MERCAZ is our Conservative/Masorti voice in the Zionist world. The World Zionist Organization (WZO) oversees funding for any number of projects in Israel and many Israel related programmes around the world. Decisions on funding are made every 5 years at the World Zionist Congress, the next one to be held in Jerusalem, October 20-22, 2020.
Our movement really comes together at the Congress and we traditionally have one of the largest groups, which both helps us fund our movement in Israel and provides significant influence in Israeli politics through our political allies in the Israeli government. It’s an important place to be heard, and the ramifications of making our statements are enhanced by having larger numbers of delegates at the WZO. We do this is through national elections for WZO “mandates.” These could be compared to congressional or parliamentary seats and the more we have the better our chances of having influence on Israeli policies towards our brand of Judaism.
During the past several Knessets, (Israel’s government) the Haredi (religious) parties have demanded their policies be government policies as a price for joining the governing coalition. This translates out to funding for their projects and schools and synagogues, and virtually no others. The WZO can provide us with alternate subsidies and funding for Masorti (Conservative) synagogues, schools and programmes, but we need to ensure that we have a significant presence in the WZO Congress.
As it stands now, only “orthodox” synagogues and institutions receive government funding, and only “orthodox” rabbis may participate in life cycle events. There is a law on the books in Israel that sends a non-orthodox rabbi to jail for performing a wedding. We all know of the riots that have broken out in Jerusalem when Women of the Wall have tried to participate in services in the same manner that women and men participate in North America. The agreement to establish a “Masorti Kotel” to allow egalitarian prayer at the Kotel has been broken by the Likud government and is in danger of being reversed. During the past elections in Israel, we have heard reports of segregated buses being reintroduced to Israel. Kashrut is entirely controlled by the orthodox rabbinate and we have heard of instances where businesses have been told to fire non-Jewish workers in order to keep their kashrut registration.
Israel is the only country in the Western world where it is illegal for a Jew to practice their religion in the manner they wish.
All of these factors have led to a majority of the Israeli population who do not participate in synagogue life, yet practice at home. Over 80% of Israeli Jews participate in a Shabbat dinner each week with kiddush and candles, a number that far exceed that of North American Jewery, yet the synagogue population is vastly lower because the options available are hard to find and expensive.
Our membership in MERCAZ will help to change this situation and provide for religious pluralism in Israel.
Each country has a fixed number of these mandates and dividing them up is left to the national Zionist organization.
In the USA, the American Zionist Movement and in Canada, Canadian Zionist Federation will be holding elections in mid-January for these mandates, and you must be a member of our Zionist arm, MERCAZ, to vote.
It’s really essential that each FJMC member join MERCAZ and be prepared to vote for our slate when the election takes place. We, MERCAZ-Canada and MERCAZ-USA are working closely to make it easy to join and vote, and we need your help to encourage all of our members and fellow congregants to do so.