This is a headine for those who believe that we are one people and that there is a Zionist purpose in the partnership between the those in Israel and those in the Diaspora. It is a headline for those who accept The Jerusalem Program (see frame) - irrespective of their interpretation of this program.
The need of the hour for the Jewish people is direct elections to the World Zionist Organization (WZO). "Chavruta - Chazon L'Israel" believes that in Israel, the elections for the WZO should be separate from the elections for the Israeli parliament - The Knesset. Every organized body which is a member of the WZO, will be entitled to present its slate for these elections. The right of voting will be granted to any Jewish citizen of Israel who signs The Jerusalem Program.
Indeed, attempts to increase cooperation and to bring Israel and the Diaspora closer to each other are already taking place. In the government - the minister, Rabbi Michael Melchior, was appointed to handle Diaspora affairs. The minister Dr. Yossi Beilin and the Knesset chairman Avraham Burg are among the firm supporters of strengthening the bonds between Israel and Diaspora Jews.
The joint efforts of the Jewish Agency in Israel (JAFI), the WZO, a group of philanthropists (headed by Bronfman and Steinhardt) and the state of Israel to bring tens of thousands of young Jews to Israel for short visits (the Birthright and Discovery 2000 programs), are a welcome initiative, even if their educational rationale is deficient (see the report on the subject in this newsletter).
JAFI's Partnership 2000 project, which is meant to be a direct social-financial cooperation between congregations abroad and areas/towns in Israel, is an improvement on Project Renewal which it replaced. Yet this project has not succeeded in achieving significant dimensions. In addition to this, many improvements and clarifications of the basic assumption as to the nature of cooperation are required (these will be discussed in detail in our next newsletter).
Above all, we lack the infrastructure of a joint representative organizational- political framework for those who see themselves as Zionists in Israel and those among our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora who thus identify.
RENEWING THE ZIONST SHEKEL - RENEWING A JEWISH-ZIONIST DEMOCRATIC BODY FOR THE ENTIRE JEWISH PEOPLE!
Before the state of Israel was established, the Zionist Shekel expressed the free will of every Jew, in the land of Israel and in the Diaspora, and enabled him/her to take part in shaping the destiny of the Jewish people. The Shekel gave equal rights to whoever desired it, with no regard to family background, sex or personal wealth. The Zionist Shekel expressed a norm different from the one held by the traditional-orthodox Jewish society. In traditional society, authority was given to the rich and the scholars. Through the Shekel, the Zionist Organization instituted democracy in its modern sense in the institutional life of the Jewish people.
In the Land of Israel, before the State of Israel was established, the elections for the National Assembly of the Jewish population were also the elections for the institutions of the Zionist Organization. After 1948, the Israeli representation to the Zionist Congresses was based on the outcome of the general elections for the Knesset. Issues regarding the Jewish people as a whole became marginal. Too often, the Zionist institutions served as a refuge for party workers who were "dropped" from activity in the Israeli political arena.
A few years later (especially after the massive immigration of the Fifties), very few voters realized that voting for the Knesset also meant voting for the World Zionist Organization. Thus Israeli citizens were cut off from real involvement in a world Jewish-Zionist body that could have expressed a shared coping of the Diaspora and Israel with the meaning of being a Jew in the modern age.
The questions deriving from our being One People and from the fact that the state of Israel serves as the National Home for the entire Jewish people are, amongst others: Who is a Jew? What are the parameters of educational, cultural and economic cooperation between Israel and the Diaspora and how should they be carried out? What is the Jewish people's position in regard to the degradation of our planet? Does the Jewish people have a responsibility to diminish the gaps between peoples (and within the Jewish people) in the era of "globalization"?
In the Diaspora, two generations after the holocaust and the establishment of the state of Israel, most Diaspora Jews are passive and are not actively involved in the organized Jewish world.
In the USA (the major Diaspora) in 1997, only 150,000 people out of 4 million potential voters participated in the elections for the WZO. 85% of the voters voted for religious streams. Half of all the voters voted for "ARZA", the American Reform Zionist movement.
We are not fully aware of the fact that most American Jews are not rich. The economic battle for survival dictates their agenda. Therefore, by default, congregational affairs return to the traditional pattern - the rich (Parnasim) and the scholars (Chachamim) (today "The Jewish Professionals"). This is the backdrop against which we have to create a process of democratization.
One of the ways to encourage a process of involvement and commitment for large numbers of Jews is by democratic elections open to anyone who donates a minimal amount of money to the local Jewish community and signs "The Jerusalem Program". Such elections may bring about greater involvement within the community. Elections may influence and even replace the whole organizational chain that lead to the selection of decision makers in JAFI institutions. This can happen only if the simple Jew feels empowered - i.e. that his/her vote is equal to that of the rich. Those Jewish streams that succeed in introducing a prophetic-Jewish message regarding general human issues (the environment, the "globalization") are likely to win. Participation in the elections may be a bridge leading many young people back to Jewish-Zionist involvement.
Not To Be Alone - Why Is The Cooperation With Diasopora Jewry Important To Us?
We seek Diaspora Jewry, in spite of the grim demographic forecast regarding its continued existence, and we hope that we can play a small part in the attempt to change the trend. Money is important, but it is not the principal element. The importance of money is measured not by the sum, but by its ability to create a sense of partnership and mutual commitment.
Separate Elections in Israel for A New World Jewish-Zionst Body - The Key
No real partnership is possible without a joint democratic forum. This kind of a forum cannot exist without direct elections to it in Israel and in the Diaspora. This is the only way to raise interest in "the street" - among Jews in Israel and the Diaspora. This is the only way to bypass short term interests of political party administrations in Israel. This is the only way to empower the average Jew who faces the moneyed and the "Professional Jew". We have no illusions. At first only a minority in Israel and the Diaspora will participate in this kind of elections. The participants will be those who care not only for material life in the here and now, but also for a connection to " Life Eternal" (in the words of A.D. Gordon). One may ask - why waste money on an act (voting in WZO elections), which is mainly symbolic, lacking real authority? The answer to that is that only the activation of the tangible symbol of a people dealing with its fate can ensure the continuity of our creative existence wherever we are. The elections for the Knesset are essential to all Israeli citizens, as in any democratic state, in order to connect us with "here and now". The elections for the WZO are essential to us as Zionist Jews in order to take hold of and express our uniqueness and our bond with "Life Eternal".
Direct elections in Israel for the World Zionist Organization can bring about an interesting confrontation between democratic Zionsm and Ultra-Orthodox Rabbinical authority.
The ultra-orthodox Jews ("Charedim") would be faced by the question - do we or do we not participate in these elections? Should we cooperate with religious orthodox Zionism? The obligation to sign The Jerusalem Program in order to participate in these elections will be a test, especially for the masses of Shas voters! The majority of Israeli citizens are not familiar with the content of The Jerusalem Program - all the more so the "Charedim". A little educational Zionist ferment wouldn't hurt Shas, including Rabbi Ovadia Yosef!
If the Charedim express their reservations openly - it would make it clear that they are not real partners to the Zionist enterprise. They are partners only on the basis that the law of the land is binding ("Din Malchuta Din"). Yet in the state of Israel they actively seek to influence the law concerning all Jewish citizens. They burn the candle at both ends.
Charedim do not conceive the democratic Zionist way as a legitimate one. Nevertheless, they are experts in utilizing democracy in order to prevent the development of Jewish pluralism in the Jewish state.
As Zionists in Zionist elections, we ought to emphasise that we will not allow the Charedim in Israel to chain the creative force embodied in Cultural Zionism. "There are many paths to the Divine".
Let us remember the words of Abraham Shlonsky in his poem "These as Against These" ("Eleh Mul Eleh"): "...we dared to start from the beginning for we came to continue the way...".
The elections for the WZO will confront the ultra-orthodox world with the fundamental Zionist assumption - we are one people and the State of Israel is the National Home of the Jewish people wherever it may be.
The "Discovery 2000" Project is intended to bring thousands of Jewish students from all over the world to Israel in order to expose them to a meaningful Jewish experience. The 10 day program is meant to light the Jewish spark hidden in students who have never been to Israel. They do not identify as Jews and mostly they are not members of the organized Jewish community.
Participation in the program is free of charge, financed by the funds of Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt and aided by the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency, and a number of educational and tourist institutions.
Out of 6000 participants who arrived December 1999 - January 2000, four hundred went south to the Arava through NFTY, the youth organization of the reform movement in the North America. These are the only participants that went further south than Massada. During the two days they spent in the south, including Eilat, they visited Kibbutz Yahel and Kibbutz Lotan - two groups of 200 people each - for a period of 2 hours. The visit was meant to expose the students to Reform-Zionist communities that can confront them with intellectual and emotional challenges - people that made Aliya when they were their age in order to build settlements that would reflect their dreams, vision and wishes, and turned them into social and economic reality.
There is no argument regarding the influence of a visit to Israel as a strengthening factor in the process of building a Jewish identity, but there is a sharp difference of opinion regarding efficient utilization of the financial resources of the Jewish people in achieving this goal. There is no instant wonder drug to ensure that youth will take on the challenge of strengthening Jewish identity and commitment. This challenge demands frameworks of formal and informal education, that can absorb those who return and keep their spark alive.
Furthermore, there is the issue of quantity vs. quality. Should we bring many people for a short time or a smaller number for longer periods of time. The latter may make the experience much more meaningful. There are logistic questions - allowing lodging in Kibbutizm (in particular those belonging to the religious stream of the participants) instead of commercial lodging in Eilat. We should consider lengthening the program so that more content such as the visits to Yahel and Lotan or seminars in Jerusalem can be added for the benefit of a greater number of participants.
In the meanwhile, we expect the next wave and the discussions bound up with the attempt to reach an all-important public: the next generation of the Jewish people in the Diaspora.
Can we rejuvenate the democratic elections for the World Zionist Organization? Only a determined initiative initiated by bodies outside the establishment of the Israeli political parties has a real chance of raising the issue.
Upon its establishment in 1980, ARZENU, the International Federation of Reform amd Progressive Zionist parties, stated its supports for this position. Mainly due to the persistent pressure and struggle of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, the Zionist movement in the USA held democratic elections in 1997.
Yet, regarding separate elections for the WZO in Israel, ARZA's position has been hazy. One reason is political priorities. The main concern of ARZA is rights for the Reform Movement in Israel. The partnership between ARZENU and "Shinui" party within the World Zionist Organization, "The New Faction", has put this issue on the back burner. Many in "Shinui" think that such a move will strengthen "Mizrachi".
As for the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), it does not wish to state a position regarding a political issue. The de Facto IMPJ position is that it is a religious movement only, much like the religious streams abroad. Thus, in effect, the IMPJ opts out of Zionist initiatives concerning a wide range of Jewish life in Israel.
ARZENU should be more active regarding elections for the WZO. Furthermore - the members of "Chavruta - Chazon L'Israel" would be wise to raise the subject in the coming IMPJ convention to be held in May 2000.*
Exposing the Israeli public to Reform Zionism is of the utmost importance - even if "Mizrachi" will be strengthened in the Zionist Congress as a result of the separate elections to the WZO. There is a good chance that part of the Jewish public in Israel will support the alternative of Zionist movements in the WZO related to other streams in Judaism.
* UPDATE: in a token discussion the IMPJ convention held in Kibbutz Shefayim May 18-20, the IMPJ rejected the proposal to support separate elections in the WZO congress in Israel. The executive director of the IMPJ raised the chimera of Agudat Israel entering the WZO as a result.
The State of Israel was established as a Zionist state constituting the National Home of the Jewish people. The state was founded as a result of the physical and spiritual distress of the Jewish people in the modern age. It has given an answer to the physical survival of the people. However we have not yet related to the spiritual and cultural dimensions of our lives.
Potentially, the Jewish state is the beginning of our redemption. In order to realize the prophetic vision, we need reform (tikkun) of our values in the following areas:
This value grants all citizens of the state of Israel equal rights before the law and imposes obligations of equal value on all to the State. The educational and economic gaps existing in Israel at present are incompatible with the equal value of all citizens.
The sanctity of the Land of Israel demands intensive action in order to fulfil the injuction "do not destroy". At present, our way of life, the way we produce and the way we consume, desecrates and befouls the holiness of the land and the people who inhabit it.
Every generation stands before Sinai. It is its right and obligation to interpret the heritage and its symbols by means of democratic process in order to ensure the continued creative existence of the Jewish people wherever it may be in our time.
"But the just shall live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2-4). In a democratic Zionist state no one has the right to impose a particular way of interpreting the heritage. We must obey the injunction - "tell your son and your daughter" - through experience and learning, in a manner that will ensure mutual respect between different attitudes.
The idea of the Divine expressed in its many forms by holidays and feasts, by the Sabbath and in everyday, in the life of the individual and the life of the community, is an ever-present bond focusing the Jewish people in its infinite mission for the reform (tikkun) of the individual, the Jewish people and the world.
CHAVRUTA - CHAZON L'ISRAEL, is an independent national charted society for spiritual-cultural and social-political reform.
CHAVRUTA - CHAZON L'ISRAEL, Mailing address: P.O. Box 1308, Eilat, 88112
Editorial Board - Editor: Dr. Michael Livni (Kibbutz Lotan); Board members: Osnat Elnatan (Kibbutz Tamuz - Beit-Shemesh); Binyamin Ma'or (Hod Hasharon); Yoram Nidam (Tel-Aviv). Articles represent the views of their authors alone.