For Bennett, a friendly crowd at a New York shul

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun – packed with a crowd of nearly 200 select members – welcomed back Bennett, who marked 100 days in office last week, and his staff.

 Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, September 5, 2021. (photo credit: SEBASTIAN SCHEINER/POOL VIA REUTERS)
Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, September 5, 2021.
(photo credit: SEBASTIAN SCHEINER/POOL VIA REUTERS)

NEW YORK – Hours after his address to the UN General Assembly on Monday morning, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Israel’s first religiously observant leader, remained in New York City an extra day to observe Shmini Atzeret, which began that evening at sundown.

Bennett returned to the Modern Orthodox synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that he attended in the early 2000s when he lived in New York during his time founding a hi-tech start-up.

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, packed with a crowd of nearly 200 select members, welcomed back Bennett, who marked 100 days in office last week, and his staff.

“This is an amazing thing, but it’s not unique,” Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who served as the leader of KJ from 1958 through 2015, told The Jerusalem Post as he was walking into services.

“[Prime minister Menachem] Begin came a month after his election in 1977 to see [US] president [Jimmy] Carter and spent Shabbat in New York, davening in our shul with 1,000 people in the shul,” Lookstein recalled. “Times are different now, of course, and the crowd we can let in is limited because of security. It’s a shame, because seeing Prime Minister Bennett deserves a crowd of 1,000 people.”

At services, Bennett addressed the congregation with a dvar Torah, sharing that as a young couple living in New York, he and his then-secular wife, Gilat, were drawn to KJ because of its “beginner’s minyan” and promise of a post-service free kiddush buffet.

Tzvi, a 35-year-old member of KJ who was in attendance, said Bennett is “just what Israel needs at this time,” adding that he is a supporter of the premier.

“I was very satisfied with his UN address today,” he told the Post. “He’s all about unity and compromise. I think it’s a point of pride for all American Jews that the prime minister took his time to address the UN and also to stay in New York to observe the holiday. It’s a great move for US-Israel relations.”

Tzvi said Bennett is much different than his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The last prime minister just wanted to grab power and not let go,” he said. “Maybe Bennett has that element, but it’s not his guiding factor. He’s here to achieve things. Personality-wise, it’s a change.”

Entrance to the synagogue and surrounding streets during Bennett and his entourage’s visit was restricted to select congregants.

Some nonobservant members of the press and about a dozen other onlookers observed from the corner of Park Avenue and 85th Street, hoping to snap footage of the unique site of the premier walking the one mile from synagogue back to his midtown hotel, the Loews Regency, rather than taking the motorcade that escorted him to KJ before the festival started, to avoid violating traditional festival observance.

“Hopefully, we get to see something,” Linda Desin, a 79-year-old who lives on the same block as KJ and staked out a spot to watch Bennett’s arrival with her husband, Jerry, told the Post.

Jerry, 86, said he does not follow Israeli politics closely, but he has traveled to Israel once and was excited by Bennett’s visit. “I think it’s great that he’s here,” he said. “We welcome him.”

After his UN address and before the festival began, Bennett spoke before the Jewish Federations of North America and the leaders of other Jewish organizations at the Safra Center.

“I bring with me a new spirit,” Bennett said, repeating the theme he implemented during his August trip to meet with US President Joe Biden.

 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden chat in the Oval Office last week. (credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS) PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden chat in the Oval Office last week. (credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)

“The Right does not have a monopoly on patriotism,” he said. “The Left does not have a monopoly on human rights and the desire for peace.”

Bennett emphasized the importance of a strong Israel-Diaspora relationship.

“For me, we’re one,” he said. “When a Jew in Pennsylvania gets hurt, I hurt. When a Jew in France gets hurt, we feel the pain because we’re one.”