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Vote of Confidence

We’ve never paid much attention to the World Zionist Congress. What’s changed now?



It could very well be that my friend Rabbi Pesach Lerner is successfully triggering a change of tide in the Jewish world. This sea change could really happen, but it depends on each one of you American readers. Surely you have heard of, and perhaps already seen or even filled out, the appeal sent out to the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy by Rabbi Lerner’s Eretz HaKodesh movement, which is running a slate of frum candidates in the upcoming elections for delegates to the World Zionist Congress.

The Congress meets every five years and will convene in Jerusalem later this year. In the past, few chareidi Jews have taken advantage of their right to vote in these elections, due to lack of identification with, or outright opposition to, the principles of Zionist ideology. As a result, Orthodox Jewry has been sparsely represented in the Congress, and the fate of a billion-dollar budget has been decided accordingly. Funding from these overflowing coffers has gone to support all sorts of initiatives in Eretz Yisrael, many of which fly in the face of the Torah, while Torah study or other Torah-based projects has seen little budgetary support, despite the fact that many of the people who contribute to this budget through the WZO, the Jewish National Fund, and Keren Hayesod are Orthodox.

An overview of the activities of the World Zionist Organization today shows that their general trend goes against the interests of frum Jews in Israel and against authentic Jewish life. Representatives from various heterodox congregations, particularly from the Reform and Conservative movements, have become a vocal presence in the WZO and at its quinquennial congress, as they fight to put down roots in the Holy Land. The struggle to introduce mixed prayer at the Kosel and the push to have fictitious conversions recognized by the Israeli government are some examples, but even more insidious is the creeping influence of Reform ideology in Israel’s school system. All this is backed by money from the WZO, and all this can change if Orthodoxy gains a strong voice in the Congress this year. Voting is taking place right now.

True, for a great many readers, the word “Zionist” is a turnoff, and there are those who will disassociate themselves as a matter of principle from anything containing that word in its name. At the very least, they might feel disinclined to take part simply on the grounds that this isn’t something for the heimishe crowd. Some of you may think this sudden call to take part in a WZO election is coming right out of left field, especially those of you educated in the direction of a non-Zionist agenda. And now leading rabbanim are telling us we should vote to send frum delegates to the Zionist Congress?

Well, that emblem of Zionism, David Ben Gurion, was correct in saying that Zionism died with the founding of the State of Israel. At that moment, he claimed, the Zionist movement had fulfilled its purpose and become a thing of the past. Yet, like any system put into place for a specific goal, it has been stubbornly unwilling to proclaim its own demise.

We see an example of this in Megillas Esther. After his rash act of putting Queen Vashti to death, Achashveirosh was in the market for a new consort and set up a system to that end. The Megillah relates how Esther was selected as Achashveirosh’s new queen. But did the search end there? No! Two pesukim later, the Megillah goes on to say, “And when the maidens were collected a second time…” His system had gained a momentum of its own, and even after the king had placed the crown on Esther’s head and celebrated the occasion with a royal banquet, the clerks and officers went right on rounding up more and more young women, regardless. A system like that will not die of its own accord. And so it is with the Zionist bureaucracy — the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency with all its various departments.

Thankfully, classical Zionism is indeed a relic of the past — but the more Torah-observant delegates there are among its elected representatives, the better it will be for the Torah world. And in fact, leading rabbanim — including, for example, Rav Asher Weiss, Rav Chaim Kohn, and Rav Yitzchak Berkovits (see attached letter) — who in the past may have warned against any involvement with Zionist entities, are now calling on the frum Jews of America to vote their own delegates into this powerful organization.

The idea seems grandiose, almost like a dream, but I, for one, am convinced by Rabbi Lerner’s argument that it can succeed. We have the numbers, and b’ezras Hashem, we can make it happen. I hope every reader will make his or her own cheshbon hanefesh in seriously considering voting for the Eretz HaKodesh slate.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 800)

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