Fall 2008

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MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Fall 2008

President's Column — Dr. Stephen S. Wolnek

According to the theme song for the 1970's hit sitcom "The Jeffersons": "we're moving on up to the East Side to a duplex apartment in the sky". I don't know if the move from the mezzanine floor at 155 Fifth Avenue (between 21st and 22nd Streets) to the 11th floor at 820 Second Avenue (between 43rd and 44th Streets) constitutes much of a move "on up", but after nearly 25 years in the same place, it's still a big move. Please be patient with the MERCAZ staff as it unpacks boxes, re-files papers and settles down in its new home.

Speaking of the MERCAZ staff, I should point out that the entire professional staff for MERCAZ is composed of three people: an executive director and two secretaries. They - Rabbi Robert R. Golub, Ahuva Oko and Shelly Grossman - are the ones who in the end get everything done, to be sure, with the help and support of dedicated laypeople.

MERCAZ prides itself, as noted on our website, as being the Zionist organization of the Conservative Movement to support religious pluralism in Israel and strengthen the connection between Israel and the Diaspora. Most of these activities - the lobbying within the WZO and Jewish Agency which produces the nearly $2.5 million of allocations and subsidies for the Conservative-Masorti Movement around the world - appear to take place outside the United States. So then what does a Zionist organization do on a daily basis?

First of all, there is the matter of Zionist education. While certainly not the only department of education within the Conservative Movement, MERCAZ has been able to find key niche projects in which to invest its resources. The biennial MERCAZ-Women's League essay contest, whose winners will be announced at the upcoming Women's League convention, is one such niche project.

Similarly, the coordination last year of the Conservative Movement's celebration of the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel was another such niche project. Go to to see the resources and activities that have been assembled for this purpose.

Support for Israel travel - whether short or long-term - is a second focus for the MERCAZ staff. Again, MERCAZ is not the only body helping with Israel travel. But where MERCAZ comes in is to serve as a clearinghouse of Israel trips. The list it maintains on the website and in the quarterly newsletter is the only such national listing of Conservative Movement synagogue trips anywhere.

But beyond merely compiling and listing information, MERCAZ has entered into the field of developing new Israel-based study options for Conservative Movement college students. The new MAROM Program at Ben-Gurion University is a prime example of this kind of activity, and plans are being considered for similar study options based in the Galilee.

MERCAZ is also unapologetically pro-aliyah. With the help of our new aliyah shlicha who divides her time between the Conservative Movement and the Israel Aliyah Center, MERCAZ undertakes work to promote Israel and aliyah within the Conservative Movement. The annual "Lech Lecha" speaking tour is a good example of this kind of work, while through its dedicated aliyah-oriented website,, MERCAZ keeps us all linked to Israel.

Finally, as a small national office, MERCAZ can easily shift gears and move quickly into new fields. The past couple of years, Israelis living in and around Sderot have suffered under a constant barrage of Qassam rockets, and MERCAZ has been able to organize modest appeals on their behalf, such as for the "Yemey Kef" (Funs Days) and the Purim gift baskets of the past two years.Let it be clear: MERCAZ is not a fundraising organization. But when special campaigns that are limited in scope arise, MERCAZ can be effective in getting out the word quickly and efficiently.

As the expression goes, "Meshaneh Makom, Meshaneh Mazal"! May MERCAZ' luck only "move up" as it settles into its new setting "on the East Side... in the sky"!


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