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TCS Bulletin - 7 Takeaways from the World Zionist Congress

How do you sum up the World Zionist Congress?

As you read this it will be over a month since Rabbi Z and I returned from the World Zionist Congress and as I reflect on our week in Israel it is hard to know exactly how to sum up, and share, what we experienced. So I want to offer 7 takeaways from the time that we were in Israel.

1. I felt safe. In advance of going to Israel time there was a lot of concern about the new wave of terror which has seen Palestinian terrorists taking up knives and attacking Israelis on the street, and  I was a little bit apprehensive before I arrived. In Ramat HaSharon, a suburb of Tel Aviv, where my grandparents live, I did not feel any difference on the street. In contrast, in Jerusalem it was clear there were less people walking and the market, Machaneh Yehuda, was noticeably emptier than normal. But, despite this, while I was a little more aware and alert than I would normally be (I didn’t look at my phone while walking – a real challenge for me) I felt completely safe the whole time I was there.

2. It is amazing to recognize that we are part of an international Jewish movement. While we were sent to Israel as American Jewish delegates representing ARZA (the Association of Reform Zionists of America) our first couple of days were spent preparing for the Congress with members of the Arzenu (the umbrella organization of Reform and Progressive Religious Zionists). We came together with Reform Jews from Britain, Australia, France, Germany, Russia, New Zealand, Israel, Hungary, amongst others; and it was amazing to see how our movement is growing around the world. 

3. Jewish politics can be depressing. As someone attending his third Congress I knew what to expect, but it was still disappointing to watch as Jews screamed and shouted at one another trying to silence opinions that they did not agree with. In one incident on the final day’s voting Rabbi Stanley Davids (a Reform colleague from Los Angeles) took to the podium and was surrounded by other delegates who preceded to try and shout him down while throwing leaves and bits of plants (essentially what they had to hand) to try and disrupt and silence him. I am proud to say that he was unintimidated and spoke out for the values and causes we believe in.

4. Israeli politicians have a lot of things they want to tell us. In the course of our Arzenu pre-Congress seminar and at the Congress itself we heard from a variety of politicians, from across the political landscape. They have different diagnoses of what the problems are and they prescribe different solutions; but it was a moment without words that struck me most. In the Arzenu pre-Congress we sat in a Knesset room and had 5 MKs come in to talk to us, one after the other. Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Arab list in the Knesset, and Benny Begin, a member of the Likud party, were one after the other, as Odeh left and Begin arrived, the exchange between two rival politicians, who probably disagree on most of the issues, was warm, respectful and gave me more hope than many of the words we heard spoken.

5. We had a very successful Congress for ARZA and the causes we believe in. Thanks to all of your votes we, as ARZA, and by extension Arzenu were able to be a loud and vocal presence at the Congress. As a result of this we were able to support and pass resolutions that supported an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, pushed for equality, support, and funding for the LGBT community in Israel, and supported democracy in Israel. We also received important positions for Reform representatives in the Zionist institutions that work in Israel and around the world. What is clear is that thanks to your votes and the strength of our movement, we won far more than we lost, and had a very successful Congress.

6. I am concerned for Israel right now. During the course of the time in Israel we heard from a lot of people about Israel and the situation with the Palestinians. Right now it is hard to see a vision for moving forward in any direction, and I am concerned that Israel is sitting on a powder keg that is about to explode. Without progress, without a sense of momentum towards something, there is a vacuum, and as Ari Shavit said (at the URJ Biennial) a vacuum in the Middle East is always dangerous.

7. Thank you. For months we asked you to go and vote for ARZA in these elections, and sitting in the Congress I was grateful to each and every one of you who voted. Not simply because it allowed me to be a delegate at this important gathering, but because it allowed our voice as Reform Jews to be heard loudly and clearly by everyone at the World Zionist Congress. We could not have done it without you and I am truly grateful for your help and support and as I warning I will be coming around looking for your votes again in four years’ time.  

About Rabbi Danny

Rabbi Danny
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