Eight years ago, my wife and I took our four children, hugged our parents, said goodbye to all our friends and family, and boarded a flight full of new olim from the United States, chartered by Nefesh B’Nefesh. We took our seats, and the captain began to describe the flight plan in detail. At the end of his speech, he said: “Rest, relax, and enjoy the flight. I’m taking you home.”
I’m taking you home. After 2,000 years of exile, we were on our way home to the Land of Israel, to the State of Israel.
We arrived with a Zionist spirit and with the hope of a better Jewish life. We decided to leave the United States, choosing instead to be part of the Jewish Zionist project, the State of Israel. We found an amazing and unique country, but it is impossible to ignore the problems we face here in our homeland.
Some 70 years ago, my grandmother, Mrs. Ethel Kleinman, may she live and be well, emerged from the death camp of Auschwitz and began a new life together with my grandfather, of blessed memory, whose brother, my Uncle Zvi, is with us here today in this chamber.
With a lot of hard work and no shortage of miracles, the two of them managed to established a beautiful, upstanding family.
My grandmother told me that there were no sectoral divisions in the death camps. Nobody spoke of hiloni [secular], traditional, religious, or haredi [Ultra-Orthodox].
The Nazis, may their names be blotted out, did not attribute any significance to semantic differences between the groups.
As far as they were concerned, they were all Jews, subject to the same cruel fate. In our darkest and most painful hour as a people, we demonstrated the ability to be unified.
I am disheartened that now, precisely when we have returned to the Land of Israel, there is not enough unity, and each sector takes care of itself without considering the collective good.
When I fought in Beit Shemesh for the rights and safety of all its residents, I suffered curses; I was spat upon, stoned, and even received death threats. These all hurt, but what hurt the most was the knowledge that this was coming from other Jews. I also experienced success when we bonded together – from secularist to ultra- Orthodox – as when we worked on the massive protest in Beit Shemesh last year. There I shouted out loud that the time had come to tear down the walls we have built between us, to reunite, and to work together to improve our future as a society, a state, and a people.
The Yesh Atid Party and its head, Yair Lapid, have taken the important and courageous step of not merely understanding that the time had come to unite and break up the sectoral partisanship that characterizes Israeli society and politics, but also that the time had come to take real action. I am proud to stand here as a rabbi, a haredi, and a Knesset member from the Yesh Atid Party.
I must, first of all, thank my wife, Dina, for her support during all of my public activism during recent years, which included a lot of time out of the house, and my children: Shlomo, Devora, Chaya Miriam and Zahava.
I also wish to thank my mother, Leah Lipman Zeiger, who made aliya a few months ago, and her husband, Alan Zeiger. Without your help and support, I would not be standing here today.
It is hard for me to believe that I am standing here without my father, judge Ron Lipman of blessed memory, who passed away eight years ago.
Yet I sense my father, I know that he is with me every day. His personal example accompanies me and guides me, especially in my participation in Yesh Atid.
My father served as a federal judge in the United States. He knew how to combine Torah study with serving his country and the Jewish people. He showed the beauty and the unifying force of a religious lifestyle integrated with work and society, all while observing a Judaism characterized by moderation and mutual respect.
I must emphasize that this was not my father’s invention. This was the way of Judaism throughout history. The Torah itself commands us to work for six days a week. A medieval Jewish text, Sefer Mitzvot Ha-gadol, states that this is one of the 613 commandments – to go to work and provide for your family. The Mishna teaches us that “any Torah that is not accompanied by a trade will result in idleness and cause sin,” and the Talmud instructs us that “a father must teach his son a craft.” Maimonides teaches us that one who decides to study Torah and saddle others with the responsibility of providing for him desecrates God’s name and “has no share in the world to come.”
The classic legal code Shulchan Arukh explicitly teaches that every morning one must pray, study Torah, and then go to work.
My father thus followed in our tradition of combining Torah and work. The time has come for us, the members of the Knesset of Israel, to help restore this value to our land.
Torah students should not be impoverished their whole lives.
They should study Torah, provide for their families comfortably, and thus cause a sanctification of God’s name in the State of Israel.
Regarding equal service for all, when several tribes of ancient Israel wished to remain on the East Bank of the Jordan River and not enter into the Land of Israel to fight alongside the rest of the people, Moses, our teacher, replied: “Will your brothers go to war while you sit here?” We are all familiar with, and identify with, the principle that “all of Israel is responsible for one another.”
