Wednesday, Aug 4, 2021

“Either Way, We Have Won”

The Yated follows Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, the director of Lev L’Achim and the number-eight man on the Yahadut HaTorah list, during the race for the Twentieth Knesset. As we speak to Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin just 24 hours before the polls open, we still do not know how many mandates his party, Yahadut HaTorah, will have received when you hold this newspaper in your hands. Rabbi Sorotzkin’s voice is hoarse from exertion. After several nights without sleep, and two months of grueling labor, he acknowledges, “Yes, I am tense!”

If there has ever been a time when it was appropriate to say that the tension has reached its height, this is it. The tension has now reached record heights. Although we do not put our faith in elections or in politics, this is a day when chareidi society will be put to the test, in more ways than one.

Internally, it is a time when every member of our communities will be tested, a day that will determine who among us heeds the directives of the gedolei Yisroel and who, for various reasons of his or her own, feels justified in breaking ranks with the community and damaging our collective unity. And it is also a time when we will be tested from without – by the chiloni society of the state. The more our electoral power grows, the more the secular society, which values “democracy,” must take us into account. And the less political clout we possess, the more they will feel free to turn their backs on us.

This is nothing new. It is only through political power and strength that the chareidi community – like the Arab community – is able to receive anything at all from the state. In this country, every secular child receives a classroom, a chair, and a computer station, regardless of how his parents voted. Chareidi children, meanwhile, are just barely given classrooms, and even then, only if the chareidi party for which their parents voted is part of the coalition. Why, you ask, is that the case? The answer is: That is simply the way it is.

Perhaps we also bear some of the responsibility for this situation, but that is not the subject of this article, and that is not what we have set out to write about. In fact, it is not a subject to be discussed publicly at all. In America, this could never happen. In America, religious Jews vote for a non-Jewish candidate, and he knows that he must provide for their needs, just as he must provide for the needs of his other constituents. Every government official knows that if he reneges on his commitments, or he belittles his Jewish voters, they will support the candidate from the opposing party in the next round of elections. But in the State of Israel, this is not yet the case. The chareidim have their own parties, and if those parties have enough clout and are part of the coalition, then every chareidi citizen will get “something.” If not, not only will the chareidim of the country receive nothing, but the government will actually harm them, which is exactly what took place in the previous term.

That is why there is great significance to the question of how many votes – and how many mandates – the chareidi parties will receive. And that is why Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman has made it clear that on Election Day, each of us will be making a choice between kiddush Hashem and, chas veshalom, the opposite.

– – – – –

Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, who is in the eighth slot on Yahadut HaTorah’s list of candidates, has made a major contribution to the party in the current campaign. At the moment, we do not know how many mandates the party will earn – although the polls indicate that it will be between six and eight – but whatever happens, there is no question that the party’s last mandate will be the fruit of Rabbi Sorotzkin’s hard work. Over the past two months, he has not rested for a moment. Even before the votes are counted and the polling stations mapped, it is clear that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of votes from the periphery of the country were brought in by his efforts. Rabbi Sorotzkin has commented more than once that even if he only succeeds in bringing the seventh candidate on the list into the Knesset, while he himself is left out, he will feel that he has done his duty.

So the tension is now at its peak.

“Absolutely,” Rabbi Sorotzkin agrees. “I have been given a mission, and I have been working on it for almost two months. It is now 24 hours before the polls open, and it is only natural for me to be feeling quite tense. I can see the apprehension of the gedolei Yisroel. I saw it last week, when they demonstrated uncharacteristic interest and concern for the results of the election. Naturally, I am also deeply concerned about how the elections will impact kavod Shomayim and the honor of the gedolim. I understand the importance of this battle, and I am well aware of what has happened to our community over the past two years. If we fail, no one knows what the future will bring us.”

You must also be worried about the possibility that you will not be elected.

“My feelings of tension are not based on personal considerations. The question of whether I myself will be a member of the Knesset does not trouble me all that much. What does concern me, what has created great tension for me, is the possibility that we might not receive more votes than in the past. We are approaching a day of judgment, a day when our society will be put to the test. I am happy that most of our society is passionate about the elections. I am sad that it is only the majority, not everyone, but I am observing the community, and there is a definite majority united for the cause, with a great sense of mission.”

The people of Lev L’Achim are also very much in suspense.

“Yes. We feel that we have managed to spread a sense of trepidation and passion to everyone. I assume that the tension is somewhat greater within Lev L’Achim, since the elections will determine whether their director will be part of the Knesset. I am doing my job and they are doing theirs. We have all answered the call of the gedolei Yisroel. But you are correct. For them, these elections have the added aspect of determining whether their own director, with whom they work closely all year long, will be a member of the Knesset.”

Have you reassured them that if you are not elected, it won’t be a tragedy?

