Shaping Judaism in the Jewish State: Vote for ARZA in WZO Elections

Learn here about voting for progressive Judaism in Israel in the WZO elections!

Since I was a child, I have heard the debate.  Do American Jews have the right to voice our opinions on Israel?  After all, we don’t send our children into the Israeli Army.  (Well, most of us don’t.) Do you think we have the right to speak out about Israel?  Are you unsure?

I suspect there are many in our congregation who are not certain what their relationship with Israel is, or should be.  So many are engaging in Israel study in our Sunday morning sessions; and yet, so few have registered for our congregational trip to Israel, we may need to cancel it.  (You can still sign up!) I know there are barriers of cost and safety concerns for some; but I wonder if there is also a barrier of emotional distance.  Perhaps we are not sure whether Israel is a place for our voice, our passions, for our concerns. We might feel alienated by the state’s sponsorship of Orthodoxy or feel estranged by the occupation of the West Bank.  Perhaps we just don’t know any Israelis, making it hard to relate beyond politics.  We are not sure if Israel is ours.

What would it feel like to know that Israel is ours.  Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer’s words from Al Kol Eleh:

Keep, oh God, the fire burning
Through the night and through the day
For the one who is returning
from so far away.

Don’t uproot what has been planted
So our bounty may increase
Let our dearest wish be granted:
Bring us peace, oh bring us peace..

A deep identity with Israel, the kind of emotional connection we hear in the words of Al Kol Eleh, may sometimes elude us.  For those who yearn for a way to engage our personal passions and voice with Israel, there is an important step you can take right now.

With the World Zionist Organization election, held only every 5 years, right now American Jews have a way to vote and take a seat at the table—the table of policy and of budget allocations, as the World Zionist Organization distributes one billion dollars a year within Israel.

Convened in Basel in 1897 by Theodore Hertzl, the father of modern Zionism, the World Zionist Organization, or WZO, was established as a parliament of the Jewish people, meant to address pressing matters of the Jewish people, and establish a Jewish state.  The WZO is comprised of 3 groups. First it includes international organizations such as Hadassah who hold permanent seats. Second it includes political Israeli parties such as Likud who are represented in a number according to their current strength in the Kenesset.  And third, the WZO includes denominational parties such as our worldwide Reform Movement.  How is the representation of the denominational parties determined?  For the next three months, the WZO holds its elections.

With the ARZA slate— the Reform Movement’s slate that partners with Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish communities across the globe– we have an opportunity to vote, in order to influence spending and policy, and bring an increase of Reform Jewish values to the lives of Israelis—not just for the sake of Reform Judaism, but for the sake of Israel.

Past president of the Union for Reform Judaism and of ARZA—the Association of Reform Zionists of America, Rabbi Eric Yoffie has written:  “Reform Judaism in Israel has dared to offer an audacious and radical challenge to the principles of mainstream Zionism. And such a challenge is desperately needed.”  Rabbi Yoffie goes so far to say:  “while Zionism has succeeded in creating a Jewish state, it has failed miserably in defining what Judaism means in such a state.”

How do we want to define Judaism in the Jewish State?

Our Movement’s 2015 platform, called: ARZA: Representing Reform Judaism, revolves around three core principles:  1. Women’s Rights & Gender Equality; 2. Religious Equality and Pluralism; and 3. Two States; One Path to Peace: Lasting peace, security and stability for Israel.

How do a strong number of representatives to the WZO further this platform for an egalitarian, pluralistic, peaceful vision of Israel?  Some examples from the recent past:

Principle #1: How has prominence in the WZO promoted gender equality? In recent years, Reform has held enough seats to pass WZO resolutions for LGBT civil rights, for anti-discrimination of ethnic minorities, and for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel—the Western Wall.  Such resolutions get the attention of policy makers because the WZO serves as the government’s pulse on American and global Judaism.  When the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, advocating for Women of the Wall for instance, gets an audience before Prime Minister Netanyahu, he gets that voice because he is a part of the larger Jewish voice of the WZO.

Principle #2: How has prominence in the WZO promoted Religious Equality and pluralism?  While the Orthodox continue to have a monopoly on significant government funding, the WZO has funded the Reform Movement.  Over the past 5 years, the WZO has spent $20 million dollars to support Reform congregations, the two Reform kibbutzim, the Israeli Religious Action Center which advocates for civil rights and separation of church and state, and Hebrew Union College—which is the seminary producing Israeli Reform rabbis.  I am grateful that there are many flavors of Judaism within Klal Israel—the whole of the Jewish people, and I have respect for Orthodoxy, but not when it functions at the expense of other paths of Judaism.

Principle #3: How has prominence in the WZO promoted a two state solution to peace?  As a result of the power of ARZA in the WZO, when a high-level position opened up within the Jewish National Fund, a leader from the Reform Movement was appointed.  What’s the impact?  That leader was recently contacted to see if the Jewish National Fund wanted to purchase land in Bethlehem.  His response?  Lo.  No.  Since he has been in his position, there has been no land purchasing beyond the green line.  Perhaps that’s one less potential obstacle to peace.

Every one of our Rodeph Shalom clergy cares deeply about our Reform voice in Israel and we have all voted.  It’s easy.   Go to “Reform Jews (the number 4)” to register and vote for ARZA: Representing Reform Judaism.

I can understand if, for some of us, there is a barrier of emotional distance when it comes to Israel.  I hope you will consider the potential of this election to help us see Israel as a place for our voice, our concerns, our passions. May this seat at the table become one more experience that helps us to draw closer to Israel, and to become more certain that Israel is ours.

Don’t uproot what has been planted
So our bounty may increase
Let our dearest wish be granted:
Bring us peace, oh bring us peace.