For years, America’s dwindling Conservative and Reform movements have created a false narrative that they represent American Jewry. Will last week’s American Orthodox mission — representing Israel’s biggest supporters — be able to turn the tide on this warped mindset?

Last week, the Am Echad Mission, representing the full spectrum of Orthodox communities in the United States, spent two days in a whirlwind of meetings in Israel. One of the most important questions the delegates were asked was, “Where have you been until now?”

It was a good question, but in any case, it was refreshing to finally hear the message that the Reform and Conservative movements do not represent the true face of American Jewry. For years these groups, who are well on the way to oblivion, have presumed to speak for the Jews of America and to force their agenda on the people of Israel, the majority of whom identify with authentic Jewish tradition, even if they aren’t meticulous in their observance.

The heterodox groups, with the encouragement of Israel’s government, have managed to foist their deception upon the Israeli public, giving a general impression that their wishes are those of the vast majority of American Jews. That false narrative has also affected Israel’s leaders and decision makers, and the Am Echad Mission came to correct that unfounded impression and counter those misleading claims.

The mission was organized by Agudath Israel of America and headed by its chairman of the board, Mr. Shlomo Werdiger, together with Dr. Irving Lebovics, president of the California chapter, and Agudah’s executive vice president, the indefatigable Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel. The delegates, who met with dignitaries from the top echelons of Israel’s political leadership, presented a more accurate picture of the current state of American Jewry. The findings of many studies indicate that by all parameters, Orthodoxy is the fastest-growing and most vibrant sector of America’s Jewish population and is set to become its dominant force. Meanwhile, the other two major Jewish religious movements have been dwindling, losing members to assimilation at breakneck speed.

When it comes to matters of Israel’s spiritual identity, the Jewish state’s decision makers need to be aware of the following demographics: Although currently Orthodoxy makes up about 10% of American Jewry, it is in a process of expansion, while Reform congregations, which make up 12% of the Jewish population, are rapidly shrinking. The vast majority of America’s Jews, sad to say, are unaffiliated with any Jewish congregation, and the spokesmen of the Reform movement certainly have no right to presume to speak for them. Yet by claiming those masses of unaffiliated Jews as their own, heterodox leaders have gained enough clout with Israel’s government to impact important decisions regarding conversion, Jewish marriage, and the Kosel, where those who long ago forgot what tefillah is, now insist on “praying.”

The delegates presented impressive data demonstrating the vitality of the Orthodox community in all areas, not only in their generous contributions, both in money and human resources, to the thriving Torah world of Eretz Yisrael. Yes, the American Orthodox send millions of dollars to support Torah in the Holy Land, but they are also a strong presence in Israel’s general economy, with financial investments at all levels. Furthermore, the strongest support for the State of Israel comes from the Orthodox sector, which feels a sense of responsibility toward its brethren in their ancestral homeland, unlike many on the liberal end of the spectrum, who feel compelled by party politics to support the Palestinians and constantly criticize Israel’s policies. At a dinner hosted by Reform clergy, for example, Mahmoud Abbas was the guest of honor.

While credit certainly goes to the Am Echad Mission for planting the seeds of change among the influential figures it met with, I’m not sure if their efforts have made a concrete difference. Why? Because it’s nearly impossible to break down walls of ignorance and prejudice that have been built and buttressed by long years of deceptive propaganda.

Let’s hope, therefore, that the mission’s breakthrough visit was only the first of many. Cogent as its message was, it will be fully heard and accepted only through steady repetition. To counteract the disproportionate influence of the Reform movement, the Orthodox community must wage an equal but opposite campaign to convince Israel’s leaders of its true strength. Those who have spent years lobbying Israel’s government, claiming to represent the wishes of world Jewry and hold the reins of power, are in fact a dying breed with just a tiny presence in Israel — less than one percent of the Israeli Jewish population, despite their loud, desperate attempts to change things to suit their views.

Furthermore, future meetings would do well to include not only powerful political figures, but other wielders of influence as well — radio personalities, leading journalists, prominent doctors and lawyers, large business owners and corporate executives, bank presidents, people in charge of security and defense, and more. Such a multileveled campaign would, with Hashem’s help, have repercussions that could change the public’s view of this demographic, and that shift in atmosphere would certainly affect the thinking of Israel’s decision makers.

ON TAANIS ESTHER I met with Rabbi Pesach Lerner, well-known vice president emeritus of Young Israel, lauded for his tireless efforts to release Jonathan Pollard, and more recently for his fight to preserve the sanctity of the Western Wall. Although the Am Echad Mission was an Agudath Israel initiative, Rabbi Lerner was among those from other Orthodox circles who were included among the delegates on this historic trip, and he told me about the mission and its purpose.

In the course of our conversation, we discussed the idea of adopting some of the tactics that America’s heterodox leaders have successfully employed. In a massive brainwashing campaign, which has captured the mind of the Israeli public, they have been inviting influential Israeli figures on all-expenses-paid visits to the US for years. These politicians, journalists, and others who set the tone of Israeli society return to Israel loaded with deceptive information about American Jewry. The idea has been implanted in their minds that because Israel has paid too much attention to the noise of the chareidim who demand that conversion, marriage, and divorce be effected in accordance with halachah, a deep rift has formed between Israel and the American Jewish public (and its money).

It would be most fitting, therefore, for Am Echad to do likewise. They, too, could extend invitations to journalists and dignitaries to visit the Orthodox strongholds of America. Let them get acquainted not only with the big centers of Torah life such as Brooklyn and Lakewood, but also the distinguished laymen of the Orthodox world. Let them see what a thriving, dynamic sector of American Jewry this is, with a future laid out before it. Let them meet with top Orthodox doctors and lawyers, industrialists and economists, important rabbanim and Orthodox politicians. Direct encounters of this sort will show them the growing strength of the Orthodox community and change their attitude when it comes to setting policy on matters essential to the identity of the Jewish People. And perhaps then, the State of Israel and its people will be released from the stranglehold of a handful of heterodox Jews who are trying their best — with the help of Israel’s courts and its media — to import their vapid way of life here after it has failed so dismally across the ocean.

If anyone is actually interested in my suggestions, I would advise opening offices in both Israel and America to make Am Echad not a one-time mission, but a permanent fixture bringing delegations to Israel throughout the year from different communities — one time Los Angeles, the next time Baltimore, and so one. But who am I to tell American Jewry how to go about their business? The main thing is to make this an ongoing effort that will bring about real results.

Jewish brethren in America, we are eagerly waiting for you.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 701)