A Holy Flame
As a journal for the Right-wing Torah population of our city Harish, located on the Jewish/non-Jewish seam, there is currently an outreach campaign to strengthen Judaism among the public. The Harish weekly journal contacted one of the most experienced activists who works to prevent assimilation in the Land of Israel and who, among other things, operates a local branch in Harish run by a man of chesed, Yoni Ben Zikri, who leaves no stone unturned to empower and connect another Jewish family to its roots.
We sought an interview with the local branch, and we were directed to the engine for all of this activity, Benzi Gopstein, founder of the Lehava Organization to Prevent Assimilation in the Holy Land, a man from Hebron.
We conducted the interview with Benzi Gopstein, founder of the Lehava organization, via telephone due to the corona limitations. But very quickly the feeling warms up more than ever and the conversation between us gets deeper and deeper.
Shalom and welcome, Benzi. Some of our readers have heard of the Lehava organization and of your activity on the various media outlets, but they aren’t really familiar with the work of the organization in depth. Lately, you’ve again been in the headlines. What is the Lehava organization, really?
“Lehava is an organization that I founded together with my wife Anat more than 10 years ago. Lehava is, in fact, short for ‘Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land’. In my activity for the Jewish people, I decided that I’ll dedicate my best efforts to the struggle against this phenomenon, which has long since become a scourge on the state. We engage in extensive outreach activity to prevent connections between Jewish women and Arab men, since these are the majority of cases of assimilation in Israel, but we also greatly help anyone who falls into any relationship with a non-Jew. The organization is continuing the activity of the ‘Yad L’Achayot’ (a hand for our sisters) organization, founded by my Rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Meir Kahane HY”D, for whom we are marking the anniversary of his passing in coming days. We wrote on our banner the slogan: ‘With devotion and love we will protect every Jewish woman’. So in order to fight assimilation today in the State of Israel, you need a lot of dedication. The police and the prosecutors’ office are trying to silence me and constrict the steps we take, and not long ago an indictment was filed against me for the offense of ‘racism’ because of my statements against assimilation. That won’t help them – ‘when they torture him, he will multiply his activity and break away’. Nobody is going to put out the flame”.
During the preliminary investigation, I understood that unlike what is presented in the media, which portrays a violent, racist organization, it turns out that on a daily basis you are involved in chesed that starts with actions to prevent assimilation and continues with distributing food baskets. Can you elaborate?
“The media loves to present us like that. This is, of course, very far from the truth. I try to continue the path of Rabbi Kahane, who said ‘I don’t hate Arabs, I love Jews’. My daily agenda consists of meetings with our caregivers who give us updates on the girls we accompany, telephone calls with family members of the girls, and intensive outreach activity. We are constantly thinking of ways to alert people to prevent the next case. Additionally, we maintain a number of mystery apartments for those who end their relationships with their non-Jewish partners. We take care of all their needs: Food, water, electricity, clothing, a place to live, along with psychotherapy if needed, and suitable accompaniment.”
Tell me where your activities in the country are focused, and what about the Harish branch office?
“There are over 10,000 volunteers all over the country registered with us, and we have coordinators in almost every city, from Eilat to Kiryat Shemona, who conduct joint activities. In Harish, we have a coordinator, Moshe ben Zikri, the ‘cannon’, who is one of the pillars of the organization who has already succeeded in rescuing dozens of girls from relationships with Arabs.”
Is there a story about a rescue that you can share with our readers, something hot off the press?
“Two Fridays ago, we had started to get organized for the arrival of the children and grandchildren, preparing the house and cooking for Shabbat, when suddenly my wife got two phone calls, one after the other: Two different cases – a mother of two children from the Jerusalem area, and another girl from the north, both of whom wanted to leave their husbands immediately after a prolonged period of keeping in touch with us. Half an hour before Shabbat came in, we got the news that both rescues passed peacefully; thanks to good Jews, the women were rescued and transferred to Lehava’s mystery apartments.”
Are there rabbis who direct the organization and its holy activities?
“Of course. The organization receives the blessings and support of the Gedolei Israeli, among them Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Yehuda Kreuser, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and many other rabbis. We often consult with them. We are blessed to have merited Gedolei Israel who are willing to wave the banner of Divine truth without fear, and are not afraid of those who slander them.”
What can you tell us about your personal connection with Rabbi Kahane ZT”L?
“Rabbi Kahane is my teacher and rabbi. He was one of the greatest leaders of the Jewish people in recent generations. I learned with the Rabbi at the Yeshiva of the Jewish Idea in Jerusalem for many years, and I was privileged to have him be the one who joined me and my wife Anat in marriage. The Rabbi blessed us under the chuppa with a blessing that caused a lot of people to raise an eyebrow: ‘May you not have any rest in this world’. That was a blessing based on what our Sages said in a midrash on the verse ‘and Ya’akov dwelt in the land where his forefathers lived’, who interpreted the verse: ‘Ya’akov sought to dwell in tranquility – and Joseph’s anger jumped at him. G-d said: ‘It’s not enough for tzadikim to have what has been prepared for them in the next world, so they want to sit in tranquility in this world?’ With G-d’s mercy, we merited to have the Rabbi’s blessing come true for us, and we try to live a life full of action for the sake of the Jewish people.”
These days, you’re getting hit with criticism from the extreme leftist organizations and Reform movement organizations. How do you live with that?
“We live with it just fine, because they are essentially outlining my path, and they signal to me that I’m on the right path. When the Reform and extreme leftist organizations fight me and try to silence me, I know I’m doing something right. On the day they stop that – I’ll have to examine myself.”
What’s your tip to our readers so that this won’t happen to us?
“The most important thing is to prevent the children, especially the girls, as far as possible, from getting into any friction with non-Jews, mainly in work environments. That’s where most of the mixed connections are created, even in the best families. Additionally, maintain a good connection with the children, speak with them, especially with the girls, about the dangers, explain to them all about the problem of assimilation, and deepen their education for Jewish pride, in the way of Hashem.”
In closing, we’re just before Shabbat Bereisheet, how do you stop this race for Shabbat?
“Shabbat is the only time for rest that we have, despite the fact that more than once, in cases of pikuach nefesh, we have been forced to act even on Shabbat. We try to devote time to the family and to study the parsha of the week together around the table, and this recharges our batteries for all of the activity during the other six days of the week.”