“For the time being, I prefer not to say anything to them. I want them to remain focused on the eighth slot on the list and to work with the sense that there is no other option. It is important to me for everyone in Lev L’Achim to maintain their passion and enthusiasm until the very last moment. That is part of my goal.”

I think that part of the reason they are tense is that they would actually prefer not to see you in the Knesset. They would much rather have you with them all the time, rather than see you spending half of your time in the Knesset and only half with Lev L’Achim.

“I disagree. That may have been their feeling at the beginning of the campaign, but they have heard time and again from the gedolim that Lev L’Achim will not be harmed even if I am elected to the Knesset. This is a statement that has been made from every possible platform. I am not going to abandon my current responsibilities, and even if I am elected, I will continue doing everything I am doing now, and potentially with even greater power, wielding the title of Knesset member. Because of this, they are no longer concerned that something might happen to our organization if I am elected. I am confident about this.”

We don’t have to wait for the votes to be counted to know that your efforts have brought Yahadut HaTorah an additional seat in the Knesset. If the party receives only seven mandates, wouldn’t it be only fair for the seventh candidate on the list to cede his position to you?

“There is a certain order in the system. There are other Knesset members who have precedence over me, and they are highly qualified. It is especially important to note that our portion of the Yahadut HaTorah party – the Degel HaTorah segment – is represented by Rabbi Moshe Gafni, Rabbi Uri Maklev, and Rabbi Yaakov Asher, and they are all excellent.”

I agree with you, but since the additional mandate is undoubtedly the product of your efforts and those of Lev L’Achim, and the party wouldn’t have received it otherwise, doesn’t that mean that it belongs to you?

“Is that a reason for it to ‘belong’ to me? I have carried out the mission with which the gedolei Yisroel have entrusted me, and the number of Knesset members we have will be the result.

“Parenthetically, I feel that I have actually added more than just a single mandate. I believe that after all the votes from across the country are counted, it will become evident that we brought in more than one mandate. This will be clear from the many cities where Yahadut HaTorah did not previously receive any votes, or it received only a few, and the number of our supporters will now be seen to have risen dramatically.”

Why will that happen?

“Because I have brought a new spirit to the campaign. My presence has added something new. There is a reason that the party has placed me in the forefront of our advertisements. In addition, I was able to do something for the party that we do in Lev L’Achim: I injected a fierce spirit into the election campaign. On every radio and television program where I appeared, it was clear that I spoke with passion. I was an active participant in the entire campaign effort. I used the same spirit of passion and enthusiasm that we have been applying for so many years in Lev L’Achim.”

Is that why you were the master of ceremonies at the rally last week in Bnei Brak?

“That is certainly possible. And it was a truly unparalleled event. I made sure to speak with the greatest passion and fervor, both in my own address and when I introduced the other speakers. The level of emotion can have a major impact on the election campaign.”

Was that because of your own personal excitement?

“My position at the rally didn’t stir my emotions all that much, since I have many years of experience standing on the stage at major events. But there was one thing unique about this rally, one thing that had never happened before: All the senior talmidei chachomim of our generation were together on one stage. Until that evening, we had felt that we would never see all of them together on a single stage, but then it happened right before our eyes. Rav Gershon Edelstein, Rav Yitzchok Scheiner, and of course Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman were all there. These are all people who are close to the age of 100. Rav Nissim Karelitz, who is very ill and hasn’t appeared in public in many months, was also present, as was Rav Aryeh Finkel, who was injured not long ago and hadn’t left his home since. He arrived in a wheelchair. And then there was the huge crowd in attendance. They say that there were close to 100,000 people there.”

What was the purpose of the event?

“There was great value in the fact that all the gedolim were together on the stage, and a crowd of 100,000 people spontaneously erupted into singing ‘Yomim al yemei melech tosif.’ This was a declaration of their absolute loyalty to the gedolei hador. And ever since the rally, we have been contacted by thousands of people seeking to lend a hand. The election campaign has become a battle for kavod Shomayim.”

You must be aware that it is possible that because of the Arab parties, as well as Eli Yishai, the number of votes needed for a mandate may rise by several thousand. Yahadut HaTorah and Shas might receive more votes than anticipated but still gain fewer mandates.

“That is a distinct possibility. It is indeed very distressing that the Arabs have united in a single list and that they might thereby earn tens of thousands of additional votes and cause the chareidim to lose representation.”

The polls are currently predicting that the Arab parties together will garner 13 mandates, while as individual parties they never amassed more than ten in total.

On a personal level, do you want to be a member of the Knesset?

“I want to continue doing what I have been doing, but I am gradually growing more confident that through working in that place, in addition to Lev L’Achim, I will be able to exercise even more influence.”

Have you shared your feelings with the thousands of people working under you in Lev L’Achim?

