Reflections on the World Zionist Congress
Temple Sholom as always fostered a deep commitment in our youth to Israel. One of the best examples of that are the dozens of Temple Sholom youth who attend Camp Miriam each year. As part of the Camp Miriam/Habonim Dror experience some teens have the opportunity to do a workshop program in Israel. One of those teens is Temple Sholom’s own Brooke Finkelstein. Brooke is in Israel now on workshop and had the incredible experience of being part of the World Zionist Congress, a gathering that goes all the way back to the days of Theodore Hertzl and determines how diaspora funds raised for Israel are allocated for the next fives years. Its a historic and important opportunity to contribute to the present and future of Israel and Brooke was right there on the convention floor. Below she shares a bit about her experience.
One day during decon at Miriam this summer, we received an email from Sara Zebovitz asking us if we wanted to go to the World Zionist Congress as alternates for Canada in the Labour Party. We responded to her saying it sounded like a great opportunity, and we would love to participate. Fast forward a few months, it was October 18th, and we were getting on the bus. Going into the Congress, we didn’t really know what to expect. However, we knew it was going to feel very political, and right we were. The second we walked into the hotel we were immediately bombarded by firm handshakes and pleads for votes. It was very overwhelming but exciting at the same time. Then we met our caucus, which consisted of graduates of Habonim Dror North America. After some schmoozing, we went to dinner with our caucus. We met more veterans of the movement and heard some amazing stories about different machanot from many years ago. It was awesome to see how the movement still plays a big role in their lives. After dinner, we had a private meeting as a caucus in order to discuss the candidates and our voting strategies. The positions were for organizations that affect Jews in the Diaspora (e.g. JNF). Even though we were discussing strategies, it was made very clear to us that we had full autonomy to vote for whichever candidate we wanted. It was the most political and democratic experience we had ever been a part of.
The next morning, we met with all of the delegates and alternates for the Labour Party and discussed the amendments we were going to put forth and the troubles that Jews in the Diaspora face in each individual country. We then met Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition, and had a private session with him as a caucus. People asked interesting questions and demanded of him to give Diaspora Jews a voice that we can point to when describing our vision for Israel. After he rushed out because of a radio interview, we spent a few more hours in that room meeting the candidates for the position of the chairman of the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL). That experience was very overwhelming and complex, making it difficult for us to process. However, we both came out of that room feeling pretty confident in who we wanted to vote for. We proceeded to enter the voting room and navigated through the electronic voting system.
On the final day, we arrived at the auditorium and stood in line to get our name tags. While we were in line, we saw some young protesters speaking about the occupation while singing songs about peace and handing out flyers. A few older men started to react violently to the protestors. They tried to push them out of the building while singing Hatikvah very loud to counteract the songs about peace. This lasted for a few minutes until the protesters were physically pushed out. This made us rethink how democratic the process really was if people weren’t allowed to speak their minds. We have never experienced that before, and it gave us some insight on how prevalent the tension is in Israel. We have felt so sheltered on Kibbutz Revivim, and it has been hard to relate to the conflict and have it feel real. Also, it was interesting to see how the people in the room were pretty unfazed by the protestors and violence by a few men. Everyone was trying to ignore what was happening, which could be a common reaction in Israeli society. No one tried to stop the men from attacking the protestors.
We then listened to the prime minister of Israel’s speech, which was very controversial as most of what he was talking about was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Also, at the auditorium we met other youth movements such as Hashomer Hatzair, Netzer, and Noam Olami. It was interesting to interact with them and hear about their backgrounds.
Overall, we had a great time learning more about politics, democracy, Israeli society, and how they all connect to Diaspora Jews. We were very honoured to have experienced that opportunity and represent Habonim Dror North America.
Brooke Finkelstein and Idan Sulimani