diaspora – who are generally more open and involved in secular life than their peers in Israel – are including the Prayer for the State of Israel in their shuls and leading fundraising campaigns for IDF soldiers and reservists. Yes, it’s easier to encourage others to serve than actually enlist yourself. Still, we may be seeing the beginning of a broad consensus on the significance of military service.

Mizrachi’s success in attaining such a broad consensus is no accident. Since its inception, Mizrachi has endeavored to be the bridge that links opposing ideologies. The shifts that have appeared in the wake of the war have allowed us to create a broad consensus around the military service issue and the need for mutual responsibility between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. 

The WZO can inspire us in Israel, in the Knesset and beyond, to find points of consensus around which we can conduct authentic, respectful discussion. Let us identify the issues upon which we can broadly agree to enable our continued existence in our precious Land. We have no other choice. In these troubled times, all of Am Yisrael must accept responsibility.

 

Roi Abecassis is World Mizrachi’s representative in the National Institutions, Head of the WZO’s Education Department and Deputy Chairperson of Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (KKL).

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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