Mikey Pliskin is the MaLTY Executive Board Member and a member of NFTY-PAR.
During NFTY-PAR’s social action oriented event, WINSTY, I learned something new that will now impact my Reform Jewish experience forever. Rabbi Jack Paskoff, the Rabbi at our host synagogue, introduced me to ARZA (ahr-tzah), the Association of Reform Zionists of America—who they are, what they do, and why it is important that we act now to support them. I had never known of this organization, and now I am not only aware of it, but I believe it is my duty to advocate for ARZA, because I believe in Reform Judaism and I believe in Israel being the homeland of all the Jewish people.
So what is Reform Zionism? Reform Zionism is not only the belief that Israel should be a protected Jewish nation, but also that Israel should be a home for Reform Jewish values, such as a strong sense of tikkun olam (repairing the world), equality for men and women, and openness and education for children so that they can learn to make informed decisions about the world and live in it in a way that they choose.
This weekend, I learned that despite strong Jewish pluralism here in the US, Reform Judaism is rarely practiced in Israel. This came as a total shock to me. I have not yet been to Israel (though I’m going this summer with the NFTY in Israel program), but I always had the perception that Israel was a homeland for all Jews, every sect. This is where the World Zionist Congress comes in.
So what is the World Zionist Congress? It is an international body made up of parties representing the Jewish diaspora (Jews that live outside of Israel) that will drive the agenda of the World Zionist Organization (WZO). The WZO is dedicated to combatting anti-Semitism and keeping Israel and Jerusalem central to Jews across the world. Each party is organized around different interests within the Jewish diaspora. Every election year (usually every 5 years), each party submits a slate to the Congress. Each party works to increase how many seats they have by encouraging more people to vote–more votes equals more seats equals more influence on the WZO–and more opportunity for their interests to thrive, and pursue their values and goals for the Holy Land.
I, personally, grew up conservative and became a Bat Mitzvah in a conservative synagogue. However after attending URJ Camp Harlam and NFTY-PAR, I made a strong personal decision to live my life as a Reform Jew. Reform Judaism has been a gateway for me to find myself and connect with my religion, because I learned the importance of Jewish culture, not just study and prayer. Our connection with Israel is one of the most significant aspects of Jewish culture, and I believe that Reform Judaism needs to be well represented in the Congress to make its mark on Israel. That is the only way Israel will be a homeland for all Jews. ARZA can help make that happen.
I strongly urge everyone to do their research and explore Judaism personally, find what it means to you, and see what you can do throughout the world to help support what you believe in. Whether this includes the WZO or not, you can always benefit from discovering your personal Jewish values.
From NFTY President Debbie Rabinovich and NFTY-RCVP Max Spivak:
Seven NFTYites and five recent NFTY North American Board alumni are on the ARZA Slate! This means that they will represent NFTY, ARZA, and Reform Judaism in Israel at the World Zionist Congress, but only if ARZA gets enough votes. Vote for a better future for Israel here: https://www.reformjews4israel.org/vote/!