Our delegation to the 36th Zionist Congress included more than 140 people, included 74 delegates plus alternates and observers from 18 different countries– Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Sweden, UK, Ukraine, Uruguay & USA. The delegation included 20 young delegates from around the world, including those involved with NOAM, MAROM and other Masorti youth organizations.
Delegates, alternates and their companions joined the Masorti Olami and MERCAZ Olami leadership and staff for a Pre-Congress seminar based at the Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism in the center of Jerusalem. The seminar began on Sunday evening June 13th with a performance by NOAM Israel’s vocal troupe, Shirat Machar, and included welcome greetings by leaders of Masorti/Conservative organizations and institutions from Israel and around the world. On Monday, the seminar continued with sessions that gave the delegation detailed information about the Zionist Congress, the proposed resolutions and key topics for debate, as well as an insight into the work of Masorti communities in all of the 18 countries represented. The day finished with a special festive dinner in honor of Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, whose term as the President of MERCAZ Olami has finished. MKs Yoel Hasson and Shlomo Molla attended the event to pay tribute to Rabbi Kurtz, along with outgoing Treasurer of the WZO, Hagai Merom and other leaders of Masorti/Conservative organizations and institutions from Israel and around the world. Rabbi Kurtz is succeeded by Dr Stephen Wolnek outgoing President of MERCAZ USA. Click here for more pictures from the Pre-Congress seminar.
The week of the Congress also saw the conclusion of negotiations with our coalition partners atKadima-Hanoar Hatzioni. They too brought a strong delegation from Israel and around the world to the Congress, and together our collective faction was the second largest. Negotiations and discussions with Kadima that began almost 2 years ago, and ran through the night ahead of the Congress, culminated in Dr. David Breakstone being appointed by the Congress as Deputy Chair of the World Zionist Organization, amongst other significant positions now held by Masorti Olami and MERCAZ Olami. Breakstone’s election marks the first time that one of the two top positions at the WZO has gone to an individual from a religious stream rather than from an Israeli political party. His duties will include dealing with the WZO budget, activities outside of Israel, and services to both Reform and Conservative Judaism in the Diaspora, as well as being the designated substitute Chair when the Chair is not able to serve. Alan Silberman, President of Masorti Olami and Dr Stephen Wolnek, President of MERCAZ Olami both praise Dr Breakstone’s long service to the WZO and Jewish Zionist education as a whole, and note that this is an historic step that reflects the ongoing efforts of the Masorti movement to emphasize its role in building Jewish life, and our commitment to Zionist principles, in every part of the world where Jews live. Until this new appointment Dr. Breakstone was the Head of the Department for Zionist Activities at the WZO, along with being a member of the WZO and JAFI Executives, where he represents MERCAZ Olami. He has also held the positions of Director of Ramah Programs in Israel, as well as Director of Hebrew University’s Pedagogic Center for Jewish Education and Assistant Dean at the Schechter Institute. He has published numerous articles, books, and curricula on Jewish education, the teaching of Israel, Conservative Judaism, Israel-Diaspora relations, and Zionism, and continues to write a column in the Jerusalem Post newspaper.
Throughout the Congress, a wide range of issues were discussed which related to the future of Zionism and keeping Herzl’s dream a reality. Most significant among the debates, were those connected with the equal acceptance of the non-orthodox streams of Judaism in the Zionist world, prejudice against non-Orthodox conversions, the future of Zionist Shlichim (emissaries), the equal involvement of youth movements from all religious streams, statements relating to the future of the Peace process, and decisions about the future structure and role of the World Zionist Organization. Following hard work ahead of the Congress, the joint Masorti / MERCAZ / Kadima / Hanoar Hatzioni delegation was a strong united force both in the committee discussions and the final resolution voting sessions, ensuring that resolutions we proposed were carried, and successfully stopping controversial resolutions from opposing factions.