Spring 2007

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MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Spring 2007

President's Column — Dr. Stephen S. Wolnek

presidentThere are events in one's life that change the direction of one's activities and interests. I loved math and I was good at it, so I became an engineer! Similarly, I loved Israel and the fact that we had a land that was ours, so naturally I became a Zionist! It sounds easy but it's not that simple.

Some words of background: Growing up in the Conservative Movement, I, like most of my generation, was taught in religious school to carry Israel as an adjunct to my synagogue life and my communal concerns. Of course, I was taught to give tzedakah to Israel. Of course, I was taught to speak up for Israel. Of course, I was taught to love Israel. So, when as a teenager in 1955 I wanted to experience Israel firsthand (in those early days of Israeli statehood, there was no NATIV Program, no USY Pilgrimage, no Ramah Seminar), I enrolled in the yearlong Machon L'Madrichai Hutz LaAretz, the program for foreign youth advisors.

Yet, it was clear while studying in this young country where the milkman came with a donkey-drawn wagon to deliver raw milk to be boiled each morning, that I was an American Jew in Israel; unlike my fellow classmates who came from HaShomer HaTzair, Betar, HaBonim and the other classic Zionist youth movements, I was not a Zionist.

As I grew and worked myself through the ranks of leadership within the Conservative Movement, becoming the International President of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in 1997, I had many opportunities to visit Israel and help create and strengthen programs there. I even had the opportunity to perform the ultimate mitzvah of "binyan ha'aretz", the building up of the Land of Israel, when, during my tenure, we founded the United Synagogue's Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem.

Yet, even then, while buying land in Jerusalem for the Conservative Yeshiva and the future expansion of the Center, I was still not yet a Zionist, because my primary concern was with building our movement and strengthening Jewish identity here in America. Israel was, in this context, the preeminent outlet and vehicle for expressing and actualizing a sense of Jewish peoplehood and belonging. I clearly loved Israel, but I wasn't yet a Zionist.

What transformed me into a Zionist is my involvement in MERCAZ. This organization is clearly, as the name attests, "the Movement to Reaffirm Conservative Zionism." We Conservative Jews have always been Zionists, but ours was more an unconscious Zionism based on loving Israel and helping fellow Jews. It is MERCAZ that transformed me, affixing to me and to the other tens of thousands of fellow MERCAZ members the label we wear proudly: "I AM A ZIONIST".

As a Zionist, I see things – Israel and the Jewish People – in a different way than before. They are not something "else", something "outside" of my Jewish life here in the United States. Wherever I am, Israel is my home and the Jewish People are my people. This is truly what makes me a Zionist.

Now, I turn to you for your help and support. I now need your soul in commitment and your body in membership, in order to enable this organization to achieve all that it can: to stand side-by-side with all Masorti Jews throughout the world, to stand up for Israel, and to bring to bear for our movement in Israel the strength we have here in the United States.

Our task is not easy, but we can do it. It is as important today to be a Zionist as it was over 100 years ago at the Zionist Movement's beginning, as important as it was in 1948 at Israel's creation. MERCAZ can make a difference.

We live in a world that is hostile to Jews, that wants, as Iranian President Ahmadinejad says, to wipe Israel off the map. Don't ask me why; ask me "how do I stand tall in this world as a Jew?" I will tell you: JOIN ME IN THE WORK OF MERCAZ.


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