Living Near the War Zone

Several friends and family members have sent emails with words of support and empathy, and have asked about my thoughts and experiences during this time of war. 

It is harder for me this time to reflect upon my reality in a coherent and insightful manner. It is even more difficult to be optimistic and confident in sending out a certain message about what we can do in order to bring about a better reality. Lately, I am less positive that bringing peace is in our hands, that it is mostly an Israeli challenge.

Two things contribute for my new sense of pessimistic powerlessness. 

The first is the discovery of the immense system of terror tunnels leading from within Gaza to Israel. It is a shock to realize that our intelligence have missed such a huge threat. Some of the information was out there, almost obvious, yet our army has developed no strategy to face this threat. 

Beside the danger these tunnels pose to Israel, they reflect the vast investment the Hamas leadership has devoted to planning destruction.  Almost all their resources, efforts and creativity are directed to attacking Israel, rather than to helping and advancing their own people. Money and energy, which Hamas should have directed to building the infrastructure of their cities, was directed solely to attack and murder of Israelis (and in a twisted turn of their own people). 

Is there any hope to negotiate peace with this leadership? Can we ever trust them in a future compromise? I am afraid the answer to both questions is negative. 

The second is the reaction in the world to the current fighting in Gaza. The huge rallies and demonstrations all over the world, condemning Israel for “genocide” in Gaza fail to impress me as an honest expression of empathy for the Palestinians. Where were all these protesters during the 3 years of war in Syria or in Iraq? I am convinced now, that the Israeli – Palestinian conflict is but an excuse and an outlet for something bigger and deeper. 

Unfortunately, even if Israel was to withdraw tomorrow from all the territories it occupied in 67, these waves of antisemitism and hatred for the West will probably not disappear. Such withdrawal is necessary if Israel is to remain a Jewish state and a (better) democracy. However, it seems an illusion to think it will bring an end to hostility and hatred.

 

Life near the war zone

In Caesarea, we heard the sirens go off less than 10 times. It is next to nothing, really. A man from Ashkelon told me “this is what we get in one hour, on a bad day…” Still, there is a sense of insecurity wherever one goes. The last alarm went off when I had a Pool Party for a few women Rabbi friends (and their families). We collected the 10 children and toddlers from the pool and rushed to the tiny shelter in the house, trying to ease the atmosphere as much as possible. One Rabbi, who left her 11 and 14-year-old daughters at home, apologized and left immediately, because both she and her daughters suddenly felt insecure and needed to be together. The rest of us went back to the yard, but it was no longer a party.

Living in Israel at a time of war, one constantly feels the need to help, to assist, and to donate. Like many in Israel, we are giving money and buying goods for the soldiers- from snacks and underwear to Ceramic combat vests (really!). This is how I found myself sitting at the entrance to our local supermarket twice this week. Most people give 100-200 NIS. A child came and emptied her bag of coins, demanding to know exactly what we are going to do with it. Then came a woman with a check for $10,000… A second truck departed the next day from Caesarea to the troops near the Gaza Strip. 

A far more gratifying opportunity came when 150 mentally handicapped people came from Ashkelon to our local country club, for a few hours of relief.   Serving them lunch and talking to them, I felt useful for the first time in days…

However, most of the time I feel helpless and very sad. So many people have lost their lives or their health. Many soldiers and civilians will suffer from post trauma syndrome. The accumulated death toll of innocent people in Gaza is horrifying. I do blame Hamas for their fate, but grieve over the terrible loss of life.

Stubbornly, I still believe that only negotiation with the Palestinian Authority and compromise can end the cycle of war. Will this round of violence push our government to try that channel seriously?

I pray for better times.

——–

Rabbi Ayala R. Samuels is one of a growing minority of Liberal female rabbis in Israel, and leads the first Reform congregation in Caesarea. Rabbi Ayala Samuels is married with three sons.

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As A Progressive Jew, I am Committed…

As I attempt to write these lines whilst sitting in a train traveling North from Alicante to Barcelona in Spain, my home country, I can’t help but appreciate the beauty of the land of the region of Valencia. To my left, endless fields of orange, pine and palm tress with arid and rough mountains in the background. To my right, the Mediterranean Sea, source of food, life and inspiration for generations. And above all, a peaceful blue sky, only crossed by unconcerned birds, maybe seagulls. My mind drifts away intentionally towards Eretz Israel, where, under the same sky and sun and along the coasts bathed by our beloved Mediterranean, a dreadful war of fire and human hatred prevents longed promises of security and peace for all its inhabitants.

