Q&A with Rabbi Ira Youdovin

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There is much being said about the up-coming World Zionist Congress, and why Reform Jews from across the globe should be interested.  To address these, we’ve invited a true expert to guide us through the material.

Rabbi Ira Youdovin forty years ago headed the team that created ARZA—Association of Reform Zionists of America, served as its first executive director and, together with its president, Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, led Reform Zionism’s first delegation to the World Zionist Congress.

When we contacted Rabbi Youdovin he mused that the questions being asked were largely the same he was called upon to answer in the mid-1970’s.

As you read Rabbi Youdovin’s comments, please remember to post here additional questions as well as your own take on the issues that he is raising.

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The World Zionist Congress: Why should Reform Jews be interested? 

The next World Zionist Congress will be held in October, 2015.  More than 500 delegates from Israel and the Diaspora will gather in Jerusalem to discuss key issues confronting Israel, Zionism and world Jewry, and to determine allocations made by the World Zionist Organization, the WZC’s parent body.  These decisions are determined by vote of the delegates, who reflect a wide diversity of ideological and religious perspectives.

If you care about the Reform Movement in Israel, if you support egalitarian prayer, if you believe in freedom of religion, the right of Reform rabbis to conduct marriage, divorce, burial and conversion, if you believe that women should have equal status, here is your chance to make a difference. Your vote in determining who represents your region is your voice in determining what happens at the Congress.

 

What are the origins of the World Zionist Congress? 

Theodor Herzl convened the first World Zionist Congress (WZC) in Basel, Switzerland (1897).  An assimilated Viennese Jew covering the Dreyfus trial for a local newspaper, Herzl saw the anti-Semitism manifest in the trumped-up charges against a Jewish captain in the French army as a harbinger of a fate that awaited Jews everywhere in Europe.  His response was to embrace the need to create a national homeland where Jews would be safe and free. The WZC was the first institutional step toward achieving this goal.  Foremost among the resolutions adopted by the Congress was one that defined the movement: “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law.”

Approximately two hundred delegates  from seventeen countries attended.  Sixty-nine were representatives from various Zionist societies.  The remainder were individual invitees. In attendance were ten non­-Jews who were expected to abstain from voting. Seventeen women attended.  While women participated in the discussions, they did not then have voting rights.  Those were granted the following year, at the Second Zionist Congress

Herzl called the WZC “the Parliament of the Jewish People.”

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