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Does Anyone Even Know About the WZC?

October 20, 2015

This is the second dispatch from RRC President Deborah Waxman, who is currently in Israel serving as a delegate to the World Zionist Congress. Her first installment can be found here.

Monday, October 20, 2015

I came up to Jerusalem on Sunday. David Roberts, the board chair of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and, like me, a delegate to the World Zionist Congress, was already here, participating in ARZA’s pre-campaign seminars. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of New York’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah and our third Reconstructionist delegate, arrives Monday evening.

The streets of West Jerusalem are quiet and tense. I can only imagine how tense the streets of East Jerusalem must be. Given the instability of the situation, I won’t be visiting there on this trip. I am staying near normally-bustling Zion Square, and it is clear from the unusually empty streets and shops that a great many Israelis are staying home. One acquaintance told me that she walks only to the bus stop to go to work, and carries pepper spray at all times. Yet I also see some tourists and Israelis going about their business with little outward anxiety. I have been walking among them to some of my nearby daytime meetings, while taking taxis at night. I rode the light rail to pick up my credentials for the World Zionist Congress and the train was full of Israelis, though not crowded.

My days have been filled by meetings with colleagues across the religious and political spectrum, and I have been teaching and recruiting on behalf of RRC at both the Pardes Institute (“Peoplehood, Particularism and Persuasion”) and the Conservative Yeshiva (“Reconstructing Torah”). All of these conversations have been interesting and lively.

It has been fascinating to realize how little awareness Israelis have about the World Zionist Congress. More than 300 Jews from the diaspora are joining 190 elected Israeli delegates to discuss the future of Zionism: an event that would seem to have tremendous significance for Israeli Jews. But not one of the Israelis I spent time with over Shabbat knew about the Congress, nor did my many cab drivers nor the staff of my hotel.

And in some ways I get it. Everything about the Congress seems archaic. Yet the stakes are high: political appointments, legitimate financial allocation and the ever-present likelihood of illegitimate ones. I am keenly aware that, beginning tomorrow, I will be participating in a political apparatus from the nineteenth century. As an historian, I am thrilled: it will be like entering a time machine to get a glimpse of the ways that much of Jewish political life operated in the past. However, as a contemporary Jewish communal leader, I am deeply perplexed. Is this truly a good use of resources? Can the Congress be reformed, and can it reflect contemporary needs and aspirations?

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