Svetlana's Angels: UBA Arad makes a wedding

Moshe and Svetlana are both 26 and new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. They met each other in Beer Sheva and fell in love. Svetlana recently lost her mother to cancer and has no contact with her father. Moshe also lost all contact with both his parents after making Aliyah on his own. The couple wanted to marry, but had no resources to afford a traditional Jewish wedding.

Profiles in Leadership: One Jew in search of the10 Lost Tribes of Israel

Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail, z"l 
Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail, was laid to rest on September 16, 2015. Since 1961, when he served as a rabbi/teacher at YBA Nechalim, he had dedicated his life to research and activity on behalf of the dispersed of Israel, in particular, research regarding the fate of the Ten Lost Tribes.

In 1975, at the urging of his mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, of blessed memory, he founded the non-profit organization, Amishav – for the Dispersed of Israel.

Rabbi Avichail has lectured widely in Israel and abroad, published numerous articles and the Hebrew books HaOvdim B’Eretz Ashur and Shitei Yisrael, the latter of which has been translated into English and French.

In order to assist in aliya and conversion, he wrote and published the booklet Judaism (Hebrew) which has been translated into numerous languages.

Rabbi Avichail was a member of the Rabbinical Court which converted the Belmonte community in Portugal. He facilitated aliya of the BaDerej L’Yerushalayim group from Mexico and the Bnei Menashe group from Peru. He continues to assist the aliya of Bnei Menashe from northeast India (some 1,000 souls to date). Rabbi Avichail has travelled the world, from India, Burma, China, Thailand and Japan to Europe and South America, in order to research, encourage and guide the dispersed of Israel.

Rabbi Avichail was born in Jerusalem in 1932. His parents came from Lithuania and Ukraine. At 16 he was drafted by the Israel Defense Forces during the War of Independence; he completed his service with the rank of sergeant in the Nahal brigade at Kibbutz Yavne. Afterwards he joined Kibbutz Saad, where he lived and worked for five years, and then studied at Yeshivat Kerem BeYavneh and Merkaz HaRav Kook. He received his rabbinical ordination and completed a teaching certificate for Bible studies and Mishna. He has held the positions of community rabbi, students’ rabbi at the Hebrew University, and teacher of Bible and Judaism for all ages. He received the equivalent of a Doctorate in Jewish Professions for his rabbinical studies and publications.

Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail and his wife Rivka were jointly awarded the Yakir Yerushalayim prize [annual citizenship prize in Jerusalem] in 2012. They have six children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Their home was open at all times to the Bnei Menashe, new converts and all those who wish to study Judaism.

Thousands of citizens of Israel from the Bnei Menashe community will mourn  this  modest and saintly man, who paved the way for them to begin new lives as Jews in the state of Israel.

Rabbi Drukman wins award; comes out against alternative conversion courts

YBA Chairman, Rabbi Haim Drukman
Rabbi Haim Drukman, Rosh Yeshiva of YBA Yeshivat Hesder Or Etzion and Chairman of the YBA Educational Network in Israel, was awarded the coveted Prize for Torah Literature by the Torah and Wisdom College, citing the six books already published, as well as the many books presently being worked on for future publication. Last year’s prize was awarded to Rabbi Yehoshua Weizmann, the Rosh Yeshiva of YBA Yeshivat Hesder Maalot Yaakov.

Rabbi Drukman headed the Conversion Authority within the Prime Minister's office for many years, and is critical of the way conversion is being conducted today by the Haredi-dominated Chief Rabbinate. Neverthe less, Rabbi Drukman is opposed to the recent move by other religious Zionist rabbis to establish alternative conversion courts outside the Israel Chief Rabbinate.

Read  more about Rabbi Drukman's position on the current controversy shaking the religious Zionist community in Israel:

Passover Interview with Rabbi Drukman - Part 2 of 3: Rabbis and Politics

"Do everything you can to ensure the future of the people and the country."

Rabbi Haim Drukman established a generation and paved the way for the religious Zionist movement in many areas. Apart from the love of Torah and love of Israel, he has a great message here for today's youth

By Ariel Horowitz – Arutz Sheva, Small World Magazine, 12 Nissan 5775, 01/04/15 (Translation)

When Rabbi Drukman cried

YBA Chairman, Rabbi Haim Druckman
Rabbi Drukman sees his main occupation as an educator and teacher of Torah. His natural environment is the house of study, lecturing his students. Nevertheless, much of his public activity was in the Knesset. Rabbi Drukman was a member of Knesset for the National Religious Party, and for a certain period he resigned and founded the ‘Moreshet’ faction. "Serving in the Knesset was for me like doing reserve duty [in the army]," he says, "Every Jew is expected to do reserve duty. I didn’t want to be in the Knesset; I wasn’t looking for a public position, but I was called, so I went."

