Spring 2001

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MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Spring 2001

Teens Affirm Need for Zionism and Jewish State

Elana Jacobs: 1st Prize Winner For Jewish adults who remember the birth of Israel in 1948 or the victory in the 1967 war, the legitimacy of a Jewish state is a foregone conclusion. But for today's teenagers whose only sense of Israel is of an economically prosperous country engaged in peace negotiations, is a Jewish state still needed? This question lay at the heart of the MERCAZ USA-MERCAZ Canada-Women's League Essay Contest. The answer from first prizewinner Elana Miriam Jacob of Fresh Meadows, NY, and the other participants: a resounding YES!
The MERCAZ/Women's League Essay Contest, initiated by MERCAZ USA eight years ago, is a competition for teenagers, ages 14-19, to win scholarships, ranging from $250 to $1000, for Movement-sponsored trips to Israel. Organized to coincide with the biennial Women's League convention, the contest provides an opportunity for high school students to express their opinions on important Zionist issues.

This year's competition was no exception.

The three thought-provoking essay topics included:

  • The Law of Return: In view of the massive immigration from the former Soviet Union, including at least 20% who are not halachically Jewish, should the Law of Return be modified?

  • Tsedakah to Israel: In view of its economic prosperity, should Diaspora Jewish philanthropy to Israel be eliminated or redirected to meet local Jewish needs?

  • Israel as a Jewish state: In view of its 20% Arab population, should Israel be redefined as a secular "state of all its citizens"?

Top prizewinner Elana Jacobs, a freshman at the Solomon Schechter High School of Long Island, addressed herself to the question as to whether Israel should be redefined as a secular state. She wrote: "On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was born as a Jewish state, not as a 'state of all its citizens', and has remained so until the present day. Several members of the Israeli Knesset have recently called for making the state one which not only accepts but also empowers citizens from a variety of religions and nationalities. They propose replacing the national anthem, HaTikvah, and the Star of David on the Israeli flag, with secular substitutes. However, at this particular point in history, Israel should most definitely not be redefined as a secular state . . . Making Israel a 'state of all its citizens' mocks the courageous efforts . . . [of] the Jewish people that built modern Israel, through its economic, physical and spiritual support."

On the other hand, as Elana, who will be applying her $1000 award to the Camp Ramah Israel Seminar, noted, "[If] Israel is to remain a Jewish state that holds to both moral and democratic principles, rights and freedoms must be granted to the Arab community within. The Arab community should be more integrated with the Jewish community and made to feel less like outsiders and intruders . . . [Nevertheless], Israel must remain a Jewish State . . . fulfilling the dream of a land [the Jews] can call their own."

Other prizewinners include Evan Majzner (Mt. Freedom, NJ), Dinah Minkoff (North Caldwell, NJ), Alex Helfand (Towson, MD), Eytan Kurshan (Huntington, NY) and Daniel Silverman (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada).

Meanwhile, the four prizewinners from last summer's MERCAZ sponsored USY/Ramah Israel Scholarships were busy at work completing the second part of their award requirements. As conceived by MERCAZ Executive Committee member Eytan Hammerman, the USY/Ramah Israel Scholarships were not only to provide travel subsidies but also to further Zionism by requiring recipients to run upon their return, three programs about Israel in their home communities. Among their teaching experiences: teaching a religious school class about the geography of Israel, speaking in front of the congregation over Yom Kippur, and leading a discussion about America's involvement in the current Israel situations at a leadership weekend at Camp Ramah.

MERCAZ President Evelyn Seelig commented, "It is gratifying to see the positive impact of the different MERCAZ Israel scholarships. With these two award programs, plus the dozen or more Schechter school stipends and the M.A.P. Scholarships, MERCAZ is allocating a significant portion of our program budget to support Israel travel; yet, if we want to insure a future to Zionism, we need to continue investing all the resources possible."


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