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The Eighth Man

Yisroel Besser

Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, the director of Lev L’Achim, is a respected figure across secular Israel, from his hometown of Netanya to the tiny moshavim where his organization reaches thousands of unaffiliated Jews. So why in the world would he want to run for Knesset?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I will stand up at the podium and raise my fist, just like he does,” Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin says, assuming a fighting pose, his voice escaping in a low growl. “I will stare right back and make eye contact before I speak.” Rabbi Sorotzkin is responding to a question from a television reporter. If elected, she wonders, how will he respond to Yair Lapid’s anti-chareidi incitement? “And then… I will say, ‘Yair, please come join us for a Shabbos meal.’ ” The tough-guy image that Rabbi Sorotzkin might be able to pull off, given his large frame and imposing presence, is somewhat mitigated by the laughter in his eyes, the warmth he radiates. In Israel’s political circles, where candidates these days are more akin to wheeler-dealers than charismatic leaders, this rabbi brings character and charm to United Torah Judaism’s eighth slot. Don’t let the geniality and humor fool you, though; they camouflage executive brilliance. This is the man intimately familiar with the hundreds of volunteers who compose the organization he heads, P’eylim/Lev L’Achim; who notices discrepancies in the organization’s phone bills from month to month; who carries the burden of a massive budget. He’s also the leader who was handpicked to establish a Talmud Torah in his hometown of Netanya more than 20 years ago (a school where he still carries out administrative duties) and the one who founded a flourishing Bais Yaakov high school, all while serving as a neighborhood rav in the seaside town. He seems to carry an inexhaustible supply of energy: Other than a few minutes spent drinking tea at an under-furnished P’eylim/Lev L’Achim office in Kiryat Sefer, our conversation is carried out in motion. We sit together on a bus crammed with avreichim — who knock on doors and, with perseverance that would shame an Amway salesperson, offer the opportunity to learn Torah — in between surprise visits to Lev L’Achim outposts, study groups, and shiurim. As we tear across the region, I find myself tiring far quicker than he — and it isn’t only his driving. I suggest that, if he’s elected to Knesset (as he hopes to be in March), he avail himself of a designated driver. “My wife said the same thing,” he quips.

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