For the past year, Stamford resident Rabbi David Israel has served as the executive vice-president of the Religious Zionists of America. The RZA is the US branch of the worldwide Mizrachi-HaPoel HaMizrachi movement.
“I have always described myself as a Religious Zionist, someone who sees the establishment of the State of Israel as part of a divine plan, destiny if you will,” said Rabbi Israel. “The imagery of Shir HaShirim used by the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, to describe the establishment of the State of Israel—God knocking on our door and our need to get ourselves out of bed and answer the call—is very powerful to me.” Rabbi Soloveitchik was the religious leader of the RZA for many decades.
Before joining the leadership of the RZA, Rabbi Israel was the director of Yeshiva University’s Max Stern Division of Communal Services. Later he also became the rabbinic dean and director of community education and advancement of the Bi-Cultural Day School, Stamford’s local Modern Orthodox day school.
Looking back at his latest career move, Rabbi Israel explained, “After my youngest left the school, I wanted to once again get involved in broad communal initiatives. After years of experience sharing my knowledge and love of Israel with the students, and my oldest having made aliyah, it was clear my next position would be related to Zionism and Israel.” Rabbi Israel said his mission is “to bring new energy to the organization, increase programming and reposition the organization for a changed American Jewish communal landscape and a matured Modern Orthodox community.”
To achieve this goal, Rabbi Israel opined, “Although we have always had a mission statement, I felt it was important to refine the words into specific areas of activity. RZA has three main goals which dictate its activities: Strengthen Religious Zionism in the United States through educational activities/projects in schools, shuls and communities; encourage aliyah and service to the State of Israel; and support olim and the yeshivot hesder.”
In just his first year, Rabbi Israel has focused on educational programs and projects including a new Torah journal “HaMizrachi” which began publication in conjunction with World Mizrachi. “With a circulation of 35,500 copies across the United States, it is the only monthly Torah journal focused on sharing the full gamut of Israel’s Torah scholars, educators and leaders with the Jewish community in the United States. It is distributed in over 400 synagogues and schools as well as Jewish shops throughout the country,” he stated.
A second project is “ISRAEL360,” bringing Israeli roshei yeshiva, educators and thought-leaders to over 80 synagogues and communities on the Shabbat prior to Yom Ha’atzmaut. “What better way to celebrate the birth of Israel in synagogue than by bringing the ‘Torah of Israel’ to so many people all at the same moment? It is both a celebration of ‘Ki miTzion tetze Torah’ and ‘B’rov am hadrat melech’—that the Torah shall come from Zion and that God is glorified when people are gathered together.”
On Taanit Esther, another project linked 50 schools in an interactive program of Tehillim, divrei Torah, music and videos originating from the Kotel. Rabbi Israel added, “In cooperation with IsraEd, RZA-Mizrachi is ‘virtually’ fulfilling Esther’s command in the Megillah to gather all the Jews and pray. It is incredibly powerful when young Jews experience that they are part of something bigger than themselves or just their school, especially when it directly connects them with Jerusalem.”
In the future, Israel would like to see the following additional programming implemented: synagogues with an expanded speakers’ bureau, Yavneh and Aryeh Scholars, a college student leadership program run in conjunction with the OU, and a halacha learning program. Israel concluded, “If you were to ask me what I hope to see in five years, I would tell you that I hope RZA-Mizrachi will be a household name in an Orthodox community that cherishes the State of Israel, and that many communities from Florida to California will be running five or more programs each year in conjunction with RZA-Mizrachi.”
By Judy Berger