This public service was indeed forced upon Rabbi Drukman. One day, near Passover, Rabbi Drukman traveled to Jerusalem to bake matzot. He was already aware that some activists wanted him to run for the Knesset, and the natural address to make that happen was Rabbi Kook. He rushed to the home of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda to tell him that his mission is to educate, and that he has no desire to go to the Knesset. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda listen to his words, but a few hours later he was called again to the rabbi’s home in the Geula neighborhood. "I went in and found those who wanted me to run for the Knesset were there. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda had listened to them, and told me I should go for it. When he said that, I burst into tears, but I accepted his ruling." The Rosh Yeshiva traded the Beit Midrash for the Knesset, but managed to continue at the same time to teach Torah.

Do you think that rabbis should intervene in politics? Is the role of the rabbis limited to the Beit Midrash, or in all walks of life?

"The bottom line is that it depends on who it is," says Rabbi Drukman. "Ideally, Torah personalities should be found everywhere, but it’s not always appropriate. I don’t think that just because someone has been ordained as a rabbi it makes him qualified to deal with every subject. But if there are Torah personalities who could lead the public not only in the synagogue but also in the Knesset, the fact that he is also a rabbi is not a detriment. In fact, it is even a bonus."

Rabbi Drukman doesn’t only expect Torah personalities to serve in the Knesset, he also also expects a political united front for religious Zionism. The current split, he says, does not add much respect for the Torah of Israel. "Religious Zionism should be cohesive, and [if so,] its political representation will be in proportion with its real power," he says. "There are religious people integrated into the larger parties, and one reason for this is our success in education. Some people who grew up in the religious Zionist camp think there is no longer any need for a sectorial political party; that it is possible to exert influence in every party. I think they are wrong. Experience shows that a religious person in another party can influence society only an individual, but not collectively. The State of Israel needs a large religious Zionist party, where everything is rooted in the value of a Torah that is connected to the People, the Land and the State of Israel. This is the image of a true Torat Eretz Yisrael. This [unified political camp] will bring great blessings for the Torah and for the country as a whole. The present situation, where there is no unified religious Zionist party, is felt in many ways."

You can’t be counted a minyan (quorum)

One area where Rabbi Drukman has a lot to say is conversion. In 2003, with his leaving the Knesset, Rabbi Drukman began a new role as head of the state’s conversion authority in the Prime Minister’s Office. His [relatively liberal] attitude toward conversion upset the Haredi public officials, which came to a head when Rabbi Avraham Sherman, a judge on the Rabbinical Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the conversions of Rabbi Drukman should be revoked immediately. He soon became a persona non-grata among the ultra-Orthodox community, which was clearly demonstrated when he visited one day the well-known Itzkowitz Shteibel (synagogue) in the heart of Bnei Brak. "I entered one of the rooms of the shteibel and besides me there were eight Jews. When the tenth man showed up, I said, 'We have a minyan (quorum), you can start [the prayer service].' But then someone said, 'You cannot be counted in a minyan; we have to wait for one more.' I remember I was so shocked, that I couldn’t manage to pull myself together until another Jew came in and we began to pray. If it wasn’t so painful and distressing, it would have been funny. I can’t be counted in a minyan?!"

But the ultra-Orthodox community, in their eyes at least, is motivated by fear of Heaven. They object to your method of conversion.

"Even if someone thinks otherwise, those who practice a second method have a basis in Halacha (religious law). How can you cancel out-of-hand all these conversions if they were made in accordance legitimate halachic opinion you can trust? Moreover, the judge who rejected my conversions announced his decision in public, at a convention of rabbinical judges, clearly mentioning my name, without having talked to me even one word beforehand. How can a judge rule without hearing all sides? How can he offhandedly mention my name, in a forum of hundreds of rabbinical judges, without first having consulted with me? How is it possible to speak about me in such harsh and sharp language? Is this proper? Is this the way of the Torah?! "

What does this story show us regarding our relations with the Haredim?

