Sitting at the WZO table from the perspective of an Orthodox Jew

This WZO election proved it is time for Eretz HaKodesh to come to the table and represent a significant voice in the future of the Jewish people, both in the Diaspora and in Israel.

The Opening of the 26th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem in 1964.  (photo credit: MOSHE PRIDAN / GPO)
The Opening of the 26th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem in 1964.
(photo credit: MOSHE PRIDAN / GPO)
As a delegate to last month’s World Zionist Congress who participated along with more than 500 other elected delegates from around the world, I eagerly and longingly watched a livestream out of Israel from the comfort of my home in Cleveland, Ohio. Here we were, all alone, yet functioning as a group as the only democratically elected international body that decides the direction of world Jewry. And we were meant to be together in the Holy Land! Theodore Herzl would never had envisioned it this way in 1897. Yet the history of this election is perhaps less about the marvelous technological advances of 2020, and more about the new faces who now could have a seat, albeit virtually, at the Congress.
There’s nothing like looking back at history to truly appreciate the present, and the livestream video I watched featuring pictures of decades of World Zionist Congresses made me appreciate my position as a delegate in the historic slate of Eretz HaKodesh so much more profoundly. Basel 1898. Zurich 1929. Jerusalem 1951. Images of men and women who cared so deeply about the land and statehood of Israel, who came together, sharing a mutual desire to strengthen the Jewish people. Pictures of men and women, many of whom were Holocaust survivors, who understood the urgency of having a homeland. People who were the ones responsible for settling the land, setting up the state, and bringing in others to immigrate and settle the land themselves.
There were pictures of David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and Menachem Begin over the years, speaking from the podium and speaking with delegates. My mind flashed to a photograph I know very well, taken in the 1950s of Menachem Begin, before he became prime minister, speaking with my maternal grandparents in their home. The story is that he begged them to leave South Africa and move to Israel. My grandparents are counted among the people who were invested in the growth of our Jewish homeland, even if they did not physically live there.
Now I’m one of those people, and I’m a new kind of delegate in a new slate, Eretz HaKodesh. I am an observant Jew, unlike my grandparents. I try to live my life according to traditional Orthodox Judaism. I believe that while we Jews may differ passionately in our beliefs (and unfortunately the chasms are deep at times), we must be respectful of one another and practice the fine art of loving while disagreeing. We are family. We must choose to focus on what unites us: our shared values of the importance of a secure Jewish state, Jewish education, immigration, supporting Israel through tourism, fighting antisemitism, and the greatness of the Jewish people.
I believe that Israel is our physical and spiritual homeland. I love Israel and am grateful for the State of Israel that creates the infrastructure necessary for our people to achieve nationhood in our land. I understand that haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties have never participated in the Congress before, and I am proud to have a seat at the table now, because we need to be represented. The Jewish people is diverse, and we all need to have a stake in our outcome. It’s our right.
It turns out I am not alone in my sentiments. The result of the American Zionist Movement elections in early 2020 won Eretz HaKodesh over 20,000 votes, making Eretz HaKodesh the third largest party, claiming more than 15% of the votes. We earned 25 seats at the World Zionist Congress. It’s our time to join the leadership of the WZO.
The election shifted the entire Congress toward religious and more right-leaning secular slates. The World Mizrachi slate, the Orthodox Israel Coalition (OIC), came in second place. The shift is significant, as five years ago liberal groups won a super-majority of delegates. Together with OIC and ZOA, the Zionist Organization of America, we make up the majority, and we are all Orthodox. Our coalition believes we are representing the needs and wants of a large rising segment of religious Diaspora Jews. This segment wants us to advocate for them as we work to benefit the global Jewish community while preserving traditional Jewish values and practices. And that is what we have come to do.
We as Jews will never agree on everything. Our religious, cultural and political perspectives are so varied. We need to be committed to including all of those perspectives because this is who we are as a people: passionate, idealistic and diverse. One perspective can’t push out others nor always speak for others as a whole. All of those voices need the space to be heard, and that is the beauty of the World Zionist Congress.
It is also the beauty of democracy. Not only do votes count, but they represent. And this WZO election proved it is time for Eretz HaKodesh to come to the table and represent a significant voice in the future of the Jewish people, both in the Diaspora and in Israel.
The author is an educator, writer on Jewish contemporary issues, and an active member of the Jewish community in Cleveland, Ohio. She is an op-ed columnist for Mishpacha magazine, and her essays have been published in various blogs and publications including Klal Perspectives, The Forward, Times of Israel, The Lehrhaus, Cross-Currents, Hevria, the Five Towns Jewish Times and