Congratulations on the tremendous success of Yesh Atid in the elections, and to you specifically for winning a Knesset seat. Thank you for taking the time out of what I am sure is definitely a busy schedule to be interviewed and share with us some of your thoughts and reflections.
MKRDL: It is my pleasure. It is important for your readers to have these important questions answered.
1. So, have things calmed down? How was your first day, and first week, in the Knesset? Is it down to the nitty gritty work now or is it still very emotional?
MKRDL:Things actually get busier and busier. My first day was focused on getting my office in order and learning the basics about the computer system, the phone system, when the minyanim are, etc. The next day we got right to work with meetings and planning our agenda. It continues to be emotional every time we turn the corner and I see the building which is where I work, but then you walk in and the nitty gritty work begins right away and that last all day. As you pass the guards on the way out and wish them a good night you feel the emotion again.
2. In the past you have worked very hard at a local level in Bet Shemesh. How do you see your relationship with local work continuing once you are in the Knesset?
MKRDL: I view myself as the MK for Bet Shemesh. Let's remember, I am the first MK in the history of the city and the city's residents expect me to serve them - regardless of whether people voted for me or not. I have given the last few years of my life to trying to make things better in Bet Shemesh and this won't change. I have been in touch with city leaders about how I can help the city and will be at all important city events.
3. How do you see your future in the Knesset as a venue for helping Bet Shemesh with its needs?
MKRDL:I already spoke about the needs of Bet Shemesh during my inaugural speech from the Knesset podium. There are issues related to highway 38, future neighborhoods being constructed, absorption, and schools in which I can be of help - aside from being available to help people with their personal needs.
4. Can you give us any hint as to what is going on behind the scenes with the intriguing coalition negotiations that have begun? Do you have any indication what the results might be in regards to what type of coalition will most likely be formed?
MKRDL:I can say with clarity that Yesh Atid is prepared to lead the opposition if the Prime Minister decides not to accept our plan regarding equality in national service. The government that he will form without us is not likely to last long and we believe we will come roaring back with more mandates after the next elections which would come soon. There is an historic opportunity to make real and necessary changes, especially with Naftali Bennet agreeing with Yesh Atid regarding some of these core issues. There is no discussion regarding portfolios and Yesh Atid is looking for a government which will enable it to follow through on its promises to its voters.
5. Will you be earmarked by Yair Lapid, perhaps because of the extraordinary effort you put forth in the campaign season, to have a special role or appointment in the upcoming Knesset session?
MKRDL:Serving as an MK is already a special role. There is so much that can be done in this role and I am not looking for more. There are certain committees in which I would be a natural fit and can do the most and I hope that materializes.
6. How will you, or perhaps yesh Atid, get involved in the municipal election season that is soon going to begin in Bet Shemesh?
MKRDL:Yesh Atid is running candidates in municipal elections throughout the country but I don't see that happening in Bet Shemesh. I am working very hard to make sure there is one candidate in the general population (moderate ultra-Orthodox through secular) and then I will do whatever I can to help that candidate get elected.
7. Will Yesh Atid begin forming municipal alliances throughout the country and running candidates for municipal positions and mayorships or is Yesh Atid concentrating only on the national scene for now?
MKRDL:There is a person whose full time position relates to municipal elections and MK Meir Cohen (former mayor of Dimona) is overseeing this as well.
8. can you elaborate about where you (Yesh Atid) stand on the big issues - conversion, peace negotiations, and the "shivyon b'netel"
a. conversions - do you see a solution that will be acceptable to all, considering the orthodox will most likely never accept conservative and reform conversions. do you see them compromising on that when they never before have?
MKRDL: I believe that we can work together to create a universal conversion policy which would mean relying on more lenient but legitimate opinions on the Orthodox side, and this would mean that not all conversions are accepted on the non-Orthodox side. The first issue which must be addressed is zera yisrael which is a huge percentage of them.
b peace - you have been quoted as being supportive of land concessions is that a pragmatic position? why do you support it? do you think the Palestinians are finally ready to sit down and accept a peace agreement?
MKRDL: I don't "support" giving up land in Eretz Yisrael. There is a reality on the ground called the Palestinians. We cannot ignore it. Throwing up our hands and saying "there is no solution" means we are looking at our children in the eyes and saying "here, the problem is yours. You deal with it but with millions of more Palestinians." We may never come to an agreement but we have to try and it will take time - not for a happy marriage with the Palestinians but a necessary divorce. If, and I emphasize if, we reach a point where we have an internationally backed agreement which they will sign (not like Gush Katif which was unilateral) which includes our terms including an undivided Yerushalayim, then I believe we would have to accept it even though that that means the painful giving up of Jewish homes and land.
c. how can the haredi parties come down off their position and compromise to your position of accepting a 5 year exemption and then starting to send their boys to the army? why do you think you (yesh atid) have the power to persuade them to compromise on something they were never before willing to?