"Our relationship should be like a family. We are all one big family, which has a difference of opinion, but with love. What unites the people of Israel is far greater than what separates us. We say in the Passover Haggadah, “In every generation they try to destroy us." For those who are trying to destroy us, there is no difference between religious and secular, between leftists and rightists. We need to learn from our enemies that we need to be united. Certainly we have a [religious] lifestyle in common with the ultra-Orthodox, although I am sorry to say that I am not sure they think so. You can see this in their newspaper: any Haredi politician, no matter how small, who is elected to the Knesset, is referred to as a great ‘Rabbi’, even if he has no rabbinic qualifications, whereas when writing about our [religious Zionist] rabbis, they omit the title altogether. 

In our study halls you can find all the books of Torah erudition, but in the Haredi study halls you won’t find any books written by giants of Torah who were Zionists. Can you name one Haredi yeshiva with the books of Rabbi Kook on the shelf? Not books of Jewish Thought, nor books of Jewish Law. My heart aches, but it does not change the fact that we are a family. I'm not saying it's easy, but you have to overcome the difficulties. I would hope that if ordinary Haredim would recognize us as we are, it would be different. You have to get to know one another. Our Haredi brothers and our secular brothers have to get to know us and we have to get to know them."

Go on to Part 3: Influencing Public Values

Passover interview with Rabbi Drukman - Part 1 of 3: The 'Formerly Religious' Phenomenon

"Do everything you can to ensure the future of the people and the country."

Rabbi Haim Drukman established a generation and paved the way for the religious Zionist movement in many areas. Apart from the love of Torah and love of Israel, he has a great message here for today's youth

By Ariel Horowitz – Arutz Sheva, Small World Magazine, 12 Nissan 5775, 01/04/15 (Translation)

Rabbi Drukman at memorial service
for Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, zt"l
This year, as every year, Rabbi Haim Drukman visited the grave of his mentor, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook, on the Mount of Olives on his yortzeit (the Fast of Esther). Thirty years have passed since that rainy day that Rabbi Zvi Yehuda was buried. "I think that his character is sorely missed today," said Rabbi Drukman with sad eyes, "In many situations, I feel that he is missing." How symbolic that three years ago, on his way back home from the Mount of Olives, the rabbi received notification of winning the Israel Prize.

"The real prize is the privilege to contribute to the nation, the state, the Israeli public," says Rabbi Drukman, "When there is official recognition of this enterprise, it certainly adds value."  Rabbi Drukman’s modest words actually allude to several enterprises: his establishment of Bnei Akiva yeshivas in Israel, his many years of work with the Association of Hesder Yeshivot and his position as head of the Israel government’s Conversion Authority. This last role put him in a severe – some would say explosive – conflict with the ultra-Orthodox Haredi world.

In his book-lined study at his home in Merkaz Shapira, a small religious community in the south, just a short walking distance from Yeshivat Bnei Akiva Or Etzion that he founded, Rabbi Drukman sits, learning and teaching, advising students and rabbis, in person and on the phone; Looking down from above is a painting of Rabbi Kook, whose name he mentions during our conversation over and over again. Just before Passover we came to his home to talk to him, to try to understand some of his teachings, and to hear his thoughts on religious Zionism, today's youth and Israeli society.

‘Taking off the hat’

When I ask Rabbi Drukman to recall the religious world that he experienced in his youth, he was not tempted to glorify the past and put down the present. As usual, he is full of gratitude for our situation today. "The situation in the days of my boyhood was far different from the case today. Like [the distance between] heaven and earth. I was once interviewed on a Channel One TV program, and the interviewer said, 'Israel is full of religious education, but it is also full of datlashim - formerly religious people!' I replied: 'Let your ears hear what your mouth is saying: There are also formerly religious people! Decades ago the majority were formerly religious people! You have to understand that just a few decades ago everyone was traveling in just one direction: the off-ramp leaving the path Torah and the Mitzvot.

Boys and girls finished the eighth grade in a religious school, and that was the end of all their connection to Judaism. They were drawn to the big ideas of that era: building the Land, pioneering, Socialism; and it seemed to them that these ideas had nothing to do with the Torah. We would say, 'so-and so has taken off his hat' – because in those days the boys would go with hats, berets, in public. Who ever dreamed that religious youth would go on the street wearing a kipa? How can anyone not see what a revolution took place? Today there is a world of tremendous religious Zionist Torah that is unprecedented! We have an entire population; we have institutions and youth movements. Look at how much value there is in [religious Zionist] education; how effective it is and how much it influences."   

