Rabbi Sydni's Shabbat Sermons

פרשת תרומה, תש״פ

Parshat T'rumah, 5780

by Rabbi Sydni

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

Vote Mercaz for the World Zionist Congress!

After I graduated college, I lived in Israel for a two year period that was instrumental to the development of the halakhic egalitarian movement in Jerusalem. Through these two years, I participated in study groups and minyanim (prayer groups) that embraced Jewish law and saw people of all gender identities as equally bound by that law. While this may not seem so revolutionary to us, here in a room in which men and women embrace traditional prayer together, during the first two years I spent in Israel, it was radical - controversial, even. And I found myself positioned right in the midst of that revolution; while the vast majority of synagogues in the city relegated the voices of worship to men, I read Torah and led services both in rooms with men and women sitting together and in rooms in which the mehitzah, the dividing wall between genders, was flexible and translucent. During that time, the friends I made at the animal shelter could not believe that the minyanim and study groups I spoke about truly existed. During that time, I became friends with Israeli rabbis - both male and female - who knew that the marriages and conversions they officiated would not be recognized by the State of Israel, simply because they were involved in these egalitarian minyanim and study groups. During that time in Israel, inspired by the balance of adherence to halakhah and insistence on egalitarianism, I decided that my rabbinic place must be in the Conservative Movement.

Now, years later, I feel indebted to that Israeli movement that so inspired me to be the Jew I am today. As a part of the Conservative Movement, I have learned how much that movement for halakhic egalitarianism is not just influenced by small learning and prayer groups, but also, by the larger institution of Masorti Olami, the Conservative movement’s international parallel. Through Masorti Olami, eighty Israeli congregations and hundreds of others throughout the world thrive on the balance of tradition and change, the egalitarian section of the Kotel stays in constant use, the Masorti youth group NOAM educates hundreds of children on the importance of Jewish pluralism in the state of Israel, and the Schechter Institute ordains rabbis who are sensitive to and passionate about the needs of modern Israeli Jewry. Now, in the year 2020, we here in the United States have the ability to join the cause for Jewish pluralism in the land of Israel. With the elections for the World Zionist Congress underway, we can cast a vote for Mercaz, the international representative for the Conservative and Masorti movements.

When we vote in the World Zionist Congress election, we affect the policy and funding decisions to be made at this year’s World Zionist Congress, the thirty-eighth since Theodore Herzl began the tradition in 1897. The World Zionist Congress makes decisions affecting the World Zioinist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Jewish National Fund, and Keren Hayesod, which collectively organizes one billion dollars of funding for Jewish organizations in Israel and around the world. For anyone who has previously thought that Americans have no effect on Israeli religion or policy, this election flies right in the face of that doubt.

Personally, I will be voting for Mercaz because of their commitment to my values and because of my trust in the rabbis and lay people on their slate. Mercaz’s platform supports “an open, pluralistic, Jewish society,” focusing its support on the growth of a diversity of Jewish institutions throughout Israel. Mercaz also pursues a policy of “no restrictions on the Law of Return.” While Israel was founded with a policy of allowing immigration from what it calls all Jews, that immigration process if often made more difficult for Jews by choice who have converted in non-Orthodox settings and for Jews who do not come from countries in the Western world. Mercaz supports the aliyah of all Jews, wherever they find themselves. Mercaz fights for the governmental respect of egalitarian traditions, including the recognition of Jewish life cycle events performed by rabbis ordained in more progressive movements. Within that fight, Mercaz is central in maintaining the allowance of Jews to worship together in the egalitarian section of the Western Wall. As a strongly Zionist organization, Mercaz rallies together in wide promotion of Israel’s inherent democracy, its contributions to the world, and its ongoing efforts to achieve a greater peace in the land. Ultimately, Mercaz takes pride in the words of the Rabbis of the Talmud (Masekhet Eruvin 13b) - Eilu v’eilu divrei Elohim hayim. These and those are the words of the living God. In the land of Israel, Mercaz teaches, we must recognize diversity of practice as central to the policy of the Jewish state.

Whether or not Mercaz is your slate of choice, I urge you to go online to Zionistelection.org, read over the platforms of the various slates, and cast your vote for the future of Israel and the Jewish people. Mercaz is far from the only slate that supports Jewish diversity, promotion of Zionism, and the pursuit of peace and security in the land of Israel. The World Zionist Congress election is open to all Jewish adults, costs $7.50 for registration, and ends on March 11. I have set out information sheets on the front table. Even from thousands of miles away, your vote counts. Your voice affects how life operates in Israel, how the world sees Israel and the Jewish people, and in the end, how your descendents will experience their Judaism in the world. The Israeli Declaration of Independence claims, “The State of Israel will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; wll safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of shrines and holy places of all religions…” With your vote in the election of the 38th World Zionist Congress, you can ensure that the freedom and equality put forth by Israel’s founders stays true. Shabbat Shalom.