Gaza War

This land is our land: Rivlin visits Riverdale to restate Zionist vision


Former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin restated a Zionist axiom on Monday night, telling an enthusiastic crowd in Riverdale that “Israel is not compensation for the Holocuast — Israel is the name of the Jewish people, the Promised Land, and no one can take it away.”

Because Rivlin’s family has lived in Jerusalem since 1809, he voices this message with extra confidence. They moved there from Lithuania around the same time as did disciples of the Vilna Gaon — which was more than 70 years before the first wave of Zionist immigration and 130 years before the Shoah.

“Why should we pray three times a day, crying to G-d, please G-d with your mercy, help us to return to our homeland, to Jerusalem [when] we can go to Jerusalem,” said Rivlin, relating the thinking in Vilna. “And 250 returned to Jerusalem in 1809 — not after 2,000 years but after 1,800 years.”

“Jerusalem at the time was neglected, no one wanted to live in Jerusalem — but we brought prosperity” and by 1886, Jews formed a majority of the city’s population, he said.

Since Oct. 7, Rivlin has been visiting broken families and injured people throughout Israel “and attended more funerals than what one should.”

“Hamas are not the sons of the Satan, they are not freedom fighters,” he said. “Their only wish is not to build Palestine, not to build their own country, their only wish is to butcher Jews because they are Jews, because they are Israelis. They are the Satan himself.”

We need to keep telling this story to the world, he said.

Despite the atrocities committed by Hamas as well as their pledge to commit genocide, Rivlin offered an expression of measured optimism about Israeli-Arab relations.

“I really believe that we can live together,” he said, noting that when his family arrived in 1809, “we believed the Arabs would understand, as we had come back to our homeland, our only homeland.”

He touched on the political turmoil that engulfed the Jewish state up until the moment Hamas struck on Oct. 7.

“With G-d’s help — we need G-d’s help — we will find the way now to solve this once and for all,” he said, referring to the country’s political divisions.

“While Hamas may have thought we are weak, they actually reminded us of our strength when we are united,” Rivlin continued.

“Without any kind of hesitation [we must] let everyone around the world know that we are all together, that we have the right to live as an independent nation.”

Rivlin said that he is “working in the international arena, making sure the truth is being heard — unfortunately, it’s very very difficult, because people know that there are more Muslims in the world than Jews, so they have to listen to them.”

The question of majority rule was central to political arguments in Israel before the war.

“Democracy means that the majority has to take the minority as much about the majority” into account, and those who run the country have to “take care of every citizen,” he said.

He referenced a speech he gave at the University of Herzliya in 2015 (known as the Four Tribes speach) in which he warned about the danger of division in Israel in which each of its “four tribes” — secular Jews, national religious Orthodox Jews, ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews, and Arabs — starts to think that the country and the state belongs to them.

He said that population figures since 2019 show that Israeli Arabs form 25% of the country, versus just 4% when the state was established; the Haredim are 25%, compared to 5% or 6% in 1948 when “they were fighting, taking part in the Independence War; and 38% are secular (people he described humorously as “keeping the tradition, but they are called secular because they’re not keep 613 mitzvot, but maybe 30.”)

Rivlin expressed sadness over “a violent rise in antisemitism all over the world” after Oct. 7. “That is a shame.”

“We find ourselves in a position that people in the name of freedom of speech are using antisemitism. We have to fight this.”

When we say “never again,” we didn’t need to say it to ourselves [but] to remind you, people of the world, of what happened during Hitler and the Nazi regime and fascism. You have to remember that it should never be again happening. And please, let us do the job for you — but don’t bother us asking us not to do something other people are doing to us and you say nothing.”

Not everything is alright with all Israelis, Rivlin pointed out, and that was actually one of the reasons for his appearance in Riverdale and elsewhere this week.

As the modern Jewish state grew, some people “were left behind, living in poverty and in the socio-disadvantage groups,” he said.

He urged his audience to support the Israeli organization Maagalim, which “has taken upon itself a noble mission” to assist “at risk youth, those who are facing a real danger, such as violence and economic hardship.”

An IDF soldier who spoke before Rivlin explained how Maagalim turned his life around, moving him from a trajectory leading to poverty, crime and violence, to one infused with pride in his Zionism and his Judaism.

Maagalim explains that its mission is to empower “11th and 12th grade at-risk youth from the geographical and social peripheries of Israel and helps them undergo a process of personal growth … to enter adulthood as individuals with strong Jewish and Zionist identities [enhancing] personal potential, the belief in one’s own ability and self-worth.”

For more about Maagalim, visit