Are ‘formerly religious’ people today leaving religion for the same reasons as before?

"I don’t think so. Today, it is usually the religiously weak youth, those without a strong religious background; boys who went with a kipa but without any commitment to religious Zionist values. If there are internal values, you can stand up to all kinds of crises and difficulties, exposure to other influences and peer pressure. But if there are no values, a religious upbringing will not last. Some people are outraged when formerly religious people are referred to as 'captured babies’ [who never learned Torah]. They claim that that the formerly religious are people with great values who turned to another path after thoroughly investigating [religion]. But no one can convince me this is the reality. [In most cases] it is a weak youth who comes into contact with a particular social group, and finds it difficult to resist the peer pressure; so he allows himself to pulled along in order to fit in. What can you do? It is a sign of lack of character. It is important that we fill our students with substance and develop their character, [so they will have the backbone] to stand on their own."

Do you think that secularization is associated only through one’s encounter with another world, or can is be due to problems in the religious world itself?

"You cannot generalize. In most cases, it is about a weak character who could not cope with the reality around him, but there are also youths who were disappointed with the religious world, so they left. Rabbi Kook, of blessed memory, wrote long ago that people, by mistake, relate to Judaism through those who they see practicing it [rather than for what it really is]. Sometimes someone may encounter a rabbi that disappoints him, and because of it he projects that disappointment onto the values the rabbi seems to represent. One needs to make a distinction between a specific rabbi and whole of the religious world. It is the identification of Judaism with a specific individual that often creates the motivation to become secular."

Go to Part 2: Rabbis and Politics

Go to AFYBA Website

40% intermarriage rate in France means that 10% of French Olim need conversion services

The growing number of anti-Semitic terror attacks in France has inspired thousands of French Jews to pack up and "make Aliyah." Israel welcomed 7,000 French Olim in 2014 and the country is expecting 10,000 to 15,000 more in 2015.

However, the massive wave of Aliyah from France raises once again the conversion dilemma to the forefront of public discourse in Israel.

According to Prof. Sergio DePergola, an expert in Jewish demography worldwide, the intermarriage rate among French Jews has been around 40% for the past 20-30 years. As a result, The Jewish Agency reports, about 10% of new immigrants from France in 2014 were not Jews according to Jewish law (Halacha).

Rabbi Haim Drukman receiving Israel Prize
from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Rabbi Haim Drukman, the chairman of YBA in Israel and Rosh Yeshiva of YBA Or Etzion, recognized long ago the need to create a user-friendly conversion program for such new immigrants. Back in the early 1990s Rabbi Drukman took the lead and founded the "Ami" (My People) conversion program at his yeshiva  in order to welcome thousands of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union who wished to "join the fold" in a fully Halachic conversion.

Over the years Rabbi Drukman has signed the conversion papers of over 50,000 new immigrants. He was awarded the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2012, which included recognition for his service to Israel as the head of the national conversion authority for the Prime Minister's office.

YBA Or Etzion's Ami conversion program has already sponsored conversion classes for French olim for the past three years, and is in position to take the lead once again for the national effort on behalf of this new wave of Aliyah from France. Just another way that YBA is Training Israel's Future!

Rabbi Haim Drukman on Israel's new Conversion Law: "This is a great day."

Rabbi Haim Drukman
Rabbi Haim Drukman, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Or Etzion and Chairman of Yeshivot Bnei Akiva, was the first to call to congratulate MK Elazar Stern following the passage of a new law in the Knesset that will allowing chief rabbis of cities in Israel to establish their own rabbinical courts for conversion to Judaism.

MK Stern, a graduate of YBA Netiv Meir and former IDF general, represents the "Hatunua" party in the Knesset and was the driving force behind the bill, which is expected to speed up the conversion process for thousands immigrants from the FSU and their children, who are living Jewish lives as full Israeli citizens, but are not considered Jewish according to Jewish law (Halacha).

In his phone conversation congratulating MK Stern, Rabbi Drukman said, "This is a great day for Israel and the Jewish People."

MK Elazar Stern
MK Stern commented that, "most importantly, we have returned religious Zionist rabbis to being the gatekeepers of our people - rabbis that are connected to the complexities of Israeli society and the Jewish nation, and not distanced from people; rabbis who belief that the Jewish identity of the State of Israel is not something that we can take for granted, but is a challenge that we must work at day-by-day to develop and preserve."