As we all know, Sfarad was at a time a true light to the European kingdoms throughout the dark Middle-Ages, where medicine, literature, poetry, science and philosophy flourished in the fertile ground of a relative peaceful coexistence of the three monotheistic religions present in the peninsula: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The expulsion of the Sefardic Jews in 1492 was interpreted by some Kabbalists of the time as a cosmic drama, a new episode of Shevirat ha-Kelim (the breaking of the vessels) with the dispersion of the shards of light represented by the individual Jews who went on exile along the Mediterranean basin. The town of Sfat received some of these exiled Kabbalists and the wisdom of the Zohar would continue to enlighten the Torah with a specific Mediterranean way of conceiving hope, reunion and redemption.

From the darkest events of the 20th century for European Jewry, Zionism emerged with the promise of hope and redemption for scattered and oppressed Jews throughout a hostile continent. Many were those who embraced the new project since the beginning of the century, some on a voluntary basis, some as the last recourse to preserve their lives and their families’ or to restart a new life where the land flows milk and honey, far away from a European land that was still wet with blood. Palestine, Eretz Israel, welcomed them all, providing not only shelter and protection, but also human dignity, a Jewish life where secular and religious sensitivities would be respected and encouraged, a Jewish present and a Jewish future ledor vador.

As a Progressive Sionist Jew living in Diaspora, I am committed to the realization of the Zionist vision, and the accomplishment of the ideals of the founders of the State of Israel. However, I could not envisage my own commitment if it was not put within the framework of the current challenges being faced by my own generation: the on-going conflict with the Palestinian people and the subsequent territorial disputes, Israel’s recognition by its neighbouring countries, the growing tensions within Israeli society between religious and secular conceptions of modern life, civil rights and responsibilities, economic disparities and lack of opportunities for the youth and marginalized sectors of the society, a fair approach to the issue of immigration and inclusion of minorities, but to name a few. For most of the challenges evoked above, the Israeli society has shown innovative and unique expressions of dealing with them in a constructive manner, however the antagonist positions of the political spheres make progressive and daring solutions seem slow to come, limited and insufficient. Yet I believe that tensions in every human community are necessary and healthy. They mobilize forces, energy and passions by its individuals that otherwise would become stagnant and therefore unproductive, unfertile. Our Zionist history has shown us that more difficult challenges were overcome when the right doses of idealism and pragmatism were applied.

As a Progressive Religious Jew, I believe that the realization of the Zionist project and the prerogatives of the Jewish State of Israel need to be based and inspired on the high ethical standards and values that our Fathers, Mothers and Prophets envisaged for the Jewish people, which were preserved and transmitted from generation to generation. But it is necessary that they are interpreted and put into action according to the challenges and opportunities of modern times. I realize that this is not an easy task, however every generation is illuminated with individuals and communities whom, by sharing a unified vision, can work towards this accomplishment. I have found in the Reform and Progressive Movement, both in Israel and in Diaspora, and in organizations such as ARZENU, the living expression of the moral responsibilities we share as Jews. Help building and developing together a fair, inclusive and progressive State of Israel where justice, peace and prosperity prevail for all Jews and all its inhabitants, should become our priority – this is the only way we can become legitimate, inheritants of our tradition and the land we were promised.

My train is arriving at its final destination, the beautiful city of Barcelona, which counts the oldest synagogue in Europe amongst its treasures. In this city, a young and vibrant community of Reform Jews will meet again this Friday evening to pray for peace among Israelis and Palestinians. Standing for our Israeli friends in these difficult times, we will stand to the final verses of Lekha Dodi and will welcome Shabbat as our Kabbalist sages taught us to do. And as every night, I will pray facing Jerusalem, on the other side of the Mediterranean, asking for divine protection to all Israel and all humanity, wishing that only white clouds and the fragrance of the flowers of the orange trees will cross the blue sky and the songs of birds will be heard. May the thought of Zion direct our hearts and our spirits towards justice and love.

