Progressive American Jews complain a lot about Israel, privately and to one another. When it comes to the water cooler or dinner table conversation, we wring our hands and get frustrated. We blame the Orthodox or political extremists or continued settlement expansion. Or, even worse, we give up the conversation all together, preferring to tune out and avoid a tiring internal conflict.
But 2015 is different. This year, if you are part of the million-and-a-half person strong U.S. Reform movement, there is no excuse. There is no more blaming the polarizing coerciveness of the Chief Rabbinate or the lack of separation of religion and state in Israel. Because this year, you actually can have a say in the shape of Israel’s future. Before I elaborate, let’s consider the facts:
• You’re not going to make Aliyah and vote in the upcoming Knesset elections.
• You will not go serve in the Israeli army.
• You will not found another Israeli political party or go campaign for an existing one.
• You might give some money to the numerous important causes in Israel that reflect your ideological taste, but not enough to be a game changer.
• You’re unlikely to avoid conversations about Israel for the rest of your life, no matter how hard you try to you avoid your Uncle Moishe and the other campus loudmouths.
The simple thing you can do is to vote. Not for the Israeli Knesset, but close: the World Zionist Congress elections.
Known as the “Parliament of the Jewish People,” the World Zionist Congress was conceived by Theodor Herzl in 1897 and now meets every five years in Jerusalem. But few are aware that this body controls significant allocations of the Jewish world’s philanthropic funds, appoints key leaders to influential positions, and is Diaspora Jewry’s only democratic mouthpiece through which we can have our voice heard in Israel.
Looking at the numbers alone, one would assume that the Reform movement would dominate the WZC. But we don’t even have a simple majority. If we merely turn out to vote, we win and gain direct influence over policies and funding decisions in Israel. Since we don’t, we cede that ground to those who support building more settlements, and denying legitimacy to women clergy, Reform converts, the continuous prevention of civil marriage, and other issues that are so important to our progressive, pluralistic values. So before one more of us throws up our hands and asks “why doesn’t Israel recognize me and my form of Judaism?” here’s your chance to do something about it.
Each one of us can influence decision makers in Israel through this Congress. Voting in these elections is our manifestation of what it means to be a Zionist; our chance to make our voices heard.
In other words: If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. Or rather, you can complain—Jews can always complain—but you’ll know you didn’t do your own, very little part.
It’s your choice. Israel’s future lies in the balance.
Rabbi Joshua Weinberg is president of the Association of Reform Zionists of America.