Monday, February 7, 2011

The Belz Rebbe's shaliach returns to the Knesset

MK Yisrael Eichler
In another shuffling of Israel's leaders, the Haredi MK Yisrael Eichler (Yehudut HaTorah) is next on his party's list to fill the place of Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, who will submit his resignation this week.

Yisrael Eichler is a Belz Chassid, lives in Jerusalem, and is married with 14 children. His father Menashe Eichler was active in the defense group Lechi before 1948 and fought in the Paratroopers unit after Israel gained its independence. Yisrael graduated from Belz Torah institutions and worked as a reporter. He was a guest on many secular Israeli TV shows, such as Populitika, where he appeared side-by-side with the far-left Shinui MK Yossi Lapid. Eichler has also published Torah sefarim, articles and pamphlets. He speaks Arabic, English and Yiddish.

In 2003, Eichler was elected into the Knesset as the shaliach of the Belz Rebbe, HaRav Yissasschar Dov Rokeach. During his time in the Knesset he faced criticism from the Chareidi community for taking centrist positions on state affairs. The Belz Rebbe is known for his readiness to form alliances with diverse Charedi communities and his pragmatism in relation to working with the Israeli government. From my experience, Belz preserve the deep intuition of Chasidus that there is no place devoid of Him; the Swiss Belz Rebbe has told women that if they are qualified to do so there is no reason to refrain from pursuing a Ph.D., thereby bringing Torah into ever far-off places.

The following is taken from the Belz Rebbe's writings, collected in the book Contemporary Sages: The Great Chasidic Masters of the Twentieth Century by Avraham Yaakov Finkel (Jason Aranson, 1994):
Every Jew must firmly believe that inside him there resides a pure soul. Regardless of what his situation may be, even if he has strayed from the right path, the inner essence of his soul — which is a portion of God — remains pure and unsullied. ... From this tiny center of the soul that has not been tainted by evil, the transgressor derives the strength to do teshuvah (repentance), make amends for all his failings, and soar to the loftiest spiritual heights...
Everyone knows that the Arabs residing in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) — descendants of Ishmael — have only one aim: to drive the Jewish people out of Eretz Yisrael and to annihilate them. Now, when the Jewish people conduct themselves in the proper manner, the Arabs most certainly will have no power to harm them. To the contrary, the Arabs themselves will vanish from the scene. But even when Jews do not behave quite as they should, then the Holy One, Blessed be He, compares His nation with the nations of the world. And when viewed together, He finds that the Jewish people are the acme of perfection. ... For the Jewish people, when measured against the nations of the world, are absolutely flawless. In this merit, the Jewish people will defeat their enemies and crush them.
Eichler been vocal in the past on the need to fight racism against Chareidim, and has warned that if secular Israelis were not busy fighting Arabs, they would be persecuting the ultra-Orthodox even more. During an interview in 2010, he called the public uproar against the state funds for Torah study "incitement" comparable to Al Jazeera's campaign against the Jewish people. Eichler attributed such sentiment to NIF-style who have an explicit agenda to fight the non-secularization of Israel and fund daily articles and media coverage 'exposing' the 'evils' of the religious and Chareidi communities. 

One of the most shocking aspects of making aliyah has been my discovery that I sadly feel more prejudice in Israel to Chareidi aspects of my identity and observance than I did in the states. While anti-Semitism still exists, there are many goyim today who have a certain degree of respect for religiosity and know inside that the Chareidim are the exemplar of the Jewish people. Moreover, American society is highly sensitive to racism and has always been anxious about multiculturalism and religious freedom. There are many stories from the Israeli press on the Chareidi community that would never be able to run in newspapers outside Israel.

In the book 2048, which I have discussed previously in this blog, the geopolitical analyst and futurist David Passig claims that Israel will be able to hold its ground with the territories it holds today, but only if there is no interior dissolution within Israeli society. Like in the time of the Davidic kingdom, the uniting of the southern and northern kingdoms was crucial for King David to consolidate the nation and establish Jewish sovereignty which lasted for no less than 600 years. Many have warned that the Arab-Israeli conflict is a cover for the unraveling of tensions between secular and religious communities. Don't be fooled, our enemies know this, and will do everything possible to divide and conquer, create wedges between 'settlers' and Tel Aviv, and pollute us with sentiments of hate and demonization that are foreign to the Jewish people.

The vessel for all blessings is and has always been peace. That does not mean holding the status quo, or kumbaya circles, contrary to the contemporary dumbing-down of the word. Israel must engage in what it is meant to do, and there is no compromise on that part. But the Jewish people, opinions, backgrounds, and observance aside, are one, eternal body. Anything that challenges this unity is the work of our enemy.

אין כלי מחזיק ברכה אלא שלום

**A word of caution** Please be thoughtful when doing searches and reading about Eichler online. There is a lot of lashon hara (=slanderous speech) out there. I have tried to collect the objective information about Eichler's life and career, as someone who welcomes the influence of Torah in Israel's political sphere. Please keep in mind that Eichler is indeed operating within a culture that has strong anti-religious currents, even more so than what Jews in the diaspora and he is not about to get stepped on. In the paragraph above, double quotes = quote; single quotes = my own.

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