Summer 2000

MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Summer 2000

From My Vantage Point/ Evelyn Seelig, President

Thank you so much, dear friends, for the honor you have shown me here today. I am delighted to accept the Presidency of MERCAZ USA for the 2000-2002 term.

During the past several months, we have heard many visions of the future with the advent of the 21st Century. I would like to share my vision for the future.

MERCAZ USA, as the Zionist Organization of the Conservative Movement, must awaken all Conservative Jews to the changing Jewish world. We can no longer heed just the first part of HillelÕs motto "If I am not for myself,who will be for me?" We must remember the rest of the quote, "If I am only for myself, what am I, and if not now, when?" The Conservative Movement can not just look inward but must remember that it has a responsibility to the Jewish People everywhere and especially to our Masorti Movement in Israel and throughout the entire Diaspora.

What is the Jewish core value that leads us to see ourselves connected to Israel and to all Jews everywhere? It is Zionism, the belief in the centrality of Israel and the unity of the Jewish People. We must educate modern Conservative Jews and help them to reconnect to this core value of our religion.

Two recent events illustrate this two-fold meaning of Zionism. At the end of February, I was honored to be present at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Masorti Movement in Israel. It was a beautiful and moving evening, with more than 900 people from all over the country in attendance! From Israel, I flew to Paris for the first all-European conference of the Masorti Movement. It was truly inspiring to meet with more than 200 Masorti Jews from the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Russia. It made us all realize that we were a functioning, growing, worldwide movement.

Today, we must look to our own constituency in the United States. Conservative Jews who, for almost a century, have contributed to build and defend Israel are now less involved and concerned with its welfare. Many have the misconception that Zionism means Aliyah to Israel and nothing else. Our mission is to convince them that Zionism is broader than Aliyah. It means travel to and support of Israel, both with money and political activism. It means speaking Hebrew and reciting the Prayer for the State of Israel every Shabbat and Festival. It means staying involved with Israel to accomplish the unfinished tasks still facing the Jewish State.

As your representative, MERCAZ has worked tirelessly to gain for our movement influence and prestige in the American Zionist Movement, the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency. We have successfully incorporated our movement's projects in Israel into the JAFI agenda, securing $2 million in funding annually for the Masorti Movement, and have made religious pluralism an official component of modern day Zionism.

Now, we are facing tremendous changes in the Jewish philanthropic world in the United States. The creation of the United Jewish Communities has raised uncertainty about the future role of the international Jewish bodies. No one can predict how these developments will effect our movement here and abroad. Be assured that everyone involved in MERCAZ USA is making every effort to influence the outcome.

We are delighted to announce that MERCAZ USA is now a full member of the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism. We are also meeting with the Masorti Foundation to explore mutual goals and ways that we can work together. Certainly, this alliance will help to advance religious pluralism and strengthen Masorti Judaism in Israel.

The most important task that we have before us in the next two years is the election for the World Zionist Congress of 2002. We were very fortunate to be able to double our percentage at the 33rd World Zionist Congress of 1997 to 26% of the American delegation. However, we are very aware that the Reform movement had 47%of the vote. This figure translates directly into greater influence and power within the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency.

We will need the help of all of the arms of the Conservative Movement in the next Zionist Congress election. Statistics show that the best way to raise our share of the vote is to increase massively our membership. This means attracting new and younger members who will give MERCAZ the ability to represent our Movement even more effectively. All of us will need to champion MERCAZ membership in our local communities and within the other organizations of the Conservative Movement to which we belong. The end result of such a membership campaign will be not only a greater participation in the Congress election but also a reawakening of Zionism itself.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of Rabbi Robert Golub who tirelessly administers all of the activities of MERCAZ USA. My deep appreciation goes to my husband Burt without whose help I could not fulfill my aspirations. Last, but not least, thanks to all of you who support MERCAZ USA. Without your help, we could accomplish very little.


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