EXCLUSIVE: New Yiddish campaign aimed at encouraging hassidim to make aliyah

The Religious-Zionist World Mizrahi Movement is urging Yiddish speaking ultra-Orthodox Jews to move to Israel.

 Satmar Hassidic Jews. [File] (photo credit: REUTERS)
Satmar Hassidic Jews. [File]
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The religious-Zionist World Mizrahi Movement launched a Yiddish language Internet campaign aimed at convincing ultra-Orthodox Jews abroad to make aliya on Monday.

A video in Yiddish extolling the virtues of the Land of Israel and urging viewers to visit Mizrahi’s website was posted to YouTube by Jeremy Gimpel, the organization’s vice chairman.

While the insular ultra-Orthodox community is notoriously anti-Zionist, Gimpel believes that now is the perfect time to target its members with a pro-immigration message.

While admitting that his target demographic is “insular and impenetrable,” Gimpel told The Jerusalem Post that the increasing threat of modernity posed by the penetration of smartphones and the Internet among hassidic groups has created a more receptive audience than may have existed previously.
Many senior Ultra-Orthodox rabbis have banned the use of smartphones and the Internet, which they have deemed “impure” and a threat to their way of life.
The new campaign, Gimpel explained, will bypass “traditional obstacles to engagement” with the ultra-Orthodox.
“Smartphones and You- Tube allow us to reach communities at large that would never otherwise invite us to speak at their synagogues.
Using the Internet properly has the potential to change world Jewry.”
The clip was slated to be posted to several Yiddish language websites by Tuesday evening as well, he added.
“My hope for the Yiddish speaking hassidim is that they begin to see living in Israel as a part of their religious responsibly and, ultimately, a part of Jewish destiny,” Gimpel said.
A reference in the video to the “land we have fought and sacrificed for,” accompanied by a clip of an IDF combat soldier, may turn off members of the ultra-Orthodox community, who are actively opposed to government measures to induct yeshiva students.
Gimpel, quoting an unnamed Yiddish-speaking journalist with whom he said he spoke, said that now may be the “right time to reach out to the Satmar hassidim and other hassidic sects.
“Western culture is infiltrating our communities and people are starting to consider [the land of Israel] as a real option to raising their families in an uncorrupted Jewish environment.
The State of Israel that was once seen as a threat to a Torah-based life is being seen as a potential safe haven for people who want to live a Torah-based life.”
Satmar’s opposition to Zionism is well known. Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, one of the sect’s two competing grand rabbis, told a rally of thousands in Mea She’arim last year that voting in Knesset elections was forbidden according to Jewish law.
A Satmar spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
MK Dov Lipman, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, said that he was “in shock” that Mizrahi was targeting the Yiddish speaking sector.
“Of course we welcome all Jews to Israel but to place resources and effort to motivate this specific population to move to Israel is beyond comprehension,” he told the Post.
“The haredi [ultra-Orthodox] community in Beit Shemesh lived in harmony with the rest of the population until the Yiddish- speaking, anti-Zionist, extremist population arrived.
“Efforts should be placed on inspiring Jews who are moderate, tolerant and seek to be part of the broader population – including the mainstream American haredi population – to [come to] Israel and not this shocking and startling new initiative.”
Asked about the new campaign, the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliya organization said that it is in touch with “a great number” of ultra-Orthodox Jews and that the organization is “in close daily contact in order to tailor their aliya plans to suit their religious and social needs.”
“I wish them well,” Agudath Israel of America spokesman Rabbi Avi Shafran told the Post when informed of the campaign.
“But Israel would be a more welcoming place for such Jews if, instead of embarking on a social engineering program to try to change the Israeli haredi way of life, it recommitted itself to supporting the full-time Torah-study that helps protect all its citizens.”
While the idea of bringing anti-Zionist Jews to Israel through such a campaign may seem like a long shot to some, sociologist Dr. Steven Cohen believes that the concept may have some success.
American ultra-Orthodox Jews “have counterparts in Israel,” he told the Post. “Haredi identity is somewhat fluid.
So, if you want people to make aliya, they’re a reasonable group to target.”