MKRDL: Our plan does not say that everyone has to serve in the army. The chareidi political leadership is distorting our plan and creating fear in the chareidi community. First of all, those who do serve in the army will be able to do so in special programs that are created over the next five years which enable them to combine Torah learning and service. Second, those who don't serve in the army will be able to enter Torah learning programs which include a period of time with joint Torah learning and national service - even within the chareidi community. Third, the really talented learners will receive a blanket exemption and will focus on learning alone. This notion that the only ones who are truly learning are those who do nothing else but learn is a complete distortion of who we have been throughout our history. Since when is the person who combines Torah learning with other pursuits not learning? I did that when I was in Ner Yisrael and there was plenty of Torah learning and the yeshiva produces Talmidei Chachamim of the highest caliber.
9. how do you see Yesh Atid being different than all the other "centrist" parties that have formed over the years, sometimes successfully in their initial attempts, and then disappeared fairly quickly? Do you see yesh Atid learning from the mistakes of those other parties and becoming a long-term player in Israeli politics? What did all those other parties do wrong, that yesh Atid is going to avoid doing?
MKRDL: Yes, I see Yesh Atid lasting for a long time. This is not a party of former MK's from other parties who jumped ship to find another political home and prolong their careers. This is a party which was put together very carefully with a process of turning the list into a family. We have tremendous unity of purpose and all left other careers in order to make real changes and bring new politics. Just look at who is sitting in the Knesset chamber when it is in session and you will already see the difference - Yesh Atid is the only party in which all MK's show up with minor exceptions here and there because of other Knesset business.
10. How busy is a person working in the Knesset? Do you still have time to teach or did you have to give that up? Are you always there or is much of your work outside the walls of the Knesset? Can you describe the "typical" day in the life of Knesset Member?
MKRDL: It has been non-stop for me. Between meetings, interviews, planning sessions, answering e-mails and Knesset sessions it is more than a full time job. I am in the Knesset almost every day and people can actually monitor our attendance from the Knesset web site. As we walk in the doors, guards put it into the computer that we are in the building and they mark it when we leave. A typical week for me looks as follows:
- Sunday - morning we have constituent meetings. People can contact my office to arrange a meeting
- I then meet with my staff regarding the follow up steps to those meetings
- in the afternoon I host groups and Jewish leaders
- Monday - morning is the committee meetings, early afternoon is our party meeting, 4pm the Knesset meets in the chamber, this can last into the night hours
- Tuesday - morning is planning legislative agenda with my staff, midday meetings with the focus groups (shdulot) I am part of or started
4pm the Knesset meets in the chamber - this can last into the nighttime hours
- Wednesday - Knesset meets at 11 in the chamber - beforehand we have prep because many votes are brought during this session
- afternoon meetings with outside groups, visiting leaders, and other MK's
- Thursday - this is generally the day for MK's to be out in the field visiting site, learning about legislation, assisting constituents
I will fill these days with meetings and tours to learn more, I will also be in the Knesset
- Friday - mornings there are usually events to attend throughout the country
Mincha every day at the Knesset is at 12:30p.m. or 1:30p.m.
Evenings throughout the week are also filled with many events
11. Why do so few MKs actually show up to the Knesset? Do you plan on being there for the votes that are famously empty or will much of your work take you outside of the Knesset?
MKRDL: It is certainly troubling and I view it as my job and will be there whenever I don't have something Knesset related outside the building. I plan on being in the chamber for every session and to be there for every vote.
12. After hearing Yair Lapid yesterday talk about pushing Reform Judaism in Israel and civil marriage, what are your thoughts on the issue? Will it not create a further rift and drive the orthodox to establish a "sefer yuchsin" as they have considered in the past, and only marry according to the listings in the registry? Will you, as an Orthodox (or Haredi) Rabbi, support pushing growth of Reform Judaism?
MKRDL: While I am passionate about my Orthodoxy and have written books about it, we cannot force people to do what we believe. We have pushed people further and further away from Judaism. If the country decides that it won't support any religious services then that is fine. But I see no justification for supporting the services of some and not others in a democracy. Regarding marriages, I actually believe that forcing people into Kiddusin and Nesuin when they don't want it actually causes worse halachic problems when they leave those marriages without a halachic process. At the same time that we do this, we should change the Rabbanut to be far more embracing, loving, caring, and user friendly and this will without a doubt draw people to make use of the rabbanut. I meet secular people throughout the country who say, "I hate Judaism and I hate that I hate Judaism." It is time for us to begin the process of creating a strong and proud Judaism in Israel and taking these bold steps will begin that process.
One last word: Yair Lapid, a secular icon (who believes in G-d and appreciates the richness and value of Torah), stood up and said to the religious world, "Let's work together." I believe that din v'cheshbon will have to be given by all who mock that call and turn away from it. Every source about geulah says that one thing will bring it - unity. And it is right there in front of our eyes. We have to grab it. It is time to stop looking at things as "us versus them" since most on the secular side don't see it that way anymore. In the last two days, more words of Torah have been shared in the Knesset chamber than in any two day period in its history - and it came from Yesh Atid MK's - both religious and secular. When we had a get together with our spouses at Yair Lapid's house, we all stood in a circle and sang Adon Olam and Shir Hamaalos. Something special is happening and I hope people open their eyes to see it, join it, applaud it, and daven for it to succeed.
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