8.5 hours into my flight, and the significance of the event I’m about to attend is hitting me. I’m about to serve as a delegate from the Religious Zionists of America to the 36th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem. It is our collective responsibility to carry on the efforts begun by Herzl & Co. to build a Jewish State.
Over the last few weeks, people have been asking me what I’m going actually going to be doing there. I tried to explain that the WZO has some authority over JNF and the Jewish Agency, and that the voting at the Congress can have an impact on the policies of these important bodies. While that may be true, it still seems like it’s really an opportunity for 750+ Jews from around the world to get together and argue. Sounds fun, but is it worth the time and money spent to maintain this organization?
Another matter that some of my regular readers may pick up on is the seeming contradiction between my personal politics and the perceived positions of the Religious Zionist movement (Mizrachi). To be clear, my personal opinions differ from the Mizrachi party-line on settlements, paths towards peace, religious pluralism, the role of religion in government, and possibly other matters as well.
Furthermore, I am attending this conference with the understanding that I will in-line with the party in all cases except those where we are explicitly instructed to vote our conscience, and I intend to fulfill that commitment.
This won’t be an easy process, and I am dreading the potential reality that I will have to vote for something I think is not in the best interests of Israel or the Jewish people.
BUT, I firmly believe that there is a growing minority of Orthodox Jews who have these more liberal views on Israeli politics and religion. We are a group that is continuing to work for a stronger, more vibrant, more democratic, Jewish State. We love Israel, we live lives of Torah, and we believe in the need for a two-state solution. It’s that simple.
I am a part of the RZA delegation because I want to be a part of the internal discussion of what it means to be a religious Zionist. Regardless of whatever criticisms people may have, it’s hard to deny that over the years Orthodox Zionists have ranked among the most passionate and steadfast of Jewish supporters of Israel. There is a lot of passion and dedication, and I’m proud to be a part of that rich heritage.
I hope that the discussions we have as a Siah (faction) will at least foster a sense of understanding for the other opinions that might be represented in the room. This is my first experience of this kind, and I look forward to the challenge.
Still struggling with an answer for what the point of the WZO is, I went to my Zionist handbook – The Zionist Idea by the late Arthur Herzberg. I usually refer to this as my other Zionist bible.
I flipped from ideologue to radical to politician to poet, and tried to find something that would inspire some higher significance to this conference. There have been a lot of strife in our community over the last two weeks, and I wanted to find something to help push us through this rough patch.
I settled upon a reading should have probably been my first stop – Herzl’s opening remarks to the first Zionist Congress held in Basil in 1897. Amazingly, his first message to the group was a hope that time would be used wisely and efficiently, and that a lot could be accomplished in three-days. He knew Jews, and was worried that we would get caught up debating details instead of tackling the big issues.
His main message to the group, however, showed great optimism, premonition and confidence in the ability for World Jewry to come together around a Jewish State. He declared that the body convened in front of him served an important purpose, and that it would continue to be needed even after the establishment of a Jewish State. Herzl believe that the Jews of the world needed to remain connected to what was happening in Israel (Palestine), and actively involved in the continued development and governance of that important place.
On any given year, I’m not sure what important decisions the WZO makes. If we were to ask the hard-core WZO lifers, they would point to dozens of resolutions passed every four years that they would claim impacted the direction of the State of Israel. I’m not so sure the rest of us would interpret those resolutions with the same import or impact.
The importance of the World Zionist Congress is that it brings Zionists together from around the world for a collective effort of perpetual nation building. Israel is the home of the Jewish people, and the more avenues that Jews outside of Israel have to become involved in what’s happening (shy of voting), the stronger the country will be.