This past week, I had the tremendous honor of traveling to Jerusalem and serving as a delegate for the Mercaz Party (the Zionist Organization of the Conservative Movement) at the 37th World Zionist Congress (WZC). For some historical perspective, Theodore Herzl established the first WZC in 1897.
In 1896, one year before the first WZC, Herzl published his treatise The Jewish State. In it, he ends the preface with the following words, “It depends on the Jews themselves whether this political pamphlet remains for the present a political romance. If the present generation is too dull to understand it rightly, a future, finer and a better generation will arise to understand it. The Jews who wish for a State shall have it, and they will deserve to have it.”
It was my grandparents’ generation who “understood rightly” the need to fight for a Jewish State. According to Herzl’s own words, the Jews of that generation established the State of Israel in 1948, therefore they deserved to have it.
While the official theme of the WZC this year was Non-Stop Zionism, I believe had Herzl attended this year, the question he would have posed would be, “Now that we have it, how do we keep it?”
I am so fortunate to have been born into a world where the Jewish State of Israel already exists. And I’m proud to dedicate my time to conversations about protecting Israel and improving her. Topics covered in the WZC this year included funding for Jewish movements inside of Israel (Conservative and Reform), expressions of egalitarianism, inclusion of minorities such as the LGBT community, encouraging aliyah, and combating BDS.
With all of these issues to consider, please do not disregard the simple powerful premise of the WZC: We the Jewish People living inside the State of Israel and outside of our ancestral borders want to continue to debate how to practically realize the value of Zionism in the world today.
I engaged in conversations with Orthodox leaders from the Ashkenazic and Sephardic delegations, the Reform movement, the ZOA and different Israeli political parties such as Labor, Likud and Yesh Atid. In politics much like in religion, staking claim to the middle ground is often not easy and I was proud that the Mercaz/Masorti Olami Party partnered with the Yesh Atid Knesset Party to express values of democracy, compromise and inclusion.
No matter what the political or religious differences in the WZC (and there were many), at its conclusion we all sang Israel's National Anthem Hatikvah with the conviction to exist as “a free people in our land – the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
Being free in our ancestral homeland was not an easy dream in 1897 for the first WZC. It’s not a simple reality for the 37th WZC in 2015. Most worthwhile things in the world are not easy or simple. But I promise you, after this week more than ever before, I believe Zionism is a movement worth the effort and the State of Israel is a reality worth your time and support.
As Herzl encouraged, let’s be the generation that once again holds Zionism as a central value worth expressing in the world today. Don’t allow yourself to enjoy Israel simply out of coincidence. Let’s be the generation that merits the Jewish State of Israel, not because it was handed to us, but also because we deserve it.