September has arrived, heralding in a new school year and the oncoming Yamim Noraim. It is also good to be back writing for Machshavot after my summer break!
I spent the last week of the summer in Johannesburg with Mizrachi South Africa. They asked me to come to teach in their various institutions. They wanted me to inspire them during Elul. However, they have inspired me far more, and made me insanely jealous.
Let me explain.
Most of my shiurim took place on the Mizrachi Campus. This contains the Mizrachi school, the Mizrachi shul, the Bnei Akiva offices and the Mizrachi offices.
The school, Yeshiva College, has over 1000 kids from kindergarten through year 13 who are surrounded by vibrant Religious Zionism and passionate Centrist Orthodoxy. The school is staffed by dynamic men and women, educated in the top Religious Zionist Yeshivot and seminaries in Israel and the top Universities here in South Africa. They are true role models to the students of what the ideology of Bnei Akiva and Mizrachi is about.
On Shabbat there are five main minyanim (which I had the pleasure to speak in) and over 1000 people on the Campus every Shabbat.
I also gave shiurim to the Midrasha and the University Kollel, nearly 100 men and women come to the campus every week to learn from the Mizrachi Rabbis and Rebbetzens, continuing their learning while at University.
I gave shiurim to the Bnei Akiva madrichim, most of whom had been to Yeshiva College and who are busy planning their summer Machane (which takes place in December!) for over 800 children (ages 9-17). I asked them the secret of their success – they spoke about the campus, how the Mizrachi ideology flows through it 24/7, which inspires them in turn to live it and love it.
This week we had the Chief Rabbis Conference. As always, we were treated to a variety of speakers who shared with us their ideas and stories. One of the speakers whom we had the pleasure of listening to was the Israeli Ambassador, Mark Regev. He inspired us with his view of a vibrant and successful Israel despite its problems.
An Ambassador of any country has a unique roll, to be a representative of that country in a foreign land. How is this achieved? How does the ambassador not simply assimilate into the county in which he or she is living, surrounded by foreign cultures and ideas? The answer is they have their Embassy; they live in a little part of their homeland. Surrounded by their culture, language, food and dress – they have a daily reminder of who they are and what they stand for.
South African Mizrachi has an Embassy for their ideology, and their young men and women may leave the campus to live, work and study – but the Embassy has had the desired effect. It is not seen as a compromise, it is seen as a vibrant and dynamic way of life that inspires well beyond the Campus.
Here in the UK, we also need an Embassy, a place in the community which lives and breathes the ideology of Religious Zionism and Centrist Orthodoxy. A place where Torat Yisrael can be lived and taught and a place where our young people can see the values and ideals of the movement which they can emulate.
This week was 120 years since the 1st Zionist Congress when Herzl spoke about the dream of a Jewish state and famously stated ‘If you will it is no dream’.
Just over 50 years later, Herzl’s dream became a reality. Mizrachi UK also has a dream – we just hope it doesn’t take 50 years to become a reality.
Rabbi Andrew Shaw