Building on the newly-discovered video of the Chofetz Chaim attending the Agudat Yisrael’s first-ever gathering in Vienna in 1923, the ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, Israeli political party Yahadut Hatorah has released an election video and catchy campaign jingle by noted haredi singers Shloime Cohen and Eli Hertzlich in an effort to court voters from within the haredi community ahead of next week’s election.
The 12-second video footage of the Chofetz Chaim walking into the Agudat Yisrael conference, which for nearly a century has remained unseen, has been replayed countless times over the past few weeks and has now reentered political discourse, as Yahadut Hatorah, the joint list of two haredi political parties Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah, seeks to gain additional seats in the upcoming elections. The parties held a combined seven seats in the most recent Knesset.
The rare footage of the saintly Chofetz Chaim is now being used for political gain by Yahadut Hatorah in an effort to encourage its haredi constituents to vote for their party in the upcoming election by showing how they are continuing in the tradition of the Chofetz Chaim, who himself made the three-day trip from Radun to Vienna to support the Agudat Yisrael at their first-ever gathering in Vienna.
Yahadut Hatorah’s election jingle is set to the tune of the popular haredi song, “Hiskabtzi,” released this past November on Yossi Green’s new album Yiddish Nachas, and in just a few months, “Hiskabtzi” has become one of the top dance songs at haredi weddings and bar mitzvah celebrations, and is played non-stop on haredi radio stations in America, Israel, and around the world.
The original lyrics to “Hiskabtzi” are from the hakkafot to Simchat Torah, and Green explains that the opening word Hiskabtzi serves as a “call to gather together and unite.” In the version of Green’s Hebrew lyrics (“Hiskabtzi Malachim Zeh LaZeh”), the Angels in Heaven call to each other to gather together, a point that was modified when turned into Yahadut Hatorah’s campaign jingle to “Hiskabtzi Chareidim Zeh LaZeh,” and “Hiskabtzi Gedolei Yisrael Zeh LaZeh,” referring to both individual haredim and also to their Torah Sages. This song has over the past week become a major rallying cry for members of the Israeli haredi community to band together and raise the “Gimmel” banner for Yahadut Hatorah in support of Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah. The slogan on the party banner and the phrase used the end of the jingle is “Bechira Ledorot,” which translates as “the choice for generations.”
Green, who lives with his family in Brooklyn and has no political leanings in the Israeli elections, was at first quite surprised when he was contacted by an Israeli advertising company about “Hiskabtzi” being used as part of an election campaign, but has since become more comfortable with the jingle, especially once he saw how Yahadut Hatorah has interwoven the footage of the Chofetz Chaim —“who was the ultimate paragon of humility and communal unity”—into the campaign’s music video. Even though the lyrics are “somewhat political,” Green believes that a rallying call for Jewish unity as reflected in the lyrics transcends any political motivations that might now be associated with “Hiskabtzi,” saying, “I could never have imagined that ‘Hiskabtzi’ would become a jingle for a political party!”
Menachem Butler, a contributing editor at Tablet Magazine, is the program coordinator for Jewish Law Projects at The Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law at the Harvard Law School, and a co-editor at the Seforim blog. Follow him on Twitter @MyShtender.