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“Myself. One People. Our Israel.”

30 Oct Posted by | Comments
WZC 140

It was a slogan that was used to mobilize Israel’s supporters from all walks of life in the United States to vote in the World Congress elections. Vote you did. The results came in, delegates were elected and the slates that were chosen reflect those many voices; lots of diversity.

With that diversity comes…. disagreement. The slates have very different views on what Israel stands for, what Israel should be, what American Zionism should look like, what Israel’s policies should be on many issues and even more! Yet they came to Israel as one delegation; as one community of American Jews who share a love for Israel. A delegation with a passion for Israel strong enough to have them leave their jobs and families to hash out and consider those disagreements not only with each other but with Jews from all over the world.

What did that look like? First of all, the American delegates came with resolutions discussed and prepared ahead of time. And while there many have not been unanimous support from every American slate or delegate for a particular resolution, there was a lot of common ground found.

For example, Aytzim’s Green Zionist Alliance secured just one seat in the American delegation and in the World Zionist Congress. They successfully brought to the floor and passed two environmental resolutions, “Preserving a Healthy Climate for Israel’s Future” and “Protecting Israel’s Water Supply from Pollution” with an interesting mix of broad support. It was through their ability to discuss their resolutions with other American delegates at  the AZM meeting during the Congress that they could raise awareness, get their proposals heard and get the votes that they needed.

Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, President of the American Zionist Movement explained that “The World Zionist Congress is about doing, but is also about meeting; the face to face interactions of so many different people with different worldviews allows us to understand each other on a whole new level. AZM brought the American delegates to Congress together in a retreat in August.  The point was to find common ground among the slates, and to prepare the delegates for the Congress.  The fact that American delegates got together in advance of the Congress [was for some the first opportunity to really collaborate with Jews on behalf of Israel that are so separate from their regular circles. It helped build an esprit de corps among the Americans.”  (does not all have to be in Vernon’s quote)

The delegates had all been invited to a retreat in New York this summer. Brought together by the AZM, the delegates and alternates got an overview of the Congress, the procedures and resolution process. They broke into committees to discuss resolutions and to draft some to be presented at the Congress itself.

The Alliance for New Zionist Vision (LAVI) slate  brought a resolution to the floor calling for, “Recognition of the Jewish People as Indigenous to the Land of Israel”  It passed by a very small margin. There was not unanimity. But the broad-base support for that resolution had to come from outside of their small, new slate, and the AZM was a forum for them to share that effort with others. As in the case of the Green initiative. Jonathan Kadoch was able to explain the initiative ahead of time to the f American delegates, to help garner support and to get the resolution to all the delegates for consideration.

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During the Congress, there was an event to give some members of the media a chance to hear from American delegates. With a small number of delegates per slate, there was a unique and intimate opportunity to present these many different voices that all represent “American Zionism”. The conversation was civil, broad, complicated, and deep. The members of the press asked us to extend it longer than planned. And one of the amazing outcomes was just how much the delegates heard each other.

As a member of the AZM “team”, I asked many delegates what they gained most from the World Zionist Congress. Almost every answer in one’s own words expressed that “speaking to people who come from such different backgrounds with different views who share my love for Israel.”

New delegate, Jennifer Rolnick, a Cantorial student at JTS and Mercaz delegate said “I am learning that there are lot of people that care, and that there is a lot to care about. So many people are passionate about issues I hadn’t known or thought about. I wish I could take the enthusiasm that is here home with me.”

The overwhelming consensus was that delegates hear about Israel and Zionism from within their own communities, whatever those communities may be; their religious affiliation, political affiliation, or member organization. This gathering voted on and passed important resolutions that will undoubtedly affect the future direction of the World Zionist Organization as well as the American Zionist Movement.

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More importantly, however, the Congress highlighted that diversity, created a head-on approach to contending with it and learning from it. I know that delegates walked away with some resolutions passed, but also a much wider, greater understanding of “other” Jews, “other” Zionists. And this deeper understanding of “other” will be the most important and effective way for us to do more and do better as an American Zionist Movement and a global Jewish community.

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