Winter 2002-2003

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MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Winter 2002-2003

Mercaz Elects New Leadership For New Era

MERCAZ USA rededicated itself to the twin goals of political lobbying and Zionist education at the 2002 biennial General Council, held on November 10th at the Jewish Theological Seminary, as it elected a new slate of leaders to chart its course forward.

Leading the list of newly elected officers as President is Rabbi Vernon H. Kurtz, spiritual leader of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El of Highland Park, Illinois. Rabbi Kurtz, the immediate past president of the Rabbinical Assembly, previously served as MERCAZ Vice President. Born in Toronto, Canada, and ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1976, Rabbi Kurtz is the recipient of numerous rabbinic and communal awards and has served on the World Zionist Organization's Vaad HaPoel since 2000. Most recently, he was elected a delegate on the MERCAZ USA slate to the 34th World Zionist Congress. Click to read Rabbi Kurtz's speech.

The featured speakers at the General Council were Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice-Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Dr. Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Rabbi Ehud Bandel, President of the Masorti Movement in Israel.

Providing an update on the current situation in the Middle East, Hoenlein noted that this was a critical time both for us as Americans and as Jews. The war on terror is key to the future of Israel and the United States. While President Bush seems to "get it", remarked Hoenlein, many in our government do not appear to understand the enormity of the threat that Islamic fundamentalism poses. Although success in such a war against terror may be difficult to measure, concluded Hoenlein, failure will be clearly apparent and a danger for coming generations.

Shifting the focus from the global scene, Dr. Schorsch addressed the Jewish political scene, specifically dealing with issues of "stream" funding by the Jewish Agency. He noted that the allocations to the Reform and Conservative Movements being proposed for 2003 by the JAFI Board of Governors have been reduced by 20% or $400,000 from current levels of $2 million annually to each movement. At the same time, certain Orthodox institutions haven't suffered similar cuts. MERCAZ, noted Schorsch, needs to be fully engaged in the necessary political lobbying to insure a fair share of community funds for the Masorti Movement and its institutions. At the same time it must focus attention on the local scene, on Zionist education and Israel advocacy, particularly among our Movement's youth.

Rabbi Ehud Bandel brought a positive message about the growth of the Masorti Movement in Israel. Despite the current "matsav" or situation, there are now nearly 50 Masorti "kehillot" or congregations across the country. More elected politicians on the local and national levels accept pluralism as a principle, and veteran Israelis, together with new immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Latin America are swelling the ranks of the Movement and transforming it from an "Anglo-Saxon" North American import to an indigenous "Israeli" phenomenon.

At the same time, noted Bandel, the growth of the Movement in Israel is threatened by its lack of funding. Already, five Israeli Masorti rabbis have left the country to seek employment abroad, and further cuts in services to congregations may need to be undertaken if new sources of support are not quickly identified.

Also elected at the General Council were: Vice Presidents – Renee Glazier, Dr. Judith Lax, Rabbi Charles Savenor and Dr. Marilyn Wind; Secretary – Elana Gershen Finkelstein and Treasurer – Mark Samuels.

Other featured speakers at the General Council included Roy Clements, President of MERCAZ Olami, and Yoni Schwab, coordinator of the new "Israel Travel" initiative being funded by the Israel Ministry of Tourism which also subsidized Rabbi Bandel's trip to the General Council. Schwab encouraged the meeting participants to "pledge" to go to Israel at least once over the next twelve months. Click to read about the "I Care And I'm Going" pledge card. Also taking place at the MERCAZ meeting was an Israel Fair, with vendors from Jerusalem, and three concurrent workshops on the topics of "Monitoring the Media", "The Masorti Movement and Israeli Politics" and "Creating a Masorti Kehillah".

The biennial General Council is MERCAZ USA's general membership meeting, open to all current MERCAZ members. The date of the next Council meeting has not yet been set, although it will most likely take place in early 2005.


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