The situation appeared grim indeed Monday evening 2 Sivan --
post-election day -- when the polls closed in Israel and
initial results were announced. Ehud Barak, who had adopted
an emphatically anti-religious platform since the outset of
the election campaign, won the prime-ministerial race.
Moreover, Lapid's virulently anti-chareidi Shinui Party
received six seats and Meretz held on to its nine.
Within minutes of the announcement of Barak's victory,
leaders of those two most vehemently outspoken anti-religious
parties -- Meretz and Shinui -- intensified the sense of
impending doom with announcements that they would not
participate in Barak's government unless all potential
chareidi partners are excluded from the coalition.
Said Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, "The chareidi parties will
not be allowed into this government. Their heyday is over.
Surely Barak understands this; if he doesn't, we'll explain
it to him." Shinui's Lapid issued a similar statement: "The
bloc of leftist and centrist parties is large enough to form
a stable government. We are not going to allow any chareidim
into this coalition. It's about time Israel became a liberal
and progressive western nation, not a ghetto from the Middle
Labor's Shlomo Ben Ami was even more explicit: "Shas and UTJ
are in for four lean years now. Those parties are mainly
educational institutions; we will dry them up and let them
shrivel away in the opposition."
Then on Tuesday morning, with more conclusive results flowing
in, the situation took on a completely different hue. Shas
and UTJ stunned the analysts by winning a combined total of
twenty-two seats, three more than Likud, and six more than
the combined bloc of Meretz and Shinui. The public who voted
for chareidi parties won fully eighteen percent of the seats
in the Knesset (and 20% of the Jewish seats), an
unprecedented achievement that Barak cannot easily ignore.
* * *
Last Monday's elections represented an ideological battle
that was fought on two separate fronts. That between
Netanyahu and Barak was one of geopolitical issues, such as
Israel's economy and her relations with her neighbors, while
the struggle between Meretz/Shinui and Shas/UTJ was about
attitudes the people of Israel would adopt towards G-d and
Consider this: the chareidi parties jumped from fourteen
seats to twenty-two, an increase of just over fifty percent,
which represents approximately 280,000 new voters. Where did
they come from?
That ancient Jewish spark that is constantly fighting its way
to the surface is clearly apparent. Ironically, Sarid and
Lapid unwittingly fanned the embers of Jewish pride and
galvanized the traditional and semi-religious electorate into
action when they launched a frontal attack against the
religious community and its spiritual leaders. History has
proven time and again that the Jewish spark simply cannot be
extinguished. Last Monday the world once again saw it flare
and come to life.
Hundreds of thousands of men and women throughout Eretz
Yisroel are experiencing a newly awakened interest in their
heritage. While the political parties are working in their
ways, totally apolitical kiruv organizations such as
Lev L'Achim are also working tirelessly to provide personal
guidance to each prospective baal teshuvah. The path
of return is a long and gradual process fraught with
potential pitfalls; newcomers who are not familiar with the
terrain need someone to show them the way.
In recent months -- while Sarid and Lapid were dedicating
themselves to an all-out campaign to slam organized religion
in the Jewish State -- the demand for Torah knowledge among
the populace surged with prodigious intensity. People were
clamoring for an opportunity to get acquainted with their
religion. Consider the following facts:
1. As part of its 1999 school enrollment campaign, three
hundred yeshiva bochurim participating in Lev
L'Achim's Yeshivos L'Am program visited nonobservant couples.
These couples had attended kiruv events in the past,
where they had filled out forms indicating that they were
interested in finding out more about their religion. The
bochurim spoke to these young parents about
transferring their children to Torah schools.
After a single week, the bochurim returned from their
campaign with 800 positive responses, which represents a
potential influx of up to 1,500 new students into Torah
schools. As the next step, enrollment workers have stepped in
to conclude the enrollment procedures.
2. For five weeks running, Rabbi Uri Zohar has been hosting a
series of radio talk shows on three different religious-
sponsored stations: Radio 10, Arutz 2000 and Kol Haneshamah.
These programs are aimed at non-religious listeners and Rabbi
Zohar puts his seasoned oratorical skills to good use in
these appearances, drawing audiences of well over 250,000
secular and semi-traditional listeners.
His talk shows last for several hours -- from early afternoon
until well past midnight -- and focus exclusively on the
advantages of the religious school system over the secular
school system. Rabbi Zohar urges parents to call Lev
L'Achim's 24-hour hotline for further details.
Hundreds of calls have come in to the hotline. The
information provided by those who call is stored in Lev
L'Achim's central data bank, and distributed to enrollment
workers in the field. These workers then make personal
contact with those who have expressed an interest in a Torah
education for their children, and they follow through with
the enrollment procedure.
3. In mid-April, the Kaliver Rebbe traveled to Eretz Yisroel
for the express purpose of participating in Lev L'Achim's
school enrollment campaign. Lev L'Achim's activists arranged
public receptions for the Rebbe in various cities throughout
the country. Hundreds of local residents stood in line for
hours awaiting an opportunity to seek the Rebbe's advice and
to receive his brocho. Those waiting in line were
asked to fill out questionnaires answering questions on such
details as the size of their family and the age of their
The Rebbe made his brocho to parents of young children
contingent upon their agreement to transfer their children to
religious schools. Most parents agreed to this condition --
in writing -- and intend to enroll their children in
religious schools for the coming year.
Over three thousand forms were collected in seventeen public
receptions. The great challenge that faces Lev L'Achim now is
to contact all of these parents in order to help them find
suitable schools for their children.
4. Last year 15 new schools and 35 new kindergartens were
opened to accommodate the massive influx of new students who
entered the system as a result of Lev L'Achim's school
enrollment campaign. Yet in 1998, many of the parents who
initially indicated a willingness to make the switch later
backed off, not allowing their children to attend the new
schools, fearing that the promised school buildings would not
materialize, or that the new schools would not meet their
Now that the schools have proven themselves viable
educational options, these parents are ready to enroll their
children. The names of thousands of families that fall into
this category are stored in Lev L'Achim's data bank. School
officials foresee another massive wave of new students
attending their institutions in the coming school year, and
several have already embarked on extensive expansion projects
in anticipation of the inrush.
The 1999 school enrollment campaign is still in its first
month, yet Lev L'Achim workers have already enrolled 150 new
students to the Ohr Chadash school in Rechasim, which
represents a one hundred percent student body increase. Sixty-
five new students so far have likewise been accepted for the
coming year in the school in Afula (which has a current
student population of forty) that was established last year
by Keren Nesivos Moshe in memory of Rabbi Moshe Sherer,
zt'l. These are but two examples; similar scenarios
are taking place in institutions throughout the country.
This trend is gaining momentum all over Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi
Avshalom Sarig, who coordinates Lev L'Achim's school
enrollment activities in southern Tel Aviv, reports that
hundreds of semi-religious parents took part in a loud
protest in front of City Hall last week, demanding that a
religious school be established in their section of town. As
recently as ten years ago, no one imagined that such an event
would occur in Tel Aviv.
The struggle for the Jewish soul did not end with the
elections. A powerful grassroots movement is stirring non-
observant society in Eretz Yisroel, a movement that no one --
not even the self-professed enemies of Torah -- can stop
bli ayin hora. They may attempt to exclude us from
Barak's coalition and "dry us up" by cutting off funding for
our institutions, but the resilient and irrepressible Jewish
neshomoh that has always burned brightly will prevail,
as it has in the past.