Thanks, WRJ! Fighting for Egalitarian Values in Israel

by Ronit Zemel and Liya Rechtman

Last week, we had the privilege of serving as Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) delegates to the 37th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem. During the course of the week, we met leaders dedicated to the growth of the Reform movement in Israel, learned from African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, joined with students from the Abdullah Ibn Al-Hussain Secondary girls’ school in East Jerusalem, and heard Knesset leaders share their vision for Israel’s future.

All these experiences came together in our final two days of the trip, when ARZA joined the other delegates of the World Zionist Congress to fight for our Zionist ideals through resolutions, votes, and (perhaps most importantly) cross-cultural dialogue. Continue reading

A Report from Jerusalem: Kotel and LGBT Resolutions Passed WZC Committee

by Rabbi John Rosove

It’s bad enough that Israel is being attacked by terrorists – now mostly in the West Bank and less in Jerusalem, after Israel’s government imposed strong security measures separating East Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods from West Jerusalem Israeli neighborhoods. What is perhaps even more searing to the Jewish soul is the way some Jewish delegates at the World Zionist Congress behaved toward their fellow delegates.

We of ARZENU (the world Reform Zionist movement) were warned that yelling and delaying tactics would be likely in committee meetings and in the plenary sessions, especially when discussing contentious resolutions.

The warnings were prescient. Continue reading

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The Final Day of the WZC: A Great Miracle Happened Here

by Rabbi Sydney Mintz

On this final day of the 37th World Zionist Congress, it is clear that Israel continues to exist, in part, because of the vibrant and difficult tradition of machloket or debate, dissent, and disagreement at our center.

This final day proved challenging in many ways, but the tikvah, the feeling of hope, was palpable. Being in Jerusalem with 500 Jews from around the world who represent every stream of Judaism and every political affiliation in the world is in itself hopeful and an act of courage.

Today, we managed to vote on almost 2/3 of the 90 resolutions put forth by the disparate delegations of the WZC. The voting came with passion, anger, yelling, finger-pointing, and bureaucratic and technological challenges that threatened to derail us completely, but as one of our delegation aptly reminded us, “Israel is a total balagan [mess], but everything still works.” Continue reading

What Do We Learn From Shouting At Each Other?

By Rabbi Jack Luxemburg

Sitting in a committee of World Zionist Congress, debating 19 resolutions under the theme of “The Structure of the National Institutions in the Mirror of Time,” I kept thinking of the instruction we give little children who are frustrated, angry, or upset and are striking out: “Use your words, not your hands [or feet, as the case may be].”

This came to mind because in more than one instance during nearly three hours of debate, I was glad that the delegates around the table had all learned that lesson. There was ample frustration, anger, and upset. Thank goodness – in our committee at least – it resulted in no more than yelling, provocation, and the occasional insult. In other committees, rumor has it, things got a bit more physical. Continue reading

What Your Vote Meant

by Rabbi Neal Gold

Did you vote in the elections for the World Zionist Congress last year? You’ll recall that we spent a lot of time registering progressive Jews to vote. Well, today I saw the results of our success at the polls firsthand.

And have no doubt, we were successful. ARZA garnered the largest bloc of votes in the U.S. — larger than the next two blocs combined (Mercaz USA [the Conservative movement] and the Religious Zionist slate, respectively].

Today we began the painstaking (painful?) process of considering more than 170 resolution proposals for the Congress. The delegates were divided into smaller committees, and each committee took up 10-20 of the proposals. Each committee was a proportional microcosm of the larger Congress, so in our room we had representatives from Reform, Conservative, Orthodox Ashkenazi, Orthodox Sefardi, Labor, Likud, Greens, the left-wing Meretz party, the right-wing Zionist Organization of America, youth movements, and more – all in one room, trying to reach consensus on some of the testiest and most controversial issues.

Can you imagine it? Where else in the world could this scene ever take place? Continue reading

Lessons Learned on Day One of 37th World Zionist Congress

By Andrew M. Keene

On August 29, 1897, the first Zionist Congress convened in Basel, Switzerland, chaired by its pioneer and visionary leader, Theodor Herzl. One hundred and eighteen years later, the 37th meeting of the so-called “Congress of the Jewish People” was called to order this week in Jerusalem.