—–

Jose Luis Martin is a  member of Bet Shalom, a Progressive Jewish community in Barcelona, Spain.

 

What is Israel and What Makes It Our Land?

My affiliation into Judaism began when I joined Hashomer Hatzair Hungary at the age of 16, and became a member of Sim Shalom, a Hungarian Progressive congregation shortly afterwards and have been a Reform Jew ever since that turning point in my life. However, these communities were not much more than grounds for socialising  for me until three years later, when I visited Israel for the very first time in my life. My Taglit trip and subsequent volunteering on kibbutz Grofit made me fall in love with the country and finally realise that the existence of a Jewish State is indispensable in keeping Judaism alive. My short stay in Israel made me gain a deeper insight into life in Israel and see that this land is the source, the centre, that fuels Judaism in the Diaspora.

The inevitable questions raised by this topic are how to define Israel and how Israel relates to the Diaspora. I am presently volunteering on kibbutz Lotan where I recently attended a session led by Benjie Gruber (rabbi of the Arava Region), where he asked what exactly we can call ours and what it means to do so. This question is a major one on a traditional kibbutz like Lotan, where private property does not exist at all, but, evidently, the question might be broadened to the whole State of Israel, and in this case, the following problems arise:  If Israel is defined as the land that we, as Jews, can actually call our own, as opposed to the land Jews of the Diaspora have been living on, then what exactly is it that makes it ours? What makes a Hungarian Jew, for instance, not live on his own land, as opposed to an Israeli one, who does? Moreover, if a Hungarian Jew should decide to make alia, then will he finally live on his own land, even though he sees it for the very first time in his life? If after being unable to provide a satisfying answer to these questions, one should finally reach the conclusion that Israel had better not be defined as “our land”, then he has just returned to the starting point and is once again faced with the problems of what to call ours and, maybe even more importantly, what Israel is.

Given the fact that these questions have caused innumerable disputes and splits in Judaism, I am evidently not going to provide a black-and-white answer for them, but I would gladly welcome any viewpoints, comments, on the topic and I am also going to share mine. To me, calling something my own – or our own, for a nation – originates from a deep spiritual attachment towards that entity, rather than from material sources. Therefore, a Hungarian Jew having lived only in Hungary but loving Israel can call Israel his land just as well as he can call Hungary his land provided that feels it to be so. That is why, even though I have spent only roughly three months of my entire life in Israel so far and regardless of where I might live later on or to what extent I should agree or disagree with the current politics of Israel, it is and will always be my land, and to all of us who share a deep love for the country, it will always be our land.

—-

Isabelle Menczer is an active member of Sim Shalom, a Progressive Jewish Congregation in Budapest, Hungary. There she serves as a teacher and is head of the youth group. She is also a valued member of the ARZENU community. 

ARZENU Press Release – July 9, 2014

As Progressive Religious Zionists, we grieve over the murder of the three yeshiva boys, Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel.  We extend our deepest condolences to their families and pray that the perpetrators of such a heinous act will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  As Progressive Religious Zionists, we grieve over the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir.  We extend our deepest condolences to his family and pray that the perpetrators of such a heinous act will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

For Jews and Arabs in Israel, the Middle East and around the world, we perceive this time to be one for mourning and healing, not for revenge and continued bloodshed.  We shall continue our efforts to transform the fist of hatred into the handshake of peace.  We pray that in our days Isaiah’s vision shall come true that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war.”  We also subscribe to the teaching of the Rabbis:  “Who is strongest of all?  One who turns an enemy into a friend” (Avot de-Rabi Natan 23:1).

“G-d will give strength to the people-G-d will bless all people with peace” Operation Protective Edge has gone on for two weeks now with a heavy toll of deaths, and injuries in Israel’s effort to defend the cities, towns and rural settlements in the south. The IMPJ is continuing its mobilization to bring relief to the people living under fire. In the last few days and planned till the end of this week we will continue to focus on the following specific spheres of intervention:

Volunteering in Shelters and Emergency Facilities throughout the south- Organized by our humanitarian relief arm, up to now over 200 volunteers have lead activities in shelters, community centers, and other locations in cities and regional councils throughout the south. These volunteers lead activities and hand out “Activity” packages that include games, books, and interactive fun experiences. Where needed we are also handing out “Food and Hygiene Packages” in shelters. Our volunteers have worked directly with over 1500 people. We will be continuing to facilitate volunteers from IMPJ congregations, mechina alumni (those that haven’t been drafted), and others from our institutions. We have already handed out close to 2000 activity packages.

