Guest Columnist: Setting the record straight

It is my hope that this response helps set the record straight about Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid.

Yair Lapid 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yair Lapid 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
My good friend and colleague, Dr. Daniel Gordis, asked some excellent questions in a letter addressed to the chairman of the Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid. Gordis identified Yesh Atid as one of the two parties he views as options for his vote in the January 22 election and explained that he could not vote for Lapid and Yesh Atid without answers to very specific questions.
As the English-speaking candidate for Yesh Atid, I will answer those questions in Lapid’s name.
Gordis asked, “Do you have a plan for the haredi time bomb? They’re not going to the army – but what, instead, do you have in mind for them? Some kind of national service? Do you have a plan for getting it passed?”
Our answer is yes. Last spring, Lapid announced Yesh Atid’s “equal service for all” plan to deal with the issue of haredim and national service. The plan was authored with the input of military personnel and moderate haredi leaders. Moderate haredim will embrace this plan and it will pass in the Knesset. The plan is available in Hebrew, Russian, Amharic and English on the Yesh Atid website, and Lapid and all Yesh Atid candidates present it daily. Voters can study the plan and choose to either agree or disagree with it, but the plan is clear – everyone serves the country.
Gordis also asked, “Are you saying anything at all about the Jewish nature of the country?” The answer is that yes, Lapid is. In a speech to haredim in Kiryat Ono, he said, “Secular Zionism failed. It wanted to rely only on ourselves, but this could not justify our being here. Our basis for being here is the Being that kept us alive for 2,000 years of exile – the God of Israel... The Six Day War showed us that things that happen here are not happenstance. Even a person who does not observe Torah and mitzvot recognizes that something deeper is going on here... The Talmud contains thousands of years of wisdom and transforms those who study it into better people and sharpens the mind.”
At the press conference naming Rabbi Shai Piron, a religious Zionist rabbi, as the party’s No. 2, Lapid said, “the reason we are here together as party leaders is because the time has come for us to stop being tribes... The Torah says ‘because we are men who are brothers.’” When Lapid announced the Yesh Atid list for Knesset, he said, “We went out of our way to find people from different backgrounds who bring different perspectives. Look at this list – this is how the State of Israel should look.”
In presenting the Yesh Atid security/political plan, Lapid emphasized, “Jerusalem will remain under Israeli sovereignty and will not be divided. Jerusalem is not just a place; it is a concept, it is the beating heart around which the new State of Israel was built. The return to Zion was not to the towers of Azrieli but to the Tower of David, and the heart of Jerusalem is the heart of Israel... The place where we are standing now has national meaning and is deeply sentimental. In the hills and settlements that I passed on the way here this morning, the prophet Elisha brought the forces of the king of Aram after he smote them with blindness. This is our history, this is our national ethos and these are the landscapes from which grew the Jewish nation. But we must remember that our history also includes the need to guard ourselves from destruction and that our national ethos requires us to first and foremost look after the wholeness of the Jewish people.”
Last week, in a speech to English-speakers in Tel Aviv, Lapid said, “We must create a society in which we are nicer to each other. This is the most basic of Jewish values... Zionism means that this is our only home and we must work to make it a better place to live.”
Rabbi Piron made the following remarks at the press conference referenced above: “It hurts me that in the land where Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel taught about being a wondrous nation, tikun olam [repairing the world] and being a light unto the nations, we are dealing with polarization.”
Lapid and other party representatives repeat these ideas daily in parlor meetings and speeches.
Gordis asks the question that every voting parent must ask: whether Lapid has anything interesting to say about education other than referring to “our sliding place in multiple international rankings.”
At the unveiling of the Yesh Atid education plan, which seeks to overhaul our education system, Lapid said, “We must go back to vision and values because education is not just learning material... Education is our chance to teach children who are talented in science that their goal should not be making a quick escape to Silicon Valley but to establish a hi-tech company in Israel and provide jobs to fellow Israelis... Education has to be the mechanism through which we create unity... A child cannot graduate from our schools without having seen a page of Talmud on the one side, or thinking that secular people are abominations on the other.”
Is this not speaking in lofty terms about goals in education? Finally, Gordis asks whether Lapid is open to a “country with a robust Jewish conversation at its core,” including issues of religious freedom.
Lapid regularly talks openly about this issue and has maintained a very clear stance on the topic in a speech to the Rabbinical Assembly in Atlanta on May 8.
Other Yesh Atid candidates speak regularly about this topic as well. For example, Dr. Aliza Lavie, No. 7 on the Yesh Atid list, said the following at the announcement of her candidacy: “I am joining Yair and Yesh Atid because it is time to bring the issues I have been involved with to the center of the political map and into the Israeli conversation – balancing Judaism and democracy... Yesh Atid is committed to reopening dialogue about all the important issues we have let fall to the side.”
It is my hope that these facts answer the questions satisfactorily for Gordis and for readers, and that this response helps set the record straight about Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid.The writer is an ordained rabbi, educator, author and community activist in Beit Shemesh who is a candidate for the 19th Knesset with the Yesh Atid party.