The Forward invited the 15 parties contending for the World Zionist Congress elections, which end March 11, to write an article about why readers should support them. Eight responded by our deadline (we’ll happily publish the others; contact email@example.com). The parties are presented in alphabetical order.
The American delegates to the Congress help allocate nearly $5 billion to Jewish organizations and programs in Israel and around the world. Read more about the election process here.
Below is an op-ed provided by Israel Shelanu
The growing gap between U.S. Jewry, Israelis, and the State of Israel on cultural matters, religious pluralism, the peace process and other issues is a major concern to our communities, and, sometimes, it seems like there is no real way to bridge the divide and that we are on the way to severing irreversibly.
At the same time, the community of Israelis living in the United States has grown in recent years by an estimated 750,000 to 1 million people, now accounting for about 12 percent of the Jewish-American community. If in previous years this community was generally quiet and attempted to simply integrate into U.S. Jewry, it has, in recent years, established its own representative bodies, expressing the desire of many Israeli-Americans to become more proactive and influential, and make their own unique mark on Jewish communal life in America.
Israelis living in the United States are intensely familiar with Israeli culture and actively living among American Jews. This gives them the profound ability, perhaps more than any other group, to make a real connection between the two largest Jewish communities in the world, which together account for some 80 percent of the entire Jewish people. The unique position of Israelis in American makes them the best potential mediators that Israel and American Jewry could ask for.
The growth of the community of Israelis in the United States is providing a historic opportunity with the creation of Israel Shelanu, a new slate representing their own unique needs, as part of the 38th World Zionist Congress. Elected delegates to the World Zionist Congress are charged with allocating the organization’s $1 billion budget and setting communal priorities. With Israel Shelanu, Israelis in the United States will compete with other Jewish organizations to send delegates to the World Zionist Congress and vie for funding to promote programs crucial to the nearly 1 million Israelis in the United States.
It is important to Israelis living in the United States that their children grow up in an open and pluralistic atmosphere while simultaneously being exposed to educational and community activities of Hebrew language and culture. This concern is an important topic that, to date, has not been properly addressed by the Jewish community in the United States. Israel Shelanu seeks to promote the establishment of Hebrew cultural, spiritual and language centers for children, youth and families in each of the largest Israeli communities in the United States. Each center will operate under one roof and will include classes, activities, holiday celebrations, events, concerts, exchange delegations, research and more. These centers will work to strengthen the Israeli identity of future generations in the face of a dwindling Jewish communal life in the United States with assimilation rates at about 50 percent. Israeli Americans believe that advancing Hebrew culture and modern Israeli identity within American Jewish communal life will serve as a kind of resuscitation to all of American Jewry, and ultimately contribute to deepening and enriching the American Jewish identity.
Although the impression can be that we, Israelis in the United States, have made a strategic decision to take care of ourselves, we strongly believe that every investment in promoting the Hebrew language and culture in the United States serves as a highly effective long-term investment in the future of Jewish communal life here. I consider myself privileged to be a founder of Israel Shelanu because of the party’s commitment to deepening the dialogue, connection and engagement between the State of Israel and the Jewish community in the United States. We believe that a stronger and more influential Israeli community in the United States will inevitably deepen and enhance the connection between American Jews, Israelis and the State of Israel and lead to an optimistic future for the entire Jewish people.
Yaakov Cohen, Co-founder
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World Zionist Congress elections: Israel Shelanu