Unity, Mizrachi, and the legacy of Rabbi Sacks

For the first time in Zionist history, the majority of the 525 delegates from Israel and around the world were identified with the political and religious right wing of the Zionist movement.

THE WZO IS akin to the parliament of the Jewish people. (photo credit: Courtesy)
THE WZO IS akin to the parliament of the Jewish people.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The wall-to-wall unity agreement reached at the recent 38th World Zionist Congress is not something to be taken for granted.
Neither is the role World Mizrachi played in this unique achievement.
A seismic shift took place in Israel’s National Institutions (NI) at this particular congress. For the first time in Zionist history, the majority of the 525 delegates from Israel and around the world were identified with the political and religious right wing of the Zionist movement.
This could perhaps be likened to the 1977 revolution in Israeli politics, when Menachem Begin rose to power after 30 years of Labor leadership. For the first time, Israel had a right-wing prime minister and government. This gradually brought more religious and traditional elements of Israeli society into political leadership positions.
A similar phenomenon has begun in the NI.
The shift in numbers was the result of multiple factors: the size of the Likud Party, the strength of Mizrachi’s religious-Zionist global representation, and the joining of the new ultra-Orthodox Eretz HaKodesh delegation from America, to name but three.
One tangible sign of this new reality is that the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund and the chairperson of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), are affiliated with the political and religious Right.
However, the NI are not only about influence and power politics. They are about preserving a singular and diverse balance. A very delicate one.
Let me explain.
The WZO is akin to the parliament of the Jewish people. It is perhaps the only forum in which members of the political parties in Israel, as well as delegates from Zionist movements and Federations across the Jewish world, are all formally represented in one place.
From the progressive liberal Hatikvah slate to Eretz HaKodesh and everything in between – Reform, Conservative and Orthodox religious streams and the gamut of political ideologies – all find a place around one large round table dedicated to the Zionist endeavor.
To preserve this fine balance, the Zionist Congress has traditionally upheld a gentleman’s agreement, giving fair representation to all parties based on their relative strength. This is very different from the majority winner-takes-all system in democratic politics, as de Tocqueville had warned of the potential tyranny of the majority over the very significant minority.
This year, certain parties were pushing for this more polarizing and partisan approach.
Enter Mizrachi.
Over and above its impressive gains in attaining major leadership positions in the JNF and the WZO, Mizrachi played a pivotal role in securing a wall-to-wall agreement, in which each party was awarded fair and reasonable leadership positions based on their relative size. Led by Mizrachi’s Avraham Duvdevani, the most experienced member of the WZO Executive, the Mizrachi delegation was instrumental in ensuring unity within diversity.
Indeed, this has been Mizrachi’s role since its very inception. Almost 120 years ago, it was founded as a movement of religious Jews committed both to Torah and the Zionist cause. At a time when many distanced themselves from this seemingly secular national movement, Mizrachi found a way to partner, to communicate, to bridge the gaps, and together, to shoulder the collective challenges at that time. It remains loyal to its religious beliefs and Halacha (Jewish law) while being an active and influential member of the Zionist movement.
In fact, the very word Mizrachi is an acronym of Merkaz Ruchani, a spiritual center, integrating core spiritual values into the nucleus of the nascent Zionist movement.
Mizrachi blazed a trail of unity, partnership and inclusion.
The message was clear and refreshing: There need be no contradiction between the sacred and the secular, the national and the religious, the universal and the particular, between Judaism and Zionism.
So too today, Mizrachi continues to play this role of partnership, bridge-building and unity in the Jewish world in general and in these important institutions in particular.
I cannot conclude without connecting these sentiments to the recent tragic passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, a great supporter of and partner in World Mizrachi’s activities. Like our forefather Abraham, who was both “a stranger and a resident” among the inhabitants of Canaan, so was Rabbi Sacks masterfully able to personify and ever so eloquently communicate that balance – on the one hand being proudly Jewish and loyal to his faith and the Torah, while on the other, being deeply immersed in global visions, broad universal ideas and expansive philosophical thought.
With the ability to synthesize, connect and bridge the divide, he was a ladder, “whose feet were firmly on the ground and whose head was in the heavens.” And just like Abraham, he profoundly connected to Divine wisdom and to the spark of the Divine in every human being, to connect all of life to its spiritual center.
At a time of deepening ideological rifts and polarization, in Israel and throughout the world, the Mizrachi mission and the great life and legacy of Rabbi Sacks are more relevant than ever.
The writer, a rabbi, is the executive chairman of World Mizrachi.