By Rachel Moore
What if you received an invitation to join a group of Jews from around the world to have a say in the allocation of 375 million dollars a year for the next four years? Would you join? How would you spend the money? How much would go to Jewish education? How much would you dedicate to Jewish identity? How about Aliyah? Jewish outreach? Jews at risk? Would you fund building Jewish settlements, or fund efforts to stop the building?
Not enough of World Jewry knows that we have an invitation to do just that. The World Zionist Organization is a body that oversees the allocation of over 400 million philanthropic dollars a year to a variety of Jewish initiatives in Israel and throughout the world. Founded in 1897, the World Zionist Congress (WZC) is the legislative body of the World Zionist Organization (WZO.) It was originally formed as a movement to create Jewish state. After 1948, it became the forum for the Jewish world to decide (or argue about) what the State should become, and how. The Congress has been meeting continuously since that time, only interrupted by World War II.
The WZC holds elections every 4-5 years, electing officers and deciding on the policies of the WZO, the Jewish Agency, and the Jewish National Fund, which owns approximately 13% of Israel’s land. The outcome of the elections will not only decide the prioritization of funding, but will partially determine who controls which budgets. Which altogether is a tremendous amount of sway and influence over the 375 million dollars cited above, that impact Israel and the entire Jewish world in a very concrete way.
American Jewry will elect 145 of the 500 delegates to the Zionist Congress, from 11 slates that reflect the diversity of Jewish views on Israel, religion and politics. The rest of the Jewish world has 165 seats, and Israel has 190 seats, which is allocated on the basis of the Knesset election results, since the Israeli WZC representatives are from the Knesset parties.
Included are Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Zionist parties, the ZOA, a Sephardic party, the New Alliance (which advocates for sweeping change in the WZO), left and right-leaning secular parties and the Green Israel party (advocating for environmental prioritization). There is a party to represent the voice of Russian-American Jewry, with much of their campaign information in Russian.
Each party has a stated platform which you can read here, but which clearly states that they have a view and agenda on how much should – and should not – be spent.
And the politicking and competition can be at times, fierce. Dr. Steven Wolnek, President of MERCAZ, the Conservative Movement’s party in the WZO said in 2010 that “The Jewish Agency and WZO allocations that come to the institutions of Masorti Judaism in Israel and around the world, currently around $2 million annually, do not come because Conservative Jews are ‘good guys,’ but because we are … effective in Zionist politics.”
On the ARZENU web site, the organization representing America’s Reform (and Reconstructionist) Community, it explicitly states: “Today the Reform Movement in Israel receives allocations of $4.5 to $5 million per annum from the Jewish Agency, Keren Kaymeth LeIsrael (JNF) and Keren Hayesod.
And how does this work? …. Simply put: whoever has the largest number of representatives in Congress will set goals and have access to the centers of power and money … For example: On behalf of the Reform Movement in Israel ARZENU uses its power to impact the Jewish Agency budget allocation for religious streams: ARZENU tries to prevent or limit the size of budget cuts to the streams and has largely been successful.”
Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, President of the American Zionist Movement (the American branch of the World Zionist Organization) calls this our “Global venture” that requires everyone’s investment, regardless of your personal affiliations. “By investing in your involvement in present-day Israel, no matter your passion, you are taking action and making a personal statement for Israel.”
So join the conversation. Invest yourself in World Jewry, in Israel’s future, and take this rare opportunity to have a say in how a very significant amount of Jewish philanthropic dollars is going to be spent.
Rachel Moore is the Owner of Moore International Connections (a PR and Communications firm) and RAM Hub of Gush Etzion. She has worked in the field of Communications with Jewish nonprofits in the United States and Israel for the past 20 years. Her writing has appeared in the Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, The Forward, and more. She blogs about parenting, step-parenting, Judaism and Israel at www.ima2seven.com.