The Yahadut HaTorah party received a great gift from the most unexpected source: This week, former journalist Shachar Ilan wrote on his blog, which was published in Haaretz, the newspaper for which he used to write, “Many polls are predicting that Yahadut HaTorah will rise from seven to eight mandates. In that situation, the director of Lev L’Achim, Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, will join the Knesset. Rabbi Sorotzkin is a member of Degel HaTorah and is responsible for bringing thousands of people back to Judaism. Few people have caused as much damage as he has to the future of Israel and its economy.”
Despite the way it was phrased, Rabbi Sorotzkin could never have hoped for such a great compliment – an admission that he has accomplished more than most other people to change Israeli society.
Shachar Ilan spent about 25 years writing for various Israeli newspapers, especially Kol Ha’ir, a local newspaper in Yerushalayim, and the daily Haaretz. In both of these publications, he never even tried to mask his enmity – perhaps even his revulsion – for the chareidi community. Ilan, along with several of his friends from the extreme right, worked tirelessly to oppose government funding of Torah institutions. The fact that the State of Israel does not support Lev L’Achim, even though it should have done so gladly for many reasons, is due in large part to Shachar Ilan. He is one of the people who has demonized this organization, which the gedolei Yisroel view as a lifesaving force for the current secular generation in the State of Israel.
Much of Ilan’s journalistic battle against the chareidi community was waged in conjunction with the Reform movement. During his years as a journalist, it looked like a purely professional effort, but when he left Haaretz – or, rather, when he was fired for budgetary reasons, leaving on terms that were far from amicable – he joined forces with Reform Rabbi Uri Regev and American millionaire Stanley Gold to found the Chiddush (Chofesh Dat Shivyon, Religious Freedom and Equality) organization, where he was later revealed to be receiving an enormous salary. In his work for that organization, Ilan publishes various articles on numerous platforms and consistently appears at Knesset debates relevant to the chareidim, on which he publishes his own reports. This week, as we mentioned, he turned his attention to Rabbi Sorotzkin.
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Over the past few weeks, Rabbi Sorotzkin has had an extremely busy schedule. We spoke to him on Sunday and asked for a description of his activities that day.
“In the morning,” he begins, “I was at the offices of Lev L’Achim.” Those offices are located in Netanya, where he lives. “Along with my work for the elections, I cannot neglect Lev L’Achim. We are now at the height of the school registration season. There is a tremendous amount of work to do. You have reached me on the road,” he adds. I called his cell phone. “My first stop is in Kiryat Atta, where I am scheduled to meet with a group of Lev L’Achim operatives from the area, people who understand the significance of our efforts. These people themselves asked for this meeting, so that they could get involved during this election period. They asked to meet with me in order to learn how to craft a plan for field work and how to approach secular or traditional families. I will be spending about two hours in Kiryat Atta, and I will be going from there to Kiryat Bialik, where I am supposed to meet up with Rabbi Moshe Gafni. There is a large community of baalei teshuvah there who wish to join our efforts.
“You must understand,” he adds, “that these are places where Yahadut HaTorah has never received many votes. For the party itself, this is a refreshing change. And we want to make it clear to these baalei teshuvah that not only do we need their help now, but we will also be at their disposal as members of the Knesset. Baalei teshuvah have their own communal needs, and we will be the address for everything they require. There is also a midrashah of Lev L’Achim there, which will also be involved in the election campaign.”
Kiryat Atta and Kiryat Bialik are located in proximity to Haifa, along with several other similarly named cities, including Kiryat Mutzkin and Kiryat Yam. Each “kiryah” is a city in its own right.
Where are you going after Kiryat Bialik?
“Moshe Gafni and I will be traveling to Acco, where we will have a meeting with Lev L’Achim activists and people from the local neighborhoods. If I can extrapolate from the meetings I attended last week, I can tell you that there is great enthusiasm. You can feel the passion in the air. People are searching for Yiddishkeit and they view the Yahadut HaTorah campaign as a holy cause.”
Is it helpful to you, as a Knesset candidate, that you are identified with Lev L’Achim, or is it problematic?
“I originally thought that there might be baalei teshuvah who would not see it as a positive thing, who would look at it as if I am mixing politics and kiruv. But I am happy to report that it has gone over well. Everyone understands that even politics, for us, is kiruv. The baal teshuvah community feels threatened by the government’s anti-religious campaign no less than the average chareidi. They also understand that the way to prevent this oppression of religion is to use the political tools at our disposal. In effect, they are the first to want to increase the chareidi representation in the Knesset. Moreover, they consider me the representative of the world of teshuvah. The fact that the gedolim have placed the head of Lev L’Achim in a realistic slot – or a borderline realistic slot – on the party’s list for the Knesset is a source of pride to them. They feel that they will finally have their own representative in the Knesset. I have heard them express hope that if I am elected to the Knesset, I will be able to increase the kiruv work in the country. I hope that that will be the case.”
