Every year, there are fewer Jews who recall a time when there was no State of Israel.
Fewer who recall the Holocaust, the decimation of European Jewry and attempts by survivors to enter (often illegally) British Mandate Palestine.
Fewer who recall the angst of sitting around a radio on Nov. 29, 1947, listening to the United Nations General Assembly vote, country by country, on a proposed resolution to partition Palestine into two states, and the elation when it became clear that the measure had passed and that the first Jewish state in nearly 2,000 years would be born.
Fewer who recall the fear felt as the British withdrew, as the surrounding Arab states attacked, and the relief and pride as Israel survived its war for independence.
Fewer who recall any of that.
Today, most Jews have only known a strong Israel, a hi-tech power, source of cutting edge medical research, popular apps, fashionable footwear, great beaches, and iconic writers, artists and actors.
Conversely, some wince at government policies on annexation, Arabs and national identity. Others are rightly angered by the second-class treatment of Reform and Conservative Judaism in the country.
The Israel we know today is very different from the one born in 1948. Even more reason to engage with it.
Voting is currently under way for the 38th World Zionist Congress. Quite literally, the WZC, which meets every five years, is the parliament of the Jewish people. Theodor Herzl convened the first congress in 1897 in Basil, Switzerland.
This year, 500 delegates will be chosen from 15 separate slates running the range of Zionist ideology; 190 of those delegates will come from Israel, 145 from the United States and 165 from the rest of world.
When the WZC meets in Jerusalem from Oct. 20 to 22, it will determine the leadership, and influence the policies, of Israel’s national Institutions: the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Jewish National Fund, and others that, all told, allocate nearly $1 billion annually for Israel and Diaspora communities. That matters.
Voting runs through March 11.
Some Jews ask, why vote at all? If they don’t describe themselves as Zionists, and they wonder why their Jewish identity must be so tightly woven to Israel, then why pay $7.50 to cast an online ballot?
It’s a fair question, and Zionism must answer it to stay relevant in 2020. Here’s my take:
Israel occupies a central role in Jewish life, be it religious, cultural or political.
We pray facing Jerusalem.
We send our kids on Israel trips.
We vacation there ourselves. (I proposed to my wife there.)
We sit in darkened theaters watching Israeli movies (shameless plug for the film festival), or in our living rooms watching Israeli TV on Netflix.
We feel elation when good news comes from the country.
We feel troubled, even angry, when the news is bad.
For better or worse, we are connected to the place.
I’m not speaking to Jews who admit they’re Jewish when asked, but never walk into a synagogue, never visit Israel, never give to a Jewish cause nor do a single thing to identify as Jewish. This column is not directed at Jews in name only. They have made their decision.
I’m talking to you, the one holding this paper in your hand or scrolling through it online. If you read this paper, even just a few stories, you care about Israel. Don’t deny it.
But if you do care, how then to influence Israel in ways that matter to you? Most of us will never make aliyah.
Voting in the WZC is one of the easiest, most meaningful ways. It allows you to support candidates who think as you do and will act on your behalf.
It’s like voting in a national election; you trust your candidates to carry out your will.
Visit azm.org/elections to study the slates and get details on how to vote. Do it because you care. You’re reading this, so I know you do.
(Lee Chottiner is the editor of The Jewish Louisville Community.)