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Tuesday, November 30, 2021
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You can see it in the way the organizers effectively built an entirely new political movement to represent Haredi and Israeli nationalist values in the World Zionist Congress from scratch—and in less than two years.

You can see it in the fact that the movement enlisted 75 delegates and 15 alternatives, all well regarded in their communities, and attracted an impressive percentage of votes in their first run in the World Zionist Organization election in early spring 2020.

And you could see it at their first shabbaton as a recognized and influential new movement, where more than 340 people came out November 12-14 to the Woodcliff Lake Hilton in New Jersey to learn about the group’s accomplishments and to hear about its next moves.

Make no mistake—the Eretz HaKodesh has demonstrated an exceptional capacity to mobilize people in support of increasing the State of Israel’s engagement with and support of Haredi interests.

The Eretz HaKodesh shabbaton was an exceptionally well organized affair, with attention given to the smallest details and the big picture. The organizers enlisted the top-notch Diamond Kosher Caterers, which provided bountiful buffets, kiddushes and Shabbat meals in picture-perfect style. They enlisted the Yedidim Choir and Gershon Freshtadt to perform erev Shabbat and accompany the davening on Shabbat. And they brought in high-profile speakers from Israel, including World Zionist Organization Chairman Yaakov Hagoel; and Chaver Knesset MK Rabbi Yitzhak Pindrus, the former mayor of Beitar, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem and a leader of the Degel Party in Israel.

The shabbaton attracted Eretz HaKodesh delegates, supporters and interested parties from across the region and further afield.

Many of the attendees spoke of a fond and deep connection to Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the chairman of Eretz HaKodesh. He was able to build the movement based on a successful career in Jewish communal life: He is the executive vice president emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel and now serves as president of the Coalition of Jewish Values; a member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel; and a
writer whose columns have been published by the Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel.

One of his talents is his ability to enlist well regarded leaders to support this new endeavor. He cites HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita of Bnei Brak, as the posek of the Eretz HaKodesh movement. The noted New York area rav, Rabbi Chaim Aryeh Zev Ginzberg of Cedarhurst, has been a strong supporter and presented a drasha at the shabbaton. And on Shabbat afternoon Rabbi Nechemya Malinowitz, director of the Israel division of Eretz HaKodesh, spoke of the work of the movement in Israel.

To appreciate all that Eretz HaKodesh has accomplished, it helps to understand the situation that existed before they came on the scene. The quasi-governmental Israeli organization that links Israel with the Diaspora is the World Zionist Organization, which holds elections every five years (through constituent federations in different countries) to select delegates for the World Zionist Congress. It is the World Zionist Congress that sets policies for and allocates the $1 billion-plus combined budget for the WZO, the Jewish Agency and Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael/Jewish National Fund.

For decades, American Jewish organizations representing non-observant liberal and progressive Jewish views won a large share of the delegates. They used this platform to lobby the Israeli government for liberal causes, claiming that they represented world Jewry, and they steered funding to causes that reflected their values.

Lerner, as a delegate on the Mizrahi (Modern Orthodox) slate representing the National Council of Young Israel for many years, noticed the power imbalance and the gross misrepresentation of authentic Jewish interests. With help from other leaders in the Haredi community, he painstakingly built a new movement—Eretz HaKodesh—to act as a counterbalance.

In an interview with The Jewish Link, Lerner related that even before the World Zionist Congress elections in early 2020, the new movement faced legal challenges within the WZO from the Liberal and Progressive organizations, who questioned Eretz HaKodesh’s legitimacy as a “Zionist” organization. Fortunately, with the help of legal advisers such as Marc Jacob, Eretz HaKodesh overcame each challenge.

The next challenge Eretz HaKodesh faced was to persuade large numbers of American Haredi community members to vote in the World Zionist Congress election, something they had not done before.

When the World Zionist Congress elections took place, Eretz HaKodesh did well. Participation in the American election for delegates to the WZO Congress more than doubled from the previous election in 2015—56,000 American Jews voted in 2015 and over 123,000 voted in 2020. Eretz HaKodesh received the third highest number of votes, with the Mizrahi slate earning slightly more. Combined, the two groups attracted 33.7% of the vote in the American election. The Reform movement slate received the highest total of votes in 2020, at 25.5% of the vote; it is notable that their share of the vote in 2020 dropped precipitously from their 2015 total, which was 38.4% of the vote.

The shabbaton was the first time Eretz HaKodesh gathered their delegates and supporters to celebrate their remarkable victory and to share the achievements their movement had already made in the WZO.

Lerner noted that since their delegates joined the World Jewish Congress:

The Jewish Agency has begun searching for a Haredi community member to serve in their aliyah department, to respond to the needs of the Haredi public;

Nefesh B’Nefesh has added a Haredi desk to their organization;

The KKL/JNF has begun funding programs in eight Jewish communities over the Green Line (many of them Haredi);

Eretz HaKodesh used its influence in KKL/JNF to increase the organization’s observance of the laws of shemita;

Two busloads of teachers from the U.S. Haredi communities will be participating in a KKL/JNF teachers mission to Israel in January 2022.

One of the biggest accomplishments of Eretz HaKodesh was revealed during a Shabbat afternoon talk by Rabbi Nechemya Malinowitz, where he received a standing ovation for facilitating the entry into Israel of 25,000 Haredi students to study at Israeli yeshivot and seminaries from fall 2020 through summer 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic was still strong and restrictions were formidable.

Rabbi Malinowitz shared with the audience that Eretz HaKodesh is pursuing other changes, such as seeking funding from WZO subsidiary MASA for American Haredi students in Israeli yeshivot, and for a mission by heads of small to medium cities in Israel to visit Haredi centers in Lakewood, Baltimore and Atlanta. (He noted that a prior mission of this group visited Reform synagogues but no Haredi yeshivot.)

“Rabbi Pesach Lerner and all the people working with Eretz HaKodesh are facilitating that the Land of Israel and her programs find favor with HaKodesh Baruch Hu,” said Amit Yagboudi of Great Neck (a delegate), who attended the shabbaton with her husband, Eliezer (an alternate delegate), and their four children.

“I thought that it was important to galvanize support from Jews living abroad, to support religious and national causes in Israel,” said Eliyahu Prero of Monsey, a delegate and law school student who attended the shabbaton with his wife, Adina.

One of the best tributes to the work of Eretz HaKodesh could be seen in the awe-inspiring assemblage of frum Jews of many different hashkafot, who all came to support this vital cause and work together to see it prosper.

By Harry Glazer

 

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