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Thoughts on Arriving in Israel for the World Zionist Congress

RRC President Deborah Waxman wrote this dispatch from in Israel, where she served as a delegate to the World Zionist Congress. The Congress is the legislative body of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), founded by Theodor Herzl in 1897. Today, the WZO, along with the Jewish Agency, is the official link between the Israeli government and the global Jewish world. The organization debates and votes on resolutions; it also allocates funds. The WZO has a 50% share in the Jewish Agency, for instance, and at stake in the 2015 Congress are the millions of dollars each year in funding to progressive Jewish issues in Israel. Click here for some additional background on World Zionist Congress and its politics. 

This year Rabbi Waxman served as a delegate to  the WZC with several other Reconstructionist rabbis, in a strategic partnership and alliance with ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America), put forward a platform of egalitarian values.  In this initial letter home, she shared her thoughts about being in Israel at this time—amid the growing volatility and violence—and reported  on the progressive contingent’s work there. All installments can be found here.

Thoughts on Arriving in Israel, October 2015, for The World Zionist Congress

Friday, October 16, 2015

By Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D.

On the amazing mysteries of the universe: My old friend Rami picked me up today at Ben Gurion Airport to take me home to his family for my first Shabbat. We were roommates in Jerusalem nearly 20 years ago. I was studying at RRC and he was in law school, bound eventually for a career in the Israeli police. He is Mizrachi. His family came from Libya after Israel was established, and he was educated in Bnei Akiva schools. Though his then-girlfriend and now- wife Roni was educated in progressive Pelech schools under the amazing Alice Shalvi, I was the first liberal rabbi (rabbinical student) he had ever met. Over these last two decades, he has gotten increasingly involved in religious pluralism, recently serving as the head of the Yachad community in Modi’in. When we reconnected, he almost immediately told me that he plans to begin part-time studies at the Reform movement’s rabbinical program for Israelis so that he can help to foster the Jewish Renaissance in Israel. Many of my meetings around the World Zionist Congress will be with leaders of the Renaissance, with the aim of bolstering the Reconstructionist movement’s partnership with them. We traded ideas, practices, and names, and marveled that we had found each other all those years ago and that our journeys are now, still, so intertwined.

On the current situation of the new violence in Israel: Rami asked me how the American community is viewing the current situation. In Modi’in, where he and his family live, life feels fairly normal. And yet he—like so many others—is startled by the new character of this situation, by the stabbings, and by how hard it is to respond or defend. I showed him some statements in my email inbox from various Jewish agencies. He was struck by how dated they already were, referring to events that were already 24 or 48 hours old. In Israel, he remarked, the situation is always changing, and the concerns no longer define or limit the current moment. I know things will be different when I go up to Jerusalem after Shabbat and for residents in both Eastern and Western parts of the city, but things feel “normal” for me as a Jewish visitor in Modi’in tonight. Even as I write, I fear that by the time this letter is published, it too will be very dated.

On my hopes for the World Zionist Congress: I think that the participants in the Congress will encapsulate the full range of opinions about the present and future of Israel and Zionism. I am intensely interested to see how the Congress conducts itself—there are several proposed resolutions calling for transparency and accountability—and how we delegates will conduct ourselves. Will we be able to talk and legislate across our differences? Will the gathering be substantive, even transformative, or will it be (yet another) opportunity to rehearse individual opinions using ever louder voices, drowning out those articulating different opinions? How amazing it will be if the Congress reveals itself as a space of relevance and substance at this moment in Jewish and Israeli life. I certainly will do everything I can to make it be so, and am honored to serve as a delegate.

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