The Reform and Progressive presence at the congress was made clear and evident to the world community.

The congress was opened by Zionist Supreme Court Judge Tova Strassberg-Cohen, who reaffirmed the organizations’ commitment and our individual and communal mandate to embrace pluralism, civility, and progress. This set the stage for our voice to be powerful and vitally important. Continue reading

How to Ensure Reform Voices and Values are Heard Throughout the World

By Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Shalom from Jerusalem!

I arrived on Sunday – together with many other Diaspora Jewish leaders – for the 37th Zionist Congress – often referred to as “The Parliament of the Jewish People.”

Especially as our hearts break as our people are viciously attacked throughout this beloved land, taking us further and further from the peace we all seek, I am – as is always true – proud to be here in Medinat Yisrael, not only to participate in the World Zionist Congress, but also to express, unequivocally, the Reform Movement’s values and leadership, which are present – and growing – here and in communities throughout the world. More to the point, however, I am here during this time of tension, hostility, and uncertainty to express our movement’s undeniable love for Israel and our steadfast solidarity with all her people. Continue reading

On the Road to Jerusalem: A Current Affairs Conversation with an Israeli Taxi Driver

by Rabbi John Rosove

Gidi is a handsome, 53-year-old Israeli taxi driver whose grandfather made aliyah from Iraq in the 1920s. Loquacious and charming, Gidi gave me to a 50-minute Hebrew monologue on the situation in Israel in light of the Iran agreement, the recent Palestinian stabbings of innocent Israelis, his views of the American government’s involvement, and his frustration in light of current realities.

Gidi is smart and well informed, a practical, no-nonsense man who believes in a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – but he sees no way to get there because of the Palestinian propensity to blame Israel for all its problems and take no responsibility for themselves or their children.

I didn’t raise the issue of Israelis’ co-responsibility for the logjam because I wanted to hear his views. I just listened – a lot!

While driving up the mountain to Jerusalem, Gidi became so exasperated by the recent stories of Palestinian-on-Israeli violence that he took both hands off the wheel and gesticulated angrily about the immoral character of these terrorists. Thankfully, he grabbed the wheel just before I begged him to watch out for the cars careening alongside us.

But he was right on so many counts.

Read the rest of this post on the blog.

Non-Stop Zionism at the World Zionist Congress

by Rabbi John Rosove

The theme of this 37th World Zionist Congress is Zionism itself.

Today, 509 delegates representing the Jewish world gathered to launch into a provocative discussion of Jewish, Zionist, and Israeli identity and how they interconnect to create a whole Jew.

Hila Korach, a leading Israeli morning talk-show host, moderated a panel that included: writer Sahara Blau; Arnie Eisen, president of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America; and Dr. Einat Wilf, senior fellow of the Jewish People Policy Institute and adjunct fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The plenary was introduced by Rabbi Josh Weinberg, president of the Association of Reform Zionists of America.

Dr. Eisen began: Continue reading

The Troubling and the Promising: Why Being at the World Zionist Congress is So Important

By Rabbi Jack A. Luxemburg

It sounds like the beginning of a potentially provocative joke about Israeli politics: Five members of the Knesset – two from the Left, and one each from the center, the right, and from the joint Arab list – walked into a room full of Liberal Zionists… but it isn’t. Rather, it is a description of an important meeting that took place during the ARZA delegation’s day of preparation prior to the opening of the World Zionist Congress.

On Monday, we heard from leaders of the Reform Movement in Israel and from members of the Knesset. Together, we discussed our potential, our problems, and the possibility of realizing the first and overcoming the second.

That five prominent members of Knesset spent the better part of an afternoon with our delegation, even while the Knesset was in session and votes were being taken, is an indication of their recognition of the increased influence and growing presence of the Reform Movement in Israel and the strength of our delegation to the World Zionist Congress. It was a message not lost on our delegation, and it only underscored the important role we are here to fulfill as representatives of liberal Zionism in the United States and around the world.

It was also a sobering experience. Continue reading