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How My Front Row Seat Informed My Sense of Purpose

Ok, so everyone knows that the first time you do something is very often the best – right? That first taste of chocolate ice cream. That first time you ride a bike. And that first kiss. Well, recently, at 67 years of age, I had a first that was sweet like that ice cream, exciting like that first bike ride, and almost as emotional as that first kiss.

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I was a first-time delegate to the World Zionist Congress, a meeting held every five years in Jerusalem. The first Zionist Congress was held in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland convened by chairman Theodor Herzl with the goal of establishing what would become the State of Israel, more than 50 years later.  The Congress is now referred to as the international “parliament of the Jewish people.” 

It is a democratically elected Jewish forum. The Congress is comprised of 500 elected delegates—190 from Israel based on Knesset elections, 145 from the United States, 165 from other countries in the diaspora—and 100 appointed by international Jewish organizations.  Delegates at the Congress form factions based on Israeli political parties or Zionist ideology.

The main business of the Congress is to distribute nearly $1 billion annually to support Zionist education through programs mostly enacted by the World Zionist Organization

Keren Kayemet LeYisrael-Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Resolutions are discussed that affect different aspects of Zionism that have to do with that funding but also have to do with the ideological platform of the Zionist world. And the heads of those institutions are elected. Google it and read up on the history. 

I will not go into the technicalities of the resolutions discussed in the committee I sat in. Rather I want to share with you for this virtual page, the feelings and emotions this experience elicited in me. 

First, the 2020 World Zionist Congress was the first virtual Congress, dictated by the pandemic that the world is living in. Oh yes, I need to tell you that I was a delegate with Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. (HWZOA) one of the organizations mentioned above.  So, I was virtually surrounded by friends and colleagues in a What’s App room just for us. This room was meant to mimic the amazing feeling and personal experience that those who were delegates before got at the in-person congresses in Jerusalem in prior years. Days leading up to the actual Congress, those women regaled us first timers with the stories of the raucous deliberations, the camaraderie of the groups, and the swell of the emotion for the reason we all were there – the love of Israel and Zionism. 

I have experienced this camaraderie before as Hadassah has been in my life since I was a little girl –I am a three generation Hadassah President – my grandmother Gertrude Mandel of a chapter in Long Beach, NY, my mother Alyce