Recreation and Relaxation Days for Children and Families at our centers in Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv- Starting this past Thursday and scheduled to continue every day until the crises ends, we are bringing children and families from areas of missile bombardment to our centers for fun, cultural activities, and relaxation. Four of these days have already taken place at the Leo Baeck Campus in Haifa with around 50 children each day including a day with Bedouin children from the Negev this past Sunday. Starting later this week groups will be hosted in Beit Shmuel in Jerusalem and in Mishkanot Ruth of Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv.

Hosting of Families with special needs in our Movement Locations- Families with special needs children and adults from areas impacted by the crises have a more urgent need to be taken away from the constant sirens, moving to shelters, and pressure. Therefore our two Reform Kibbutzim along with Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv and Beit Shmuel in Jerusalem will be hosting special needs families from weak economic backgrounds. Up to now we have arranged for 100 such families to be hosted and this number will be increased over the next few days.

Cultural and Spiritual Care in Frameworks for Emotionally Challenged- The IMPJ was asked by the Ministry of Health and by many municipal welfare departments to bring educators, cultural coordinators and song leaders to closed frameworks for Emotionally Challenged people to help them deal with the crises. We created three teams of Rabbis, song leaders, and facilitators for this purpose and have begun daily visits to facilities in Kiryat Gat, Beer Sheva, Kiryat Malachi, and Ashkelon where we lead cultural events, singing, and discussions to help relieve stress and build resilience.

It is important to note that in addition to all of the activities listed above that we are involved in, our congregations and communities also have to cope with the situation. This is especially true of our communities in Gedera, the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, and in Beer Sheva. All of these communities are dealing themselves with the stressful and dangerous situation every moment of the day and night. A good example of this is the activity of our student Rabbi in Sha’ar HaNegev Yael Karrie who every day leads activities with elderly, participates in the regional emergency center, visits hospitals, participates in the programs noted above with emotionally challenged, has reached out to Bedouins in Rahat, lead Shabbat services and is a model for initiative and tireless effort during the crises.

We want to make special mention of the support from our communities throughout the world and the fact that our North American partners from the URJ and all the other arms of our movement in North America are partners in the JFNA “Stop the Sirens” campaign which is providing the IMPJ with funds to help us carry out all the activities described above. We are grateful to JFNA for supporting the IMPJ emergency relief efforts. We continue to pray for peace.

Galilee Diary – Jewish Values

[Jeremiah] spoke to King Zedekiah…: Put your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon; serve him and his people, and live! (for this is Israel’s punishment for injustice and idolatry)
– Jeremiah 27:12

…The prophet Hananiah son of Azzur…said: Thus said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: I hereby break the yoke of the king of Babylon. (for God will protect and support Israel unconditionally)
– Jeremiah 28:1-2

I recently attended a demonstration of the “Light Tag” coalition, in front of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s residence. We were about 500, with many familiar faces, especially from the Reform and Conservative movements (though the outstanding speaker was an Orthodox rabbi, Benjamin Lau). “Light Tag” (tag me’ir) is a pun on the name of the phenomenon it opposes: “Price Tag” (tag mechir ) – the name given to the recent spate of Jewish hate crimes. It seems that some of the more extreme elements of the settler youth – and supporters and copy-cats from elsewhere – have taken it upon themselves to exact a “price” for the government’s conciliatory (?) moves toward the Palestinians, by torching mosques, vandalizing churches, spitting on priests on the street, violent attacks against random Arabs, puncturing Arabs’ tires, etc., throughout Israel. There have been proposals (by the minister of police) to label these activists as “terrorists,” which would give the police additional tools to deal with them. But such a decision keeps getting put off. It is interesting, as many speakers pointed out at the demonstration, that the security services, who can find and detain every 11-year old Arab kid who ever throws a stone, seem helpless against this current “plague.” It is hard to avoid the feeling that there are leaders in the political and religious spheres – and lots of people on the street – who don’t see these actions as such a big deal, or who even sympathize with them. When popular author Amos Oz recently called the perpetrators “Jewish neo-nazis,” he aroused a public outcry on the left as well as the right.

