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NOLA LAZAR: MERCAZ-CANADA WORKING TO STRENGTHEN CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM

by Nola Lazar, May 5, 2015

In Israel today, there is little recognition of any Jewish religious stream other than the Orthodox. A couple wishing to marry within the Conservative movement must leave the country to do so, and then apply for the recognition of their marriage when they return to Israel. A person who has undergone a Conservative conversion is not recognized as a Jew. Women davening at the Kotel while wearing tallitot have been arrested and jailed.

 

MERCAZ-Canada and the Canadian Foundation for Masorti (Conservative) Judaism work in cooperation to foster and strengthen Masorti / Conservative Judaism in Israel, based on the ideals of tradition and tolerance, study and spirituality, social action and love of Israel. Their mission is to support religious pluralism in Israel and to strengthen the connection between Israel and the Diaspora. They are the advocates that guarantee funding for non-Orthodox religious streams that is so crucial to our Movement’s growth in Israel and around the world.

 

At this time, there are 73 Masorti kehillot (congregations) in Israel. Masorti Judaism has been growing by leaps and bounds in Israel and around the world. Since 2002, the number of Israelis who identify with the Masorti movement has doubled. The most recent studies show over half a million Israelis identify as Conservative. In Israel in the past 18 months, 8 new Masorti Kehillot have been formed, with more in the planning stages. Masorti Kehillot provide a widely admired school system, encourage social justice in Israel, encourage green initiatives and support a host of other activities.

 

MERCAZ-Canada, a branch of the international political wing of the Conservative movement, MERCAZ-Olami (World MERCAZ), is the Zionist voice of the Conservative / Masorti Movement in Canada. MERCAZ-Canada represents Conservative Judaism within the Canadian Zionist Federation (CZF), the World Zionist Organization (WZO), the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), and the Jewish National Fund in Israel.

 

MERCAZ-Canada also works to encourage our young people to travel to Israel. It provides general scholarships – which must be matched by the participant’s synagogue – and a bi-annual essay scholarship for participants on Conservative movement trips to Israel, such as USY Pilgrimage, Nativ, Ramah Seminar and a High School program in Israel. Each year teens from across Canada take advantage of this funding.

 

Through its membership in the World Zionist Organization, MERCAZ-Olami has the ability to effect social change in Israel and to support social justice around the world. MERCAZ-Canada delegates, along with other MERCAZ-Olami delegates, represent the interests of Conservative / Masorti Judaism at the WZO and JAFI. It is the MERCAZ presence, actions and influence in the meetings of various WZO and JAFI committees that helps to ensure that a fair portion of their funding is allocated to Masorti institutions.

 

Theodor Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. The Congress served as the foundation for the Zionist movement – the creative force and organizational framework behind the State of Israel. The Zionist Congress remains the governing body of the World Zionist Organization. It has met regularly since its inception; today it meets approximately once every 5 years, always in Jerusalem.

 

The 37th World Zionist Congress will convene in Jerusalem in October 2015. At this Congress, which has been referred to as the World’s Jewish Parliament, Jewish Delegates from all over the World, and from all streams of Judaism, will vote on policy and allocation of funds for initiatives that affect Jewish life in Israel and beyond.

 

The World Zionist Congress delegates vote on numerous topics. Canada is allocated 19 delegates out of a total of 500. Each group which is a member of CZF is able to present a slate and elect a number of delegates based on the number of its members who vote in favour of that slate. MERCAZ-Canada delegates combine with other MERCAZ delegates from around the world. In order to have a more effective voice at the upcoming Congress, MERCAZ-Canada needs to build a greater membership and ensure that its members cast their votes. Election of delegates to the World Zionist Congress gives all Jews the opportunity to weigh in and get involved.

 

Even with the growth of the Masorti / Conservative movement, as well as other streams of Judaism, the Government of Israel only supports Orthodox institutions. With virtually no support from the Government, the Masorti movement has managed to accomplish a great deal. Delegates to the Zionist Congress work to advance our agenda, shaping the nature of Israeli society with the values of religious pluralism and environmental awareness. They have helped to gain important resources for the development of institutions of Masorti Judaism in Israel and throughout the world, including the Schechter Institute, TALI Schools, the Masorti movement and the Conservative Yeshiva. This is why it is crucial to have as large a voice at the WZO as possible.

 

Through the work of the Masorti movement as well as other non-Orthodox religious streams, there is now a recognized space at the Kotel for egalitarian worship. Pressure has been put on the Israeli Government to develop solutions to allow non-Orthodox weddings and burials, among other issues.

 

The Government of the State of Israel does not officially recognize our belief in an egalitarian and pluralistic society. This translates into the ongoing debate over who is a Jew, who can authorize conversions, who can perform marriages, and who can deliver a Get. If Israel is to be the homeland for Jews all over the world, which was the premise of the early pioneers, then Jews all over the world have to care about its social fabric. Conservative Jews have a specific responsibility to advance Israel’s religious diversity, because right now the only officially recognized religious stream is Orthodox.

 

To learn more about MERCAZ-Canada, and to become a member, call 866-357-3384 or visit www.mercaz.ca.

 

 

 
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