The year 2020 is an election year. I’m not writing about the American election, but about an election that should be of interest to Jews all over the world. In the coming months, elections will be held for the 38th World Zionist Congress (WZC). The Congress will meet in Jerusalem in November, bringing together representatives of Jewish communities in Israel, the United States, Canada and many other countries.
As many readers will know, the first Zionist Congress was held in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897 under the chairmanship of Theodor Herzl. It met yearly between 1897 and 1901 and then every other year from 1903 to 1913 and from 1921 to 1939. In 1933, David Ben Gurion campaigned tirelessly in Poland, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia and Austria for the 18th Congress, and established a dominant position for Labor Zionism that was to last for the next 44 years.
After a hiatus during the Second World War, the WZC reconvened in 1946 in the aftermath of the Holocaust and played a critical role in the events leading to the creation of the State of Israel.
In 1951, the 23rd Zionist Congress enacted the Jerusalem Program, which holds that the State of Israel is the central unifying cause of the Jewish people.
With the State of Israel now approaching its 72nd anniversary of independence, what is the role of the Zionist Congress in today’s world?
The World Zionist Congress is the governing body of both the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). Because the majority of the members of the WZC are elected to represent Jews outside of Israel, the congress provides an avenue for Jews in Canada and elsewhere to have a voice in shaping Israeli society.
The WZO mission statement says “the WZO strives to enhance the impact of Zionist ideology and activity in Jewish communities around the world, including Israel, both by working through shlichim of the Zionist Federations and their constituent bodies, and by influencing the agenda of the organized Jewish community, particularly through its involvement with the Jewish Agency for Israel.”
Thus, the membership of the congress shapes the message that the WZO communicates back to the Jewish communities of the Diaspora as well as the way Zionism is understood in Israel itself.
JAFI was founded in 1929 in response to the establishment by the League of Nations of the British Mandate for Palestine, which called for the creation of a Jewish national home in the Land of Israel. The Jewish Agency was the institution envisioned by the Mandate that would be responsible for creating the Jewish national home.
Today, JAFI continues to play an important role in the ongoing process of building the State of Israel into a place that is welcoming to all Jews. Their mission statement says they aim to create a new generation of strong leaders, build a thriving economy in Israel and provide meaningful opportunities for the global Jewish family to connect and engage.
In pursuit of this mission, JAFI runs social agencies for the elderly and the disabled. It provides affordable housing for the elderly, including Holocaust survivors, as well as for new immigrants and single-parent families. It provides support for at-risk youths, and operates museums, think-tanks, programs which promote aliyah and support olim, religious conversion classes and many other services.
You can learn much more about the WZO and JAFI by visiting their websites. By registering as a member of a recognized Canadian Zionist organization by the end of February, 2020, any Canadian Jew over the age of 18 can vote for the World Zionist Congress, which in turn gives you a voice in the direction of the WZO and the Jewish Agency.
Don’t miss out on your chance to be heard. Join today.