There are amusing anecdotes from the early years of the state, when Jews expressed pride and gratification at the normalization of the Jewish people: Finally, we had a real state, meaning we had Jewish police and Jewish prisons – and Jewish criminals and Jewish prostitutes – just like everyone else. Alas, the cuteness has worn off, as we see our former president in jail for rape, our former prime minister sentenced to jail for bribery, and a daily dose of reports on hate crimes against non-Jewish religious leaders and institutions (and against liberal Jewish institutions too). Normalization sounded like a good idea, but did we really mean it “all the way?”

Many of us in the liberal wing of Judaism are wont to declare that a Jewish state needs to be a state that exemplifies Jewish values. In this respect we are like the nationalist Orthodox school, who argue that normalization is not our ideal: our destiny is not to be just like everyone else, but to be exceptional, to be a state that implements the values of the Torah in real life. The problem is, of course, that we have not achieved consensus on just what “Jewish values” are, and on who gets to decide. In recent years a number of publications by nationalist Orthodox rabbis have gotten a lot of attention – bringing proof from traditional sources to support discrimination and violence against non-Jews. When we liberals object, they tell us that “the halachah is not pretty,” and that we are distorting Judaism to fit our western liberal values; then we bring our proof-texts to show that theirview is a distortion of Judaism. If we didn’t have a Jewish state with an army and a police force, this could be a philosophical discussion, as it was for centuries. We could happily be pluralists and agree to disagree. However, in our time, we cannot escape the challenge of having to implement our values, using real power in a real state. So we cannot really afford to be pluralists about our beliefs in this sphere.

It seems we’re in a culture war, similar to the one in Jeremiah’s day. That time the good guys lost, and we are still mourning the outcome.

Re-printed from the URJ Ten Minutes of Torah, June 4, 2014

Rabbi Marc J. Rosenstein is the retired director of the Galilee Foundation for Value Education and the current director of the Israel Rabbinical Program at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

Why Should Reform Jews Be Interested in the World Zionist Congress?

There is much being said about the up-coming World Zionist Congress, and why Reform Jews should be interested.  To address these, we’ve invited Rabbi Ira Youdovin (now retired) who 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.  

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 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 have voting rights.  Those were granted the following year, at the Second Zionist Congress.

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

 

Who Attends the World Zionist Congress?

Herzl’s characterization of the first World Zionist Congress (WZC) as  “the Parliament of the Jewish People” is as apt today as it was when the Congress first convened in 1897.  Other Jewish forums exercise more power, enjoy greater prestige and encompass more wealth.  But the WZC is the only one whose delegates are elected democratically to represent Zionists in Israel and throughout the world.

The approximately five hundred delegates are divided geographically: Israel—38%, the United States—29%, non-American Diaspora—33%.  The Diaspora contingent is divided into thirty geographical regions.

The Israeli delegation is composed on the basis of each political party’s representation in the Knesset.   Most Diaspora delegates are chosen in regional elections, although in a few regions, representation is  determined by negotiations among the local Zionist groupings.

ARZENU’s objective in every region is getting out the vote for its slate! 

 

How is the World Zionist Congress Organized?

There are three categories of delegates.

  • Those representing Zionist political movements are chosen in  are chosen in national elections in 30 countries worldwide. Each country’s regional elections are independent of the other 29 countries but the aggregate of all of the results determines the strength of the political movements for 5 years until the next elections.
  • International Jewish organizations which have fixed representation and do not compete in elections (the World Union for Progressive Judaism, World Mizrachi, Hadassah, WIZO, B’nai Brith, Maccabi, and others).
  • Israeli political parties whose mandates are determined by the number of seats they each holds in the Knesset.

Once elections are concluded the Zionist political movements team up with like-minded Israeli political parties to create factions and enhance their impact at the WZO. After the last elections in 2010 ARZENU joined forces with the Labor and Meretz parties to become the largest faction in the WZO.

Because ARZENU has no permanent ties to any Israeli political party, and is present in only fourteen of the WZO’s thirty regions, its strength at the next WZC (October, 2015) depends  on its “getting out the vote” wherever we can.

