On My Mind: Arnie Eisen

Archive for February, 2015

A Vote for MERCAZ USA: Slate #2 Is a Vote for Conservative Judaism and for Israel

I write to urge you to support MERCAZ USA: Slate #2 (Masorti / Conservative Movement) in the World Zionist Organization (WZO) elections that are taking place now through the month of April.

You may not be familiar with the WZO or with the process through which money is allocated by it and the Jewish Agency for Israel to various Jewish “streams,” such as the Masorti-Conservative Movement and other communities. I confess that I also did not follow this matter in great detail before I became the chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary, but now, having come to understand the importance of the work funded through the WZO, I have agreed to serve on and head up MERCAZ USA: Slate #2, which includes other members of the JTS family—Matthew Abelson, Jennifer Rolnick, Marc Gary, Nancy Abramson, Noam Kornsgold, Daniel Nevins, Aliza Sebert, Julia Andelman, Mirit Sands, Shira Rosenblum, Sara Horowitz, and many more JTS alumni—among representatives from the Conservative Movement. Let me explain why.

For me, the heart of Judaism, and the deepest source of my connection to Judaism, is the covenant announced in this week’s Torah portion, Yitro; a covenant binding Jews throughout the generations and in all corners of the world to one another, to humanity as a whole, and to God. Your own Jewish commitment may have other sources or express itself in particular ways other than mine, but chances are good that you too want to strengthen the impact that Jews and Judaism have in the world. We are called to perform acts of justice and loving-kindness, to exemplify what a caring community and righteous society could be. The State of Israel is a precious vehicle for serving those goals in our day, providing an opportunity for core Jewish values to be manifested in the public sphere. We work nonstop for its security and well-being—and we believe that the kind of Judaism that we practice can and must make a major contribution to Israel’s future.

The “playing field” for Jewish movements competing for the allegiance of Israeli individuals and for government resources is far from level right now. Conservative/Masorti Judaism has made great strides in recent years; this despite the lack of generous funding that regularly goes to Orthodox clergy and institutions. Many young people in Israel and the Diaspora feel alienated from Israel because they do not identify with the kinds of Judaism that ARE supported, and do not like being told by official representatives of Judaism that Conservative and Reform Judaism are not really Judaism and should not count when it comes to recognition and resources. A vote for MERCAZ USA: Slate #2 is a statement that we do count, and must be counted.

It is also a vote for the kind of Israel we want to see: open and pluralistic, loyal to the Zionist ideals enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, pursuing a negotiated two-state settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, and proactively concerned for the protection of Israel’s environment. These commitments in the MERCAZ USA platform are precious to me, as I believe they are to you. We should never take them for granted, anymore than we should take for granted the survival and thriving of a secure Israel in a dangerous world and an even more dangerous Middle East. I believe the two are connected: that Israel grows stronger the more its society heeds all the diverse voices that comprise it, and that Israel’s support from Jews around the world requires that Jews in all their varieties feel part of Israel, take pride in its achievements, and know that the kind of Judaism that inspires us also inspires Israelis and contributes to the State.

This will not happen unless Masorti Judaism is well represented in the rooms where funds are allocated—and that, in turn, depends on a large turnout by us. You can vote online by visiting votemercaz.org.

Vote today for MERCAZ USA: Slate #2—the process takes only a few minutes, and will make a real difference. And please urge your family and friends to vote as well.