U.S. Rabbi Finds Home in Israeli Politics

U.S. Rabbi Finds Home in Israeli Politics

Rabbi Dov Lipman shares his experience of making aliyah and serving as the first US-born MK in 30 years.

Sarah Moosazadeh

Sarah Moosazadeh is a staff writer for the Atlanta Jewish Times.

Rabbi Dov Lipman speaks at Congregation B’nai Torah about his experiences as a new immigrant to Israel and his entrance to Israeli politics.
Rabbi Dov Lipman speaks at Congregation B’nai Torah about his experiences as a new immigrant to Israel and his entrance to Israeli politics.

When Rabbi Dov Lipman informed his grandmother he was moving to Israel with his wife and children, the last thing he expected was praise, but a phone conversation before his departure proved otherwise.

“While traveling on a boat from a displaced persons camp to America, my grandmother often recounted that something was not right and the boat should have turned toward Israel instead. Thus, when she heard the news, she was overjoyed,” Rabbi Lipman said. “Despite being far from her grandchildren, she expressed how happy she was they were growing up in the Jewish state.”

The story was one of many the former Knesset member shared Thursday, May 4, during an appearance at Congregation B’nai Torah sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh, which helps Jews make Aliyah.

Rabbi Lipman said he will never forget that when he was making aliyah, the plane’s pilot announced that he was there to take the passengers home. “Those words really hit me, because it made me realize that after 2,000 years of moving from country to country, due to persecution and pogroms, after countless wars defending our right to exist, the Jewish people had their own country. Here we were.”

After arriving in Israel, Rabbi Lipman began teaching Judaism and settled in Beit Shemesh, where he immediately noticed the diversity of Jews. “There were Jews from all over the world with different nationalities and cultures, which didn’t always necessarily get along.”

Although Rabbi Lipman had no experience in politics, he got involved in political activism when he noticed signs in the Haredi community demanding that women dress a certain way. Rabbi Lipman joined other community members in spray-painting over the signs, but they continued to reappear.

Annoyed, Rabbi Lipman advised volunteers to spray-paint over only the last word on the signs, which then read, “It is forbidden for women to walk on the street in clothing.”

The offensive signs failed to reappear, and the incident led Rabbi Lipman to re-examine those in power in Beit Shemesh. He left teaching shortly thereafter to pursue politics.

Moving to Israel posed various obstacles for Rabbi Lipman, including the language barrier and new culture. With hard work and dedication, he tackled both.

“I just wanted to get involved, establish unity and bring a voice from the religious side,” Rabbi Lipman said.

TV journalist Yair Lapid, the head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, approached him to discuss bridging gaps within the religious community. After a brief conversation about breaking down religious barriers, Lapid named Rabbi Lipman No. 17 on the party’s Knesset electoral list.

“I didn’t think I would be elected and just wanted to be involved; however, Lapid reassured me by saying, ‘Lipman you’re in.’ ”

Rabbi Lipman led a two-month campaign throughout the country. “I really got to know Israel during that time and learned that its No. 1 natural resource are its people.”

When Yesh Atid won 19 seats in the January 2013 elections, Rabbi Lipman had two weeks to learn a new profession as he became the first American-born Knesset member in 30 years.

Rabbi Lipman’s new career presented opportunities but also involved great sacrifices, such as renouncing his U.S. citizenship. “I came home to a letter one day, asking me to revoke my citizenship, and was stunned. It was very emotional and difficult for me to do so, as on one hand I was grateful to the U.S. and the countless opportunities it presented, but also had a passion and duty to my new home.”

Entering politics also pushed Rabbi Lipman to face his own fears. “I was afraid my Hebrew would not be good enough and had to work hard to close the gap with a tutor until I felt comfortable speaking without any concern. I also quickly realized that the environment within the Knesset was very tense, until one day my colleague turned to me and urged me to scream and bang on the table. The room went quiet as my fellow Knesset members saw a breakthrough in respect and passion.”

During the 19th Knesset, Rabbi Lipman worked to pass legislation in four areas: public health, the environment, protection of animals from unnecessary suffering and incorporation of Haredim into the workforce.

He also assisted in foreign affairs, using his position as a platform to change people’s perceptions of Israel. “I was very upset when I heard the French accuse Israel of causing flames in the Middle East due to the settlements. Most people do not realize the amount of venom and hate out there against Israel, yet I inform them that Israel does stand for human rights and justice, and we should continue educating our students on college campuses to do so as well, as in 25 years they will be the new leaders.”

Throughout his time as a member of the Knesset, Rabbi Lipman said, “I saw unity among Knesset members that I wish all of Israel could see. Two separate parties could be fighting during the day but would pray together and visit each other’s relatives in the hospital despite political differences.”

During the 2014 war in Gaza, Rabbi Lipman encountered sadness and tragedy as he saw soldiers sacrifice their lives. “Our schedules changed as we were now visiting hospitals, sitting shiva and meeting soldiers,” he said. “It was difficult but also inspirational.”

Two memories that stand out are when he took ice cream to Israeli soldiers, who were in disbelief about receiving it, and when 30,000 Israelis turned out for the funeral of a lone soldier, Max Steinberg.

Rabbi Lipman elaborated on his view of Israel’s future.

“People often ask me if I am pessimistic or optimistic about Israel’s future, and the answer is not always simple,” he said. But despite threats from the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah, “I am also nothing short of optimistic as I look at how much we have accomplished. After 69 years, war after war, Israel still stands and is still in its infancy, and there is no greater thrill than to be a part of that story.”

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