Summer 2017

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American Jews and Zionism Today

MERCAZ USA President, Dr. Marilyn L Wind

Message from MERCAZ USA President, Dr. Marilyn L Wind

Since I became president of MERCAZ in the spring of 2016, the leadership has been actively engaged in a discussion of what it means to be a Conservative/Masorti Zionist in the 21st century and the mission of MERCAZ as the Zionist arm of the Movement. We would like to open up this discussion to our membership by sharing a summary of the presentation by Rabbi Irwin Kula at our March board meeting. Rabbi Kula was ordained at JTS and currently serves as co-president of CLAL – the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

Rabbi Kula focused on helping us understand what is happening across American Jewish life and the implications for MERCAZ/American Zionism, being very mindful that Millennials and those in the generations following are not accepting of the narratives that formed the basis of prior generations’ connection to Zionism and Israel. The challenge for MERCAZ is to figure out how to operate in this new environment. We need to determine the risks and opportunities this situation creates.

Rabbi Kula began with the basic premise that there were always a variety of forms of expressions of Zionism and that same variety exists today having been transformed and shaped by the current reality. The Conservative Movement has always been fundamentally conscious of sociology, taking the needs of people seriously and finding ways to interpret halacha that enable more people to be observant. It is about tradition and change with the goals of inclusion and pluralism.

The issue for us is where MERCAZ fits in the current Jewish/Zionist landscape, recognizing that it is embedded in America and Conservative Judaism. Our debate on pluralism centers on how inclusive we can be. In the Zionist arena, the Conservative Movement has historically been pluralistic. Rabbi Louis Finkelstein, as chancellor of JTS, was a cultural Zionist who did not favor the establishment of the State of Israel, while Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, a prominent faculty member was a great supporter as was most of the student body. This wide range of political views has continued, with prominent Conservative Jews having held leadership roles in Zionist organizations across the political spectrum.

Rabbi Kula advocated that MERCAZ is in a unique position to be the organization with the widest, most deeply pluralistic, most substantive, most serious place to focus on the next iterations of the relationship between American Jews and the State of Israel. He urged us to be fearless about a rich and substantive debate, as the intellectual underpinning of Conservative Judaism is about there being more than one valid position. He further suggested that we learn to live with more levels of diversity than have ever existed before.

The group engaged Rabbi Kula in a robust Q & A session in which Rabbi Kula challenged the members of the MERCAZ board to sit down with 3 family members under the age of 35 to ask them to honestly speak about their feelings/relationship with Israel. He asserted that by listening to people whom we love, whose views we may not share, we will learn a great deal.

We are very excited about the challenge and opportunity that faces us. As an umbrella organization that encompasses a broad range of opinions about Zionism in the 21st Century, we want to be at the table at which we can all discuss, in a civil non-judgmental manner, our differences and commonalities. Our strength will come from our diversity. We would like to challenge you as well as to reflect on your relationship with Israel and to share your views with us.

We will open up a forum for exchanging ideas on our Facebook page (Mercaz USA) and urge you to share your thoughts and comments. Take Rabbi Kula’s challenge and listen to your family members or friends under 35 about their feelings towards and relationship with Israel. Share with us what you learn. The only rule about participating in this discussion is that it must be done in a civil manner. We welcome you to join in this discussion.


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