Religious Zionist emissaries to spread word

400 Shlichim to promote aliya and love of Israel around the world.

Four hundred religious Zionist emissaries will be sent around the world to promote aliya and love of Israel, all within the framework of Torah and the observance of mitzvot. The Jewish Agency's Religious Zionist Shlichut Center, an umbrella organization uniting different organizations from within modern Orthodoxy, is sending off its emissaries (shlichim) at an event at Yeshivat Netiv Meir in the capital's Beit Vegan neighborhood on Thursday hosted by the World Zionist Organization's Department for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora. Among the groups participating are Torah Mitzion, Ben Ami, Bat Ami, World Bnei Akiva and the Jewish Agency. The movement has seen significant problems recently, particularly a decline in numbers and a struggle to define its ideology. "The disengagement and Second Lebanon War have had a major effect on us, and it's been hard to promote a movement that isn't as strong as it used to be," Bnei Akiva spokesman Zvika Klein said on Wednesday. "But some of our shluchim were even residents of Gush Katif who were thrown out of their homes. They've said that they had to go on shlichut to continue feeling Zionist - that if they want to keep feeling connected, they had to do something." Others who have gone out to work as emissaries, Klein explained, were English-speaking professionals who have done well for themselves in the Jewish state, aiming to sway those who believe that moving to Israel means only a life of sacrifice in their careers and standards of living. "We really feel that people who have integrated well into Israeli society can take two years and show others that 'hey, I'm not poor, I'm not struggling,'" Klein said. "People think that you have to be a teacher or a Jewish Agency worker to go on shlichut, but we have people who have worked in hi-tech, lawyers and businessmen." Klein stressed that sending its representatives to locations around the world wasn't a new thing for the movement. "Bnei Akiva has been sending shluchim for the past 50 years," Klein said. "Even before Chabad." Asked if the religious Zionist movement's work would compete with the Lubavitcher movement, which has a representative in nearly every major city around the world, Klein said the two groups would likely be working together. "Chabad goes to Jewish communities in order to strengthen them," he said. "We are going to promote aliya. But the two are not separate from each other; often times we do kiruv [religious outreach] work as well, in communities where there is little Jewish observance. Sometimes the Bnei Akiva shaliach and the Chabad shaliach are the only people who observe Shabbat." But, Klein said, within his movement's goal lies a bit of a paradox. "We're coming to a community to build it," he said. "But eventually we want to bring them to Israel, so it's an interesting problem."