Involvement in the Reform movement from a young age, through NFTY, URJ Camps and other outlets, often shapes a person’s outlook in life and attitude toward the big issues. Zach Newburgh is no exception. The former NFTY President (’07-’08), hailing from NFTY-NEL and an alumnus of Camp George, Camp Newman and Kutz Camp, says NFTY laid the foundation to his desire to repair the world, and he’s putting that to good use in a big way—by taking a stand in the mission to reform Israel.
Raised in a small town outside of Toronto called Oakville, Zach says while Jewish community was small, his Jewish identity was a big part of who he was growing up, and that foundation was built through youth programs: “It was my experience in URJ summer camps and my involvement in NFTY that helped me define my Jewish identity as it stands today,” he says.
Zach also credits his passion for social justice to his parents, who overcame their own obstacles, with his father emerging from a childhood of very little means and his mother striving to set herself apart as a modern woman, defined by who she is instead of who she married. “Those pieces shaped who I am today, and my involvement in the Reform movement, was so much predicated on aspects of social justice and repairing the world,” he says.
Now living in New York, his passion for these causes is unwavering. He works as NY Community Director and Director of Social Impact for IVY, a social incubator that exists to forge collaborative bonds between leading innovators in nearly every imaginable industry, each holding the common thread of wanting to make a positive impact in the world. “The interest is there for us to make a positive impact, to improve the lives of others in innumerable ways, whether through business, as well as political issues, such as immigration reform, gender equality, sustainability, and an array of other important causes,” he says.
After making a career of working with others to take strategic steps to make the world a better place to live, grow, and thrive, it’s not surprising that Zach wanted to take his involvement in bettering the global community one step further. That’s why he joined the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) slate for the upcoming World Zionist Congress in October. For him, involvement in any organization that could help him make a positive impact in Israel was a given.
“Anything that I can do to influence the Israeli electorate and the way we engage with Israeli politics, that’s something I want to be a part of,” he says. “I’d like to take part in shaping Israeli politics and the way in which the Jewish diaspora engages with Israel to eradicate the ever-present racism that seems to flourish and the overwhelming inequality that exists between the genders, both through the repugnant rhetoric used by politicians and the laws and governmental policies that are currently in place to hold back historically-marginalized members of Israeli society.”
Israel is, for Zach, as it is for many Jews, a place that evokes a wide range of emotions. “I’m deeply concerned and troubled [by Israel],” he says. “It’s a place of tremendous beauty, but also a tremendous amount of ugliness, especially visible during the most recent election.” For him, significant reform is the only answer in the question of Israel. “Our Jewish identities require of us to adhere to a certain set of moral standards… Where Israel is right now and the way that it continues to practice its politics is in so many ways antithetical to the values that we hold so dear.”
He says he hopes his work will help to break down barriers put up for Arab citizens, Jews of color, and women, “who are treated as second class citizens,” he says, and other members of Israeli society who deserve to be given “a fighting and equal chance.”
Voting for the WZC delegates closes on April 30. Learn more about the ARZA slate and cast your vote by clicking here.