Atlanta’s Rabbi Adam Starr is one of a couple dozen religious Zionist leaders from around the country participating in a mission to support Israel, one of the first such communal leadership trips since the COVID pandemic struck both countries.
Starr said that he hasn’t been to Israel since 2019, despite the fact that his two brothers and his in-laws live there. “It’s easier to get in the country with a mission or group,” he acknowledged days before leaving on his early-July flight. “They’re taking care of the technicalities,” he noted, referring to the Religious Zionists of America-Mizrachi organization. Starr is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ohr HaTorah, formerly Young Israel of Toco Hills.
According to RZA, the goal of the mission is to urge the new Israeli government to “stay true to religious Zionist values, despite being part of a broad-based leadership coalition. We are very concerned that because of the broad-based coalition, traditionally religious Zionist parties cobbled together to lead the nation, our values may be under threat in order for the government to remain intact,” said RZA Executive Vice President Rabbi Ari Rockoff.
“We are bringing a delegation of top North American communal leaders to drive the message to the prime minister and other cabinet members that they must hold true to these values if Israel is to continue its growth on the international stage,” Rockoff said. “While we are thrilled that Israel’s new president and prime minister spent significant time during their childhood in the United States and part of religious Zionist communities, we are concerned that as the majority of the government is left-leaning, it could severely impact the relationship with the North American Jewish community and the values we hold close.”
Founded in 1913 as the American branch of World Mizrachi, the Religious Zionists of America serves as the umbrella organization for American supporters of Israel’s religious Zionist movement.
Although Starr stressed that his “focus is to be there to support Israel” after the May fighting with Gaza, he said he also looked forward to speaking with the new government and to “make sure religious Zionists are supported,” including “from a bipartisan perspective. This is essential to me.”
Starr stated that “as an American, I support a diplomatically elected government of Israel. I respect the will of the people and I support the current government.”
The new coalition government is unique in that it doesn’t include any ultra-Orthodox parties, but does include an Arab Islamist party as well as a couple of left-leaning parties. Still, it’s headed by a religious Zionist prime minister Naftali Bennett and is composed of both right-wing and center parties, too.
The fact that the coalition doesn’t include an ultra-Orthodox or haredi party has led to speculation that a plan to create an egalitarian section of the prayer area near the Western Wall, or Kotel, that had been agreed upon by the previous government, then canceled by the ultra-Orthodox parties, will be reenacted. Starr said that he “personally, as an individual, not as a member of any group” supports that plan.
However, he also added that the “haredi sector is important and needs to be treated with respect.”
Starr, who last fall also joined the Atlanta Jewish Academy high school Judaic studies faculty on a part-time basis, said he hopes to receive “a spiritual boost” from his visit to Israel. This is something he can share with his congregation, he said, and “continue the sacred, holy work that I do. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to go there.”