 

When did Reform Judaism first affiliate with the WZO?

In 1976, the World Union for Progressive Judaism joined the WZO as an international  organization, completing the WUPJ’s turning toward Israel and Zionism.   The organization had been established in 1926 in London, where it based its headquarters.  In 1959, the office was re-located to New York where it was housed in the Union of American Hebrew Congregation’s building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

In the early 1970’s, a small group of ardent Reform Zionists led by Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch argued forcefully that the headquarters of a worldwide Jewish movement should be located in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish People.  The move was approved in 1972 and implemented the following year.  Rabbi Hirsch, who had created the UAHC’s Religious Action Center in Washington, made aliyah with his family and became WUPJ’s executive director.

 

What is ARZENU?

ARZENU is the umbrella organization of Reform and Progressive Religious Zionists. It was founded in 1980 as a federation of existing Reform Zionist organizations, such as ARZA (USA) and ARZA Canada, and to foster new ones throughout the world. It had as its dual goal the aim of supporting the Reform Movement in Israel while bolstering local Zionist activity amongst Reform Zionist in the Diaspora.

Today there are 14 member organizations of ARZENU in the USA, Canada, France, Britain, Austria, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Spain.

 

How Does a Large ARZENU Congress Delegation Help Israeli Reform Judaism?

One important way is financial. Today the Reform Movement in Israel receives allocations of $4.5 to $5 million per annum from the Jewish Agency, Keren Kaymeth LeIsrael (JNF) and the World Zionist Organization.

How does this work? The WZO is a 50% owner of the Jewish Agency and therefore appoints 50% of the representatives to the Board of the Jewish Agency. Thus it can strongly impact who will be the chairman of the Agency or the agenda and priorities of the Agency. The same is applicable to the other organizations. In other words, the WZO plays an important role in making decisions on who is appointed to key positions in these organizations. Simply put: whoever has the largest number of representatives in Congress will set goals and have access to the centers of power and money.

 

Does ARZENU have partners?

Following elections for delegates to the 2010 WZC, ARZENU established a Joint Faction with the World Labor Zionist Movement and Meretz Olami (the political arms abroad of these Israeli Knesset parties). This Joint Faction allows us to influence the Knesset and Israeli society. For example, when we fought against the Rotem conversion law we cooperated with the above parties to influence the legislative process.

 

What Is Decided at the World Zionist Congress?

Much of the time is devoted to processing resolutions covering a broad spectrum of issues confronting Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora.  These are proposed by the various factions, and work their way through a labyrinth of committees.  The survivors make it to the plenum, where they are debated at length, and frequently with vigor, before being decided by democratic vote.

The second—-many would say the more important—function is allocating funds and appointments.  This is determined largely by the numerical strength of each faction.  Thanks to ARZENU’s showing in recent WZC elections, the Reform movement in Israel receives $4.5 to $5 million per annum in non-governmental funding determined by its WZC representation.   Failure to duplicate or improve upon our electoral success would cause a diminution, perhaps severe, of this critically important support.

 

Has Israel Reform Judaism Been Helped by Resolutions of the World Zionist Organization and Zionist Congress?

In 1978, ARZA sent its first delegation to a WZC (the 29th).  There were nine newcomers amidst a gathering of nearly five hundred mostly veteran delegates.  They had no idea of what to do, and few allies to offer guidance.  So they did what came naturally.  They pretended they were in Washington, or a state capital or a local city hall in the US and went from caucus to caucus lobbying as best they could for a resolution calling for equality among the religious streams in Israeli life and in the WZO.

Much to their amazement, they found substantial pockets of support in the American and non-American Diaspora delegations, as well as growing sentiment among Israeli Labor Party delegates to break party discipline in order to vote their conscience even if it offended their Orthodox  partners in the Government coalition.  When the plenum vote was finally taken, after numerous maneuvers to block it, the resolution passed.

Nearly four decades later, the WZO has become a Jewishly pluralistic entity, just as the resolution demanded.  Progress is much slower in Israeli society, but Jewish pluralism no longer is the impossible dream it once was.  So when one reads about new Reform synagogues being established by the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and the many gains being scored by Anat Hoffman at the Israel Religious Action Center, one can smile while recalling the 29th World Zionist Congress when the ball began rolling,