Rabbi Michael Latz quotes Hamilton when asked why he wanted to be on the Hatikvah: Progressive Israel Slate for the World Zionist Congress elections: “’We need to be in the room where it happens.’ Especially with a billion dollars at stake.”
The World Zionist Congress is the legislative body of the World Zionist Organization, which Theodore Herzl founded in 1897. The WZC meets every five years in Jerusalem, and, as Latz referenced, makes the allocation decisions on roughly one billion dollars in funding.
“It’s a billion dollars that can go for supporting human rights across the region, that can go for GLBTQ efforts, that can go toward helping settle asylum seekers, that can go for shared projects between Israelis and Palestinians,” said Latz, the senior rabbi at Shir Tikvah Congregation. “I think (that) is such a value. So what’s at stake is the resources and ensuring that there are people who share our progressive values.”
Latz is one of the 129 names on the Hatikvah slate, but he isn’t the lone Minnesotan who may be a delegate. Heidi Schneider and Adath Jeshurun Congregation clergy Rabbi Harold Kravitz and Hazzan Joanna Dulkin, and Rochester’s Ray Goldstein are all on the Mercaz USA: The Voice of Conservative/Masorti Judaism slate, Mount Zion Temple Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker is on the Vote Reform: ARZA Representing the Reform Movement and Reconstructing Judaism slate, Valeria Chazin is on the ZOA Coalition, and Charles Levine is on Americans4Israel. There are more than 1,800 names on the 15 slates under consideration.
“Our platform is about pursuing religious pluralism and equality, as well as democratic principals in Israel,” said Schneider. She said the Mercaz slate is evenly split between men and women, and 20 percent are under 30 years old. “There was a real effort to get a lot of diversity, otherwise it would be hypocritical. When I looked at it, it seemed fairly diverse and well representative of our community.”
Likewise, Latz said that the Hatikvah slate was put together by making sure there was a broad range of experiences.
“They paid attention to making sure that we have gender equity and that there are GLBTQ Jews like myself who are represented which is important,” Latz said. “There’s a saying in organizing circles and progressive circles ‘Nothing about us without us.’ So having people in the room who understand religious discrimination, who understand gender discrimination, or sexual orientation. It has a deeper impact than simply the dollars that get allocated. We’re trying to change even how the conversation happens.”
What Is The WZC?
The WZC is made up of 500 delegates, 152 of which are part of the American delegation. Seats are apportioned to the 15 slates on the ballot based on the percentage of the vote each slate gets. In 2015, the last time the election was held, ARZA won 56 delegates, more than doubling Mercaz, which won 25 delegates.
Hatikvah is a coalition slate made up of: Aleph, Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Habonim Dror, Hashomer Hatzair, J Street, Jewish Labor Committee, New Israel Fund, National Council of Jewish Women, Partners for Progressive Israel and T’ruah, along with individuals who are supporting a more progressive Israel.
“The more votes Hatikvah gets, the more delegates we have in this decision-making process about how these funds get spent,” Latz said. “And I am not one to look askance at a billion dollars and the impact that it can have.”
Being on the slate doesn’t mean that you’ll be part of the WZC. The order of the names listed on each delegation is essentially a priority listing; Schneider is No. 7 on the Mercaz slate, she said, due to the position she holds as a lay leader.
“It’s not a lot of glory and it’s a lot of work,” she said. “In the last couple of elections, the conservative movement has gotten between 20 and 25 seats. Even if it holds steady, I know I’ll go. I’m deeply honored to rep the movement and be a lay leader representing the movement.”
Latz is number 31 on the Hatikvah slate, due in part to his role as co-chair of T’ruah; Dulkin is 38 and Kravitz is 41 on the Mercaz slate. Each seat won also gets 2 alternate delegates in the event the elected delegate isn’t able to go to the WZC meeting. Hatikvah won 8 seats in 2015, but campaign manager Hadar Susskind said that the coalition has evolved since the last election, which means, he believes, more opportunities to win seats.
“I certainly expect significant gains because of all the groups we’ve engaged, but we’ll see at the end of the election,” he said. “I don’t believe those gains will come at the expense of the Reform Movement. Big picture: They are our allies, not the competition.”
Spilker said that his role on the Arza slate is largely symbolic, but he’s happy to be on it regardless.
“There are 145 seats for America, and I’m past that just on Arza,” he said. “The main thing is that I’m doing a large effort to get people to vote. What I’ve been saying is that if you’re 18 or older, and self-identifying as a Jew, it’s the one time to have your values reflected in a real way. It’s a vote that matters.”
Any Jew over the age of 18 can vote for a small fee — $5 for those 25 and under, $7.50 for those older than 26. Voting can be done online. In 2015, there 56,737 votes cast, and American Zionist Movement Executive Director Herbert Block expects that it’ll lead to more voters taking part.
“There are more slates running than ever before, and more candidates than ever before,” said Block. “There seems to be a renewed interest in the Zionist movement, and we hope it leads to more voters. We’ll know in a little while.”