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Rabbi Sorotzkin has pinned great hopes on the newly religious community and on the activists of Lev L’Achim. He believes that every one of them can bring not just his own vote to the polls, but often his entire family. He cites the case of Acco as an example.
“If everyone who sets foot in our midrashah in Acco votes for Yahadut HaTorah and brings a few other voters with him, we will have hundreds of voters in Acco. In the previous elections, two years ago, 85 people in Acco voted for Yahadut HaTorah. If we get 850 votes here, we will have increased our strength in this city by a factor of ten. And that is a real possibility. We hope to do this everywhere, especially on the periphery of the country.”
From Akko, Rabbi Sorotzkin will continue to Yokneam, where he will attend the bar mitzvah of a son of one of Lev L’Achim’s operatives in the north. “I feel obligated to attend the simchah out of respect for Rabbi Chaim Dayan. He spends all year worrying about Hashem’s children. He deserves our respect when he has a simchah in his own family.”
Where were you on Friday?
“Just a minute,” Rav Sorotzkin says. “We haven’t finished discussing today yet. After Yokneam, my next stop will be in Yahud.” Yahud is in the center of the country, near the airport. “There is a siyum there at one of Lev L’Achim’s botei medrash. I am sure that in Yahud, as well, we will receive votes this time that Yahadut HaTorah never received before. Now, you asked about Friday? I went to Haifa on Friday and I stayed there for Shabbos.”
As Rabbi Sorotzkin describes how he spent this past Shabbos, it becomes clear that he had to walk great distances over the course of the day. On Friday night, he davened at a minyan of avreichim in the Hadar neighborhood. The minyan is generally attended by fifty people, but guests came from all over the city in honor of his arrival, and the number swelled to 250. He spoke, of course, about the tremendous responsibility borne by the entire community at this fateful time. He spent the Friday night meal with a group of Lev L’Achim activists and their families, as well as the rov of the chareidi community in Haifa, Rav Yechiel Bamberger.
On Shabbos morning, Rav Sorotzkin walked to the neighborhood of Neve Shaanan – a walk of over an hour – where he davened at the main minyan of “the kollel.” There, too, he spoke before krias haTorah. The Shabbos morning meal was held in a hall near Yeshivas Nachalos Haleviim, which is located in the Neve Shaanan neighborhood. This meal, too, was attended by Lev L’Achim activists from the area.
After Havdalah, he traveled to Tirat Hacarmel to meet with the local rov and with a group of askanim. The meeting took place at the Chinuch Atzmai school there. “During the last elections, Yahadut HaTorah received 44 votes in Tirat Hacarmel. That was the local minimum. If we manage to get 250 votes this time, that will affect the local community, since it will be able to demand that the municipality respond to its needs, rather than feeling like a disadvantaged minority.”
His next stop after leaving Tirat Hacarmel was at a Lev L’Achim convention in Rechasim. “There were 140 operatives there, and I spoke for over an hour.” He arrived at his home in Netanyahu shortly after midnight.
Two years ago, 2,200 people in Netanya, Rabbi Sorotzkin’s own city, voted for Yahadut HaTorah. He is certain that that figure will be increased by at least 50 percent this time. After all, it is his own hometown.
I will record that prediction, and in another month, we will see if it has come true.
“No problem,” Rabbi Sorotzkin declares. “In fact, I have given you even greater challenges. Check Acco. Check how many people voted in Tirat Hacarmel. Look at Atlit, where Yahadut HaTorah received four votes last time. If 100 people vote for us there this time, it will represent growth of 2,000 percent. In fact, let’s look at the statistics together on the day after the elections.”
In conclusion, how do you feel about Shachar Ilan’s comment?
“It’s a great compliment, even though I wasn’t looking for anyone to say that I have damaged the country. I pity him. Over the past 25 years, Lev L’Achim hasn’t received a single penny from the government, but it has brought over $10 million into the country every year. The efforts of Lev L’Achim have led to a drop in crime rates and violence among tens of thousands of youths who became religious. How can anyone say that we caused damage? But from his perspective, based on the way he wants the state to look, we are a disturbance! Lev L’Achim has saved the government millions of hours of police work. Do you know how many police officers are stationed at the pubs every Friday night to prevent the young people from stabbing each other? Those officers are working overtime and being paid higher rates. Do you know how many policemen have to stand guard at the soccer fields every Shabbos? Are we really the threat to this country?”