By David Bibi
What will the Jewish world look like for our children and grandchildren, especially for those who remain outside the land of Israel? What contribution are we making towards defining that world beyond our own four cubits? What responsibility do we have?
We read this week that “Hashem blessed Abraham with everything.” Rashi asks how we define the word “ba’kol,” everything. He writes that the word ba’kol is numerically equal to the word ben, meaning son, and continues, “Since he (Abraham) now had a son (Isaac), he had to find him a wife.” From here we learn that one generation is responsible for the Jewish continuity of the next generation—of defining the world and ensuring there is a tomorrow. Abraham is always stepping forward and it’s his example we must follow.
In last week’s portion, we read of our forefather at 99 years old. Three days earlier he complied with Hashem’s command to circumcise his entire household, which must have been quite daunting. He circumcised himself and his son and now is at the height of post-operative pain and discomfort. The sun, as if removed from the sheath which protects the world from the heat and rays, shines down, making venturing out nearly impossible. Abraham is sitting at the entrance of his tent in the midst of some prophetic experience where Hashem has come to him. And then what appears to be a group of three Arab travelers is seen in the distance. Abraham has every excuse to remain where he is. Instead, he runs to greet and serve them. We are often told that to succeed in life, one must step out of his comfort zone. The example set for us by Abraham is so much more.
Last week we saw Abraham running to do. We saw him argue with G‑d over Sedom. And we saw him go against his very nature in binding Isaac. The week prior, we saw Hashem tell Abraham to go, lech lecha, and he does. We saw Abraham risk life and limb to rescue his nephew. Abraham is our example of stepping out of our comfort zone into the world and making a difference. He stands in sharp contrast to his ancestor Noah who locks himself into the Ark, saving no humans other than his family.
As observant Jews from tight-knit communities, we often find ourselves mimicking Noah and locking out the turbulent waters of the outside world. We build our own “arks” for our families and friends. We create a comfort zone. We ought to remember that it is Abraham whom we should mimic.
Last week, I attended a continuing-education program in media training. What would have been an expensive course was, thanks to our friends at UJA, free to members of the local rabbinate. And I am deeply grateful to UJA and to the course presenters and teachers for an incredibly informative day.
When I walked into the room, I was one of 14 rabbis attending. Strangely enough, many of these rabbis wore no yarmulkes—although most of the female rabbis did have kippahs on their heads. And when our OU-certified sandwiches were served, only my neighbor from Lido Beach, Rabbi Shaul Rappeport, and I got up to wash. We presumed we wouldn’t get a third for zimun, and we were right. Now, the other 12 attendees were brilliant people with master’s degrees and doctorates that attest to the fact. They were also kind and socially conscious. But when it came to what I’ll label as Torat Moshe, halachah and rabbinic Judaism, they were clueless. And just as sad was that these were the types of rabbis we read about in the papers over the holidays who were scared to speak about supporting Israel because so many of their left-leaning liberal and intermarried congregants were spewing anti-Israel propaganda in line with their bible, the New York Times.
You may be thinking that we have nothing to do with these people; why am I even telling this story?
Four years ago, Rav Ovadia Yosef, zt’l, and the Council of Torah Sages directed us to join the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and help influence the future of the Jewish people. Rav Yosef personally commissioned Yigal Bibi, former member of Knesset and mayor of Tiberias, to direct these efforts.
The WZO was originally founded at the initiative of Theodore Herzl at the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. It was based on the principles of creating a Jewish homeland in Eretz Israel and ultimately ending anti-Semitism. The WZO includes several national institutions that are active in Israel and world Jewry. These institutes include the Jewish Agency, Zionist Federation, Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, and Keren Hayesod. In the past, the Diaspora supported these efforts. Now, at the backing of Natan Sharansky, the Israeli government participates actively in funding projects run by these national institutions, with the emphasis this year on support for the absorption of immigrants and expansion of Jewish education and identity in the Diaspora.
Who dictates how the money is spent and who dictates the direction of the education, both in Israel and abroad? The delegates of the WZO. And if we do not heed the words of the Rishon l’Tzion Rav Yosef, zt’l, and take a stand, then the ones who dictate will all resemble those 12 rabbis and their liberal congregants. And our children and our children’s children will feel the effect. It is time to step out of our comfort zone.
Rav Yosef understood that we, the Torah-observant community, must have a strong influence in the education of the Jewish people throughout the world; to provide rabbis and educators in the Diaspora, absorb and encourage aliyah, and ensure that these issues are not left to outside influences.
To that end, the World Sephardic Zionist Organization—Ohavei Zion—was formed with a list of delegates from our many communities, all under the banner championed by Rav Ovadia Yosef and supported by our Sephardic sages today. Each and every lover of Torah and mitzvot must join in this endeavor. And it takes so little to do so. There are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of us. We can really make a difference. We simply need to register and vote.
Elections for the 37th World Zionist Congress will take place during the coming year for the delegates for these national institutions. Our aspirations are to strengthen the presence of the World Sephardic Zionist legacy of Maran. For the first time, the delegates will also be representing the issue of the rights of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, which was recognized by the Israeli government and the international community through legislation initiated by a member of Knesset.
Our sages are appealing to our brothers and sisters throughout the world to support the Ohavei Zion movement within the World Zionist Organization for the upcoming elections, which will be crucial for the future identity and unity of the Jewish people.
The first step in creating our new party is to register a minimum of 600 people so that we can become a recognized party, and this must be done within the next 30 days. To register in support of the party, please visit https://admin.election-america.com/Candidates/?petition=10.
There you will be asked to fill in your personal information and check off boxes approving our party. There is a nominal registration fee of $5 for those under 30 or $10 for the rest of us. Please make sure all your family members register.
Additionally, we will need volunteers and point-people to assist us from every synagogue and school in every community in the country. This is your opportunity to truly make a difference. If you can help, please contact Lana Eliyahu at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 917-213-4600.
We are not known as b’nei Noach. We are called b’nei Yisrael. We are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are the children of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. They were each tested to step out of their comfort zones. Each was required to venture beyond the ark. Each changed the world.
We saw last week that Abraham had lots of excuses available to him—old age, pain, even G‑d’s presence as an excuse not to get up. Yet he used none of them. And he did not just step out; he ran. This week we see his dedication to the future. One may be blessed with everything, but without a future, everything is worthless.
The work to register our communities is great. The time is short. The potential benefits are enormous. And our sages are begging us to step out and run. Join us in this marathon to benefit the Jewish people. Prepare the future.
David Bibi is vice-chair of Ohavei Zion of the World Sephardic Zionist Organization and the senior rabbi at B’nei Asher, the Sephardic Congregation of Long Beach.