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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Anyone running into Josh Reinstein, 29, in the halls of the Knesset could be forgiven for thinking the affable, articulate and dynamic young man is a native Israeli who had been born and bred into Israeli politics.
But Reinstein, director of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, arrived here seven years ago with no more than a reading knowledge of classical Hebrew and no clue about the political system of his newly adopted country.
Today, after a steady climb up the ladder of several right-of-center political parties, he spends his days rubbing shoulders with visiting legislators and clerics, cabinet ministers and Knesset members. He couldn't be happier in his mission to foster support for Israel among Christians all over the world.
Reinstein comes from a strongly Zionist, observant family with roots in Poland on both sides. His great-grandfather was a Gerer hassid, and his paternal grandparents are Holocaust survivors who met in Auschwitz and moved to Canada after the war when Reinstein's father was an infant.
On his mother's side, his grandmother was also in Auschwitz and was the only one of her large family who survived. She too managed to emigrate to Toronto, where Reinstein's mother was born.
Reinstein was born in Toronto, but grew up in Dallas, where his father was the president of the local Zionist Organization of America chapter and was the first to institute a Night to Honor Israel with Pastor John Hagee when Josh was four years old. Something must have rubbed off as Reinstein now plans and attends many such events involving Christian supporters of Israel every year.
His first visit to Israel was at 13 as part of a six-week teen tour that took the place of the traditional bar-mitzva party. Reinstein was hooked on Israel and came back every summer during his high-school years. "My biggest heroes growing up were Sandy Koufax and Arik Sharon," he says.
Before making aliya after college, Reinstein experienced the country from a few vantage points. After high school, he arrived with $50 and a backpack. Following a trek to Dahab in Sinai, he had a brief stint as a waiter at a Jerusalem restaurant before heading back to Canada to start college.
He graduated with honors from Western University in Canada with a degree in political science, a subject that had fascinated him since his early years. "A US presidential election was like 10 Super Bowls for me," he says. It was during his junior year at Hebrew University that he got his first taste of Israeli political life when he was the overseas student representative on the student council. "I helped organize the speakers, and there was this nice mayor named Ehud Olmert who would come from time to time," Reinstein recalls with a smile.
While still in college, he joined the gun and rifle association to help prepare for serving in the IDF. "There was never a doubt that I would end up living in Israel," he states firmly. His parents were supportive, but wary of his inevitable army service.
Reinstein spent his first couple of months using skills he'd learned in Canada. When he arrived in October 1999, he landed a job teaching hockey at the Canada Center in Metulla, but soon moved to Jerusalem, where he lived in a decrepit absorption center called Shikunei Ha'elef in Givat Ram that has since been torn down. "It was rough," Reinstein says, "but I picked it because there were no English speakers there."
One year after arriving, Reinstein's Hebrew improved rapidly as he became the only non-sabra to serve in the 188 Merkava III tank unit. The start of his 16-month army service coincided with the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000.
After his release from the army, Reinstein knew that he wanted to continue to contribute to the country in a meaningful way. "I saw a lot that was wrong with Israel, and I saw what a great country it could be, and I thought perhaps the real way to make a difference was through politics," he explains.
He embarked on a series of informational meetings with dozens of opinion-makers over a three-month period. "People were incredibly open and helpful. I met with the prime minister's speech-writers, for instance, and Knesset members from almost every party, and it helped me develop a network that's very important for me today," he says.
He took a job in a PR firm and started to volunteer as the English-language spokesman for Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu party.
In the meantime, Reinstein left the PR firm and started an international marketing consulting agency which he continues to operate today.
Reinstein ended up working closely with MK Yuri Shtern, whom he considers his mentor. It was Shtern who had the idea of developing the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus to foster direct lines of communication with Christians around the world. Growing up in Dallas, Reinstein understood the power of Christian support for Israel. After he wrote the proposal for the creation of the caucus, the project was launched in January 2004. In an unusual twist for Israeli organizations, there's no fund-raising. "We find partners for each project, usually Jewish organizations," he explains.
"The job is really a dream come true," Reinstein says. "I work with people who love Israel - everyone else hates us."
Reinstein spends about 80 percent of his time on caucus projects. He's generally in the Knesset at least three days a week and at caucus-related meetings a couple of evenings every week. When he gets home at around 10 p.m., he starts work for his international marketing business and one day a week he's in Tel Aviv for business meetings. One night every two weeks finds him babysitting for his nieces in Ra'anana.
Reinstein travels abroad for the caucus on average one week a month.
"No matter how hard I'm working, Yuri's always working harder, so I never feel bad about it," Reinstein says. "For me, it's a labor of love."
Most of Reinstein's income comes from his consulting business, which is "doing very well." He admits it would do even better if he devoted more time to it, but he finds his caucus work more fulfilling, so he's willing to make financial compromises. Reinstein owns a car and rents a comfortable apartment in Jerusalem's French Hill neighborhood.
While Reinstein claims he has difficulty with languages, his fluent Hebrew carries him through social and professional situations. He arrived with a reading and writing knowledge of classical Hebrew and his ulpan studies helped, but it was the army that forced him to pick up the language.
Reinstein's closest friends include MKs Benny Elon and Yuri Shtern, as well as his Israeli brother-in-law. His best friend from Canada recently made aliya to complete a circle of seven others who moved to Israel together and continue to stay close. Reinstein's younger brother, Remy, 22, made aliya this year, joining their older sister who lives in Ra'anana. Reinstein also keeps in touch with friends from his ulpan and army days.
Reinstein considers himself "very religious but without keeping many customs and traditions." He grew up in an observant home, attended Jewish day schools and "developed a strong connection to God." Today, he observes Shabbat, although not necessarily according to Halacha, but would never consider working on Shabbat. He attends a synagogue regularly, maintains a kosher home and makes it a point to pray at the Western Wall at least once every two weeks.
Recently, Reinstein became engaged to an American olah whom he met while she was on a one-year Hebrew University program. They plan to be married next spring.
He is working on setting up the next caucus conferences in New Zealand in November and London in January, as well as expanding the Christians United for Israel lobby in Washington. "Over the next six months we expect to set up six more sister caucuses in countries like the Philippines, Canada and Finland to support Israel and promote Judeo-Christian values," he says.
On the personal level, "I'd like to run for the Knesset one day," Reinstein says. "But I just want to help Israel according to my ability. Right now I see the only way to make significant positive change is in the political realm."
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