We need not demand that every yeshiva student serve in the IDF.
There will also be civil service programs in hospitals, with Magen David Adom, in neighborhood patrols, and providing assistance to Holocaust survivors – mitzvot and admirable actions that no rabbi can say oppose Torah values.
Everyone, including yeshiva students, must contribute to the country through civil or military service. I am proud to be a Knesset member from a party whose leader has a vision, who understands that the time has come to restore the true Jewish tradition of combining Torah with work.
As a rabbi and an alumnus of haredi yeshivot, I wish to utilize this opportunity to address my haredi brothers and sisters personally and directly: There is no us and them. There are no two sides. We are brothers.
We are all Jews. With this belief in mind, we must cooperate and work together to bridge the gaps between us. I want to make a request of my haredi brothers and sisters: Look your children in the eyes. You know that most of them are not really suited for studying Torah day and night for their whole lives.
I and tens of thousands of other haredim in the United States studied in yeshivot and attended universities.
There is no contradiction between the two. Not only did this not harm our Torah study – it reinforced the Torah. We learned that it is possible to remain students of the Torah, Torah scholars, haredim – literally, “who tremble” at the word of God, but also prepared for the job market and ready to provide for our families comfortably.
As an educator, I am proud to be Knesset member from a party that champions revolutionizing the educational system and bringing us back to being world leaders in education.
As a relatively new immigrant, it is painful for me to see fellow olim who are not getting what they deserve. I was a counselor in the former Soviet Union during the ’90s, and I saw people who suffered simply because they are Jews. How can it be that the same people immigrated to Israel and now suffer because they are not halachically Jews, despite the fact that they are from Jewish lineage? We must allow them to convert with dignity, and we can even do so in accordance within Orthodox Halacha.
When I was a yeshiva student and olim from Ethiopia began to arrive with Operation Solomon, I volunteered with them every day.
I saw the fire in their eyes during their first days in Israel. It pains me to see how they suffer from discrimination and racism, which, to my great chagrin, I see every day in my hometown of Beit Shemesh. I intend to work on legislation that will banish discrimination and racism against both Jews and non-Jews.
It pains me to see hard-working army veterans and young couples who cannot afford to buy a home.
Tens of thousands of housing units are being constructed in the hills of Ramat Beit Shemesh, but the natives of the city and the grandchildren of its founders cannot afford to buy homes there.
The time has come for the state to help them buy homes.
I am proud to be a Knesset member from the Yesh Atid Party, a party that identifies with everything I have mentioned, and that has risen up to address the problems in Israeli society – including what I have already noted as well as changing the system of government, support for small businesses, decreasing the cost of living, fighting against religious coercion, and most of all, creating real unity within the nation. Our success as a nation and a state will result only from our unity, in both the spiritual and the practical sense.
Moreover, I am proud to be the Knesset representative of hundreds of thousands of olim from Englishspeaking countries, who deserve adequate representation. As a former citizen of the United States, I intend to work to advance the connection of Diaspora Jewry with the nation that dwells in Zion.
I opened these words with a lesson from my grandmother, and I will conclude with another lesson of hers. When I called her to tell her that we were making aliya, I readied myself for anger and sadness about the fact that we were taking her great-grandchildren to the other side of the world. I was in for a surprise. Instead of getting angry, she recited the words of the shehecheyanu blessing: “Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this occasion.”
She explained, “When we were on the boat from Europe to the United States, I asked myself how could it be that we were not going to the Land of Israel? Now, you are realizing my greatest dream.”
It is easy to forget that building the State of Israel, in which we all take part, is the realization of the dream. As King David put it: “A song of ascents: When God returned the exiles of Zion, we were as dreamers.”
As a relatively new immigrant, I still sense the greatness of the realization of this dream. The time has come to return this Zionist spirit to every citizen of Israel.
This spirit demands that the entire nation of Israel cooperates and works together to build this state into a world leader in all areas, but on the basis of Jewish values and as a realization of our mission to be a light unto the nations.
As I stand here now, a mere eight years after moving to Israel, as a member of the Knesset of Israel, as a participant in a revolution attempting to change and improve our country and to restore the Zionist spirit to the its citizens, I will follow in my grandmother’s footsteps. I, too, will bless God on this momentous event: “Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this occasion.”
The writer is a new MK for Yesh Atid. This speech was made in Hebrew.