Tuesday in Jerusalem: Before the WZO Congress

by Lynn Magid Lazar

It’s Tuesday in Jerusalem. The World Zionist Organization (WZO) Congress does not begin until a week from today. You remember all the ‘buzz’ about the WZO and voting for the ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America) slate? Earlier this year, from January through April, every American Jew was urged to vote in the WZO election. There were websites and posters to encourage voting. Computers and tablets were brought to meetings in an effort to encourage American Jews to register and vote for the ARZA slate, representing Reform Judaism. And guess what? It worked! ARZA garnered 56 seats! In fact, we have more delegates than the next two slates combined. American Reform Jews can feel quite proud—and I am quite proud to be one of the ARZA delegates who will be representing all of you next week.

You may be asking, what is ARZA and what is the World Zionist Congress?

ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, represents 1.4 million American Jews in Reform communities. Fifty-six ARZA delegates will be attending the “Parliament of the Jewish People”—the World Zionist Congress (WZC)—in Jerusalem October 18-22. Theodor Herzl convened the first WZC in 1897 and I will be here for the convening of the 37th meeting! That fact alone is inspirational! Beginning next week, 500 delegates from all over the world will debate cutting-edge issues, allocate monies, and make efforts to impact the future of the Jewish people.

For the “numbers people” among us:

  • 38% of the delegates are from Israel.
  • 29% of the delegates come from American Zionist organizations. (Of the 145 seats designated for American Jews, ARZA holds 56.)
  • 33% of the delegates come from other countries of the Jewish Diaspora.

I plan to write as often as possible in order to document my experience and allow others to share in the events. The pre-Congress will begin on Sunday evening to prepare for the days ahead.

Finally, I would be remiss in not sharing some of the emotions that surround being in Israel in these horrifying and heart-wrenching days. My husband and I are staying with very dear friends in Jerusalem. We have already experienced the joys and delights of a trip to Israel. We are reconnecting with our friends. We celebrated Shabbat—and Shabbat in Jerusalem is like nothing else in the world! We have eaten delicious hummus, olives, cucumbers, halvah, and more (this list could be much longer!) We visited a fabulous museum (for another blog?) and a little-known but incredible site, that depicts freedom fighters from the time of the British Mandate.

Unfortunately, the list of things that we have not done is even longer. We are not visiting the Old City. We are not able to drive on some of the highways. Yesterday, the worst day of violence to date, we chose not go anywhere. As the number of incidents of stabbings and shootings seemed to increase, the road closures, police presence, helicopters, and personal angst kept us at home. Everyone wanted to be ‘available’ for phone calls from family and friends. Everyone wanted to hear from their children in the Army. No one wanted to be too far from mobile phone alerts and TV news. So, as the rest of the world either heard nothing, or (worse) heard about Palestinian people being “executed” by Israeli soldiers! Israelis mourned for its citizens, prayed for peace and struggled to understand how more bloodshed could possibly be a solution for two peoples living in this land. Maybe the upcoming debates in the WZO Congress will lend some clarity.

Lynn Magid Lazar is the Women of Reform Judaism’s immediate past president and a member of Temple Sinai in Pittsburgh, PA. She is an ARZA delegate to the World Zionist Congress. 

Read additional blog posts about this year’s World Zionist Congress on the ARZA Blog, the ReformJudaism.org Blog, and the NFTY Blog.

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