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Fall 2010

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MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Fall 2010

Mercaz Celebrates Success at Zionist Congress

Four years in the making, the MERCAZ USA delegation arrived this past June for the 36th World Zionist Congress. And when, after five days of intensive meetings, the Congress ended, the Conservative Movement leaders in attendance could depart with the satisfaction in knowing that they had succeeded in bringing significant benefits for the growth of Conservative/Masorti Judaism in Israel and around the world.

This, my second congress, was more intense than I had expected . . . Our efforts impact the relevance of Zionism across the Jewish world, the next generation's access to their Zionism and the interest in actively strengthening the values of Klal Yisrael – celebrating diversity within unity.
   — Rabbi Leor Sinai, New York, NY
As a veteran participant in the Congress, I was delighted to note the evolution of the role and influence in both the Congress and the World Zionist Organization that MERCAZ has gained. It is clear that we have become an important force in nurturing Zionism and in being able to imbue it with Conservative/Masorti values and priorities.
   — Rabbi Jerome Epstein, Boca Raton, FL
There were so many highlights during this Congress . . . but if I must [choose just one] then it would be experiencing the process of theresolutions and witnessing theleadership of our coalition inaction.
   — Rita Wertlieb, Potomac, MD

The experience being with the top leadership of MERCAZ Olami and the Conservative/Masorti Movement and discussing, negotiating and approving all aspects of our goals will be in our memories for a long time . . .
   — Gary Rosenthal, Somerset, NJ

Among the highlights: the brief and wonderful powerpoints from all Masorti communites represented at the Congress during the pre-convention especially those for whom this was [their] first Congress.
   — Miriam Benson, New Haven, CT

The first achievement was in fielding a Conservative/Masorti delegation that was the largest ever recorded. From the United States and across the world, 59 MERCAZ Olami delegates, 15 Masorti Olami delegates and 20 or so alternate delegates and observers were assembled, a Conservative Zionist party commanding more than 11% of the elected Congress mandates. And with our partners from Kadima-HaNoar HaZioni, we represented the second largest faction, behind the combined Arzeinu (Reform)/Labor/Meretz faction but ahead of the Mizrachi/Yisrael Beitenu and Likud/Shas groupings.

The Congress festivities started off with 1 ½ days of preliminary MERCAZ orientation meetings so that those arriving from around the world could get to know one another and review the dozens of resolutions being proposed. During this first part, we also had site visits to Masorti institutions in Jerusalem and held a dinner to honor Rabbi Vernon Kurtz on the completion of his term as MERCAZ Olami president.

It was also during this time that the serious political negotiations in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms took place. The MERCAZ/Masorti representatives, including Dr. Stephen Wolnek, Dr. David Breakstone, Alan Silberman, Rabbi Vernon Kurtz and Rabbi Tzvi Graetz negotiated through the night on more than one occasion to secure the positions and budgets for the benefit of the worldwide Conservative Movement.

Among the successes, we could count:

1. Election of the first Conservative/Masorti leader to a top leadership role in the World Zionist Organization, with Dr. David Breakstone's election as the Deputy Chairman of the WZO. Together with the election of Avraham Duvdevani (Orthodox) as WZO Chairman, this marks the first time that both of the two top positions at the WZO have gone to individuals from the religious streams rather than from the Israeli political parties.

2. An increase in the allocation for religious services to the non-Orthodox, from $750,000 to $1 million annually, to be split between the Masorti and Reform Movements, for use in countries outside of North America and Israel. This funding will be administered under the direct control of the Deputy Chairman.

3. The creation, together with our colleagues in the Arzeinu/Labor/Meretz faction, of a center-left majority for religious pluralism with more than 60% of the delegates vs 40% to the rightwing Orthodox coalition. This 60% automatic majority succeeded in:

a. rejecting all attempts to modify the Jerusalem Program to eliminate clear statement of pluralism;
b. passing calls for equal status of all streams of Judaism with regards to marriage, divorce, conversion and burial;
c. rejecting the current MK Rotem conversion legislation that would have unintended negative ramifications for non-Orthodox converts;
d. passing a resolution to improve the balance in gender representation with a required 30% of all Congress and Vaad HaPoel positions to be reserved for women;
f. passing 4 Green Zionist resolutions re. climate change, food gardens, saving water and energy and food justice; and
g. securing recognition of NOAM, including USY as its North American affiliate, as a full fledged Zionist youth movement able to join the Zionist Youth Forum and be eligible for WZO funding.

Commenting upon his return from Jerusalem, Dr. Stephen Wolnek, President of MERCAZ USA and newly elected President of MERCAZ Olami, said, "We did a yeoman's job at the Zionist Congress and now starts the preparation for the next Congress four years from now."

Masorti Olami and MERCAZ Olami Delegation to the 36th Zionist Congress, June 2010

 

 

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