Rabbis from North America visited Israel recently on a mission to support the Jewish state as well as meet with Israel’s new leaders and understand developments in the country.
Though the rabbis and Jewish educational leaders have been to Israel many times in the past, this is their first trip back in 18 months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Much has changed.
Organized by Mizrachi Religious Zionists of America, the rabbis believe God promised the Land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria, to the Jewish people.
“We represent all of our communities in America, and we felt it important as leaders to come as a group and to be able to bring messages back to our communities about what’s going on here,” said Rabbi Ari Rockoff, Executive Vice President of Mizrachi Religious Zionists of America.
“I miss my homeland. During Corona, not only for a time, we weren't in our synagogues, but we haven't had the opportunity to visit our homeland, our ancestral homeland, the State of Israel. It is a solidarity mission and I'm happy to come to be with the people of Israel,” said Rabbi Jonathan Muskat of the Young Israel of Oceanside Congregation in New York.
“The experience this time has been fascinating because we've had the opportunity to meet with political leadership, rabbinic leadership to see places we never saw before even though all of us have been to Israel so many times,” said Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Co-President of Mizrachi Religious Zionists of America.
During COVID, Israel elected a new government, one that includes factions who don’t support Israel’s claim over the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria- also known as the West Bank. The Israeli claim to that land is a subject of particular interest to the group, which met several Knesset members representing a wide range of opinions.
“Meeting people is the key. Encountering relationships is everything,” Rockoff told CBN News. “We’re reading the media, understanding that this government was certainly going to be different than the previous government.”
Rockoff said that both Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Israel’s new President Isaac Herzog were educated in schools in the US belonging to the Religious Zionist movement.
“We feel like we really had a chance during this trip to just understand the issues better and have a dialogue with them. What happens, happens. That’s in God’s hands. We pray for the government,” Rockoff said. “This government, while different than perhaps the past, we think we’re very optimistic, actually.”
“We visited many different MKs and many different residents with so many different viewpoints about what to do, about the politics, the new government, how to deal with the Palestinians, the Arab Israelis,” Muskat told CBN News. “It was wonderful to have an open dialogue with so many people who are just so passionate. This is true democracy.”
“Change is always complicated, and it can very often be very good and we're hoping that we'll be able to overcome the complications and reach the point of good with the new government,” Matanky told CBN News.
They visited Israeli-Gaza border communities targeted by more than 4,000 rockets during the 11-day Israel-Hamas war in May.
They also traveled to the city of Lod, where 11 synagogues were burned during the worst intra-communal violence between Jews and Arabs in Israel in decades.
“Lod was very painful because it was a community which everyone had such great dreams of, how Arabs and Israelis could live together in peace. And how we thought they were living together peace and all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, violence erupted that was so reminiscent of the violence pre-State and violence of 1929,” Matanky shared.
“It was devastating to hear. You sensed when you spoke to the residents, you sensed the trauma that the people are going through,” said Muskat. “I actually asked one of the residents, ‘what's the plan going forward?’ And she said, ‘I don't know.’”
CBN News accompanied the group on their trip through the biblical heart land of Samaria. They met with Davidi Ben Zion, Deputy Head of the Shomron (Samaria) Regional Council.
“It’s very exciting to host this group. We’re in a complicated time in Judea and Samaria, specifically in Samaria,” Ben Zion shared. “So, the strong connection between us to our brothers to our friends abroad give us a lot of power and energy to work hard in this very important mission to make more and more settlement in Shomron today.”
Ben Zion says they face two challenges today: security, and maintaining White House support like they had under the previous administration in Washington.
Ben Zion wants this group to be ambassadors.
“It’s very important to explain to the world why it’s so critical for Israel that we will be strong,” Ben Zion said. “I’m afraid that if we will not be strong enough here in Shomron, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, will break and the Arabs will attack all Israel, exactly like it’s happening in Gaza against Ashdod, Sderot and Ashkelon,” he said.
And what will the Religious Zionists tell their own communities back home?
“We’re here with solidarity. We’re here to connect and to bring that message home to everyone that as soon as they can, this should be their first trip, back to Israel, back to home,” Rockoff said.
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