“As of now, I am sharing with them only things that will contribute to the campaign. I have not voiced any of my own thoughts if I felt that there was a chance that they might decrease the intensity of their efforts. Therefore, I haven’t shared any of this with them. On Election Day, when the polls close, all of the people of Lev L’Achim will receive a personal message through our computerized system. It has already been recorded and uploaded to the system.”

Then you can certainly let me in on the secret of what the message says. This article will be published the day after the elections.

“You are correct. The message says the following: ‘My dear partners and companions on this journey, we do not know right now what the results of the elections will be, but in a few minutes, the initial estimates will be announced. In all likelihood, in the morning we will know more clearly what we have received. But there is one thing that I would like to say: We do not yet know whether chareidi society or the Yahadut HaTorah party have won this election, but we, in Lev L’Achim, have certainly won. We have won the battle for the trust that the gedolei Yisroel have placed in us. We have won the battle by being a group filled with motivation and carrying out the directives of the gedolei Yisroel, and by doing it with such energy that the public was astonished by the scope and diligence of our activities. We have won the battle because of our loyalty to each other. There is no question that we will move on from this victory by investing tremendous energy in our school registration campaign, in our midrashot for young men and for young women, and in knocking on the doors of families thirsting for Yiddishkeit. And I hope that chareidi Jewry will also win this battle.’ That is essentially my message.”

When will it be heard?

“At the very last minute, just before the polls close. I do not wish for anyone to say that it was meant to convey a sense of resignation, consolation over a loss, or anything else. It will be played at one minute before ten o’clock, so that no one can interpret it in one way or another. Until that time, we must all keep working with the attitude that we will win the eighth mandate. In fact, that is my belief.”

Really?

“Yes. I believe that we will have eight seats in the next Knesset.”

This week, an interesting advertisement appeared in the Hebrew Yated Ne’eman asking for campaign activists to relay to Lev L’Achim the contact information of any families or individuals they encountered who might be interested in learning more about Yiddishkeit. In other words, now that Lev L’Achim did its part to advance the election campaign, it is asking for the favor to be returned, and for all those who worked on the campaign to remember that there is also plenty of work to do after the elections are over. I comment to Rabbi Sorotzkin about the advertisement.

I see that they can take Rabbi Sorotzkin out of Lev L’Achim, but they can’t take Lev L’Achim out of Rabbi Sorotzkin.

“That advertisement has been published regularly since the beginning of the election campaign. It is nothing new. The only thing that changed is that we now added the words ‘at the end of the campaign,’ meaning that we are asking for the contact information of those people to be forwarded to us only after the elections are over. We want to make it clear that this is for the purpose of kiruv, not for gaining votes.”

Do you have any lessons or conclusions to share from the election campaign, regardless of whether you are elected?

“I think that one of the main lessons we must take out of this is that the more we are united, the less others will be able to harm us.”

It seems that you have given your colleagues some lessons in communication through the media.

“I haven’t taught them anything. Perhaps I was something new, something more interesting and out of the ordinary, a more colorful personality, and that made me particularly sought after for media interviews. It isn’t always a good thing to be a media attraction. In any event, it would be unfair to my colleagues in the Knesset if I were to imply anything negative about them. They are very good. I believe that it would be very wrong for anyone to try to belittle them and their achievements. They are a very good group of legislators, and if I become one of them, I will be joining an excellent group.”

I didn’t mean to denigrate them or their accomplishments. I only meant that you showed them how to use the screen and the microphone to get a message across.

“I have no idea what you mean. It’s true that I had siyata diShmaya. The interviewers generally tried to trip me up, and I think that I did a fairly good job of responding to them. It is really a tremendous responsibility to face those people, and it takes a good deal of intelligence to respond appropriately. In truth, even though I have no lack of self-confidence, I davened before each interview for Hashem to be with me and to place the correct responses in my mouth.”

If you aren’t elected, will you no longer be a part of the Yahadut HaTorah party?

“I think that I am already a part of it, and that will not change. I will certainly be happy to make my own contribution, although I can’t see how I would be able to do that if I am not elected. Time will tell. If I can make a contribution even from outside the Knesset, I will do that.”

What about serving as the head of the Ministry of Education? That is a position that is critical for chareidi society.

“I don’t know. I will carry out any task that I am given, but with the understanding that I am the director of Lev L’Achim above all else.

“I understand that our conversation of the past few weeks is about to end, so please allow me to express my deepest gratitude to the readers of Yated Ne’eman in America, many of whom have been very great friends and partners with us for many years. I am both obligated and happy to thank them for their constant interest, for sharing these experiences for us, for their friendship and for their support. I haven’t always been available during this time, because I have been very busy, but their encouragement was extremely valuable. We are involved in a battle that encompasses the entire world, and it was very valuable for us to receive the support of our friends in the United States, who have always been our partners in all our efforts, and who have partnered with us in this campaign as well.”

We will speak again next week.

“Yes, with Hashem’s help.”

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