By Martin Nachimson
This past July, I had the privilege, along with a group of high-level OU leaders and supporters, to attend a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. We spent the hour-long meeting, which Prime Minister Netanyahu seemed to genuinely enjoy, informing him who we are, what we represent, and what our relationship is to Israel and to its government.
Having spoken at our convention and having met with our leadership many times, Prime Minister Netanyahu was well aware that the OU is the largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization in the United States, representing hundreds of synagogues and thousands of Orthodox Jews throughout North America. But I don’t believe he realized the incredible breadth and scope of our activities. We explained that the OU is a leader in youth work, reaching 20,000 teenagers annually, and bringing 1,500 young people to Israel each summer to deepen their connection to the Jewish State. We explained our trailblazing efforts to provide social and educational programing for Jews with disabilities as well as our efforts to promote the pro-Israel agenda in Washington, to strengthen Jewish life on college campuses throughout North America and to enhance the lives of Anglo olim, under the aegis of the Seymour J. Abrams Jerusalem World Center. Prime Minister Netanyahu seemed truly impressed to learn about our multi-faceted array of programs and initiatives.
But the point of the meeting was not simply to keep the Prime Minister abreast of our activities. As we all know, various non-Orthodox organizations are making difficult demands on the Israeli government, and threatening that there will be a major schism within American Jewry if compromises relating to religious integrity are not made. Several such groups recently penned a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu stating that if their demands are not met, it will have a “serious impact on the vital relationship between the State of Israel and world Jewry.”
We—the Orthodox community—have a fundamentally different approach. We believe it is inappropriate for American organizations to interfere in Israel’s internal policies. We maintain that matters relating to Israeli foreign affairs, national security and religious integrity are best left to the democratic State of Israel and its institutions to decide. In fact, it has been the long-standing policy of the OU not to interfere in Israel’s internal decisions in these arenas.
One of the key messages we conveyed to the Prime Minister is this: Our support for Israel is unconditional. Unconditional means just that—not conditioned on compromising Israeli national security and not conditioned on compromising Israeli religious integrity.
We stand with Israel; whether that means opposing the Iran Deal, fighting the BDS movement, or mobilizing communal, media and US government support for Israel, we are and will continue to be there for Israel.
According to the 2013 study of American Jewry by the Pew Research Center, relative to the non-Orthodox communities, the American Orthodox community feels the strongest connection to the Jewish State.
The study states: Orthodox Jews are more apt than members of other denominations to say they feel very emotionally attached to Israel. This is due to the deep attachment to Israel felt by Modern Orthodox Jews, 77% of whom say they feel very attached to the Jewish state.
According to the study, Orthodox Jews are more likely than other American Jews to have traveled to Israel—77 percent have done so, significantly more than the non-Orthodox.
It is no secret that the overwhelming majority of Anglo olim are Orthodox. As Modern Orthodox Jews, we imbue our children with a sense of the historical and religious significance of the Jewish State—and we make aliyah a priority. We believe that Eretz Yisrael is our God-given land, and that our right to the land is rooted in the Torah. And while some of us are not yet able to make Israel our permanent home, it is our hope and our dream to do so one day.
We invest in Israel by purchasing homes and property in the country, by spending substantial parts of the year there, by sending our children to study and to live there, and by traveling there extensively. Israel is a centerpiece and a focal point of our lives. It is in our minds and in our hearts—always.
But—and this was another key message we wanted to convey to Prime Minister Netanyahu—our unwavering support needs to be recognized and acknowledged. We not only represent a significant portion of American Jewry—we represent one of fastest-growing segments of American Jewry. American Orthodoxy is dynamic, vibrant and growing. Thus, when Israeli officials meet with American Jewish leaders to discuss matters impacting relations with American Jewry, we must be present.
The non-Orthodox organizations do not represent us or our views. We are proud of our fervent and ongoing support for Medinat Yisrael, but our voice must be heard.
We want to deepen our relationship with the Israeli government not to dictate their policies and decisions but to partner with them to help achieve our mutual goals: to promote the peace and welfare of Am Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael.