Fall 2000

MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Fall 2000

From My Vantage Point

The month of June has different meanings for different people. Some think about weddings, some think about summer, I think about meetings: two weeks of all-day in-the-hotel meetings of the World Zionist Organization's General Council and the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors and Assembly.

Although I have been attending these meetings for a number of years, this time around, there were more "highs" and more "lows". On the positive side, I was thrilled to participate in the newly established egalitarian minyan at Robinson's Arch at the southern end of the Western Wall. This minyan is the culmination of our many years of work for full religious freedom in Israel. It was a most spiritual experience for all in attendance to daven without any interference in this unique setting amidst the stones from the Second Temple.

Also on the plus side, I was very happy and very relieved to learn that there would be not cuts in the Agency's funding for the Masorti/Conservative Movement for the next year. All of our work in keeping abreast of the activities of the United Jewish Communities, and especially its Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee, has paid off. My thanks go to all the members of the MERCAZ/World Council delegation who worked so diligently during the two weeks of meetings in Jerusalem.

Now for the bad news. We were horrified by the arson attack against the Masorti congregation in Ramot. (see story on page 1) It is troubling to think that permanent police protection may be necessary for Conservative and Reform institutions in the Jewish State.

Similarly distressing was the copy of a letter we received on the eve of our departure for Israel written to Mel Salberg, President of the American Zionist Movement, from Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America. The letter announced Hadassah's resignation from AZM, the umbrella organization of all Zionist groups in the United States.

Hadassah's move was most upsetting and puzzling, given its longstanding history of involvement in AZM and its precursor, the American Zionist Federation. First of all, according to our understanding of the by-laws of the World Zionist Organization, a Zionist group wishing to participate in the World Zionist Congress must belong to a territorial Zionist federation.

However, even if Hadassah can find a loophole in the by-laws, its decision to leave AZM is a tremendous blow to the umbrella organization that depends on the dues paid by and active involvement of its constituent members, which include all the Zionist groups in the United States. At a time when we are all facing what has been called "post-Zionism" - the turn inward towards local needs and away from Israel and world Jewish affairs - it seems to me that an American Zionist organization as large and influential as Hadassah should be part of this country's Zionist movement. To paraphrase a former American president, we should not just be looking at what the Zionist movement can do for us but what we can do together to bolster Zionism in the United States. In order to stem this post-Zionist tide, we need all the Zionist organizations working together under one roof to find new ways to bring the message of Israel-Diaspora partnership to our Jewish community. Hadassah's action does not help us accomplish this goal.

While the letter did not spell out the reasons, rumors mention Hadassah's distress that the spotlight in the American Zionist Movement had shifted in recent years to the Conservative and Reform Zionist organizations. Others indicate that Hadassah was unhappy with the addition of religious pluralism to the American Zionist agenda. But again, to me, these explanations do not make much sense since the overwhelming bulk of Hadassah's members are Conservative and Reform Jews for whom sharing the spotlight with MERCAZ and ARZA and being concerned about religious pluralism in Israel should not be alien. As a lifetime member of the Women's Zionist Organization, I wish someone would enlighten me!

In the meantime, let me wish everyone an enjoyable last couple of weeks of summer and a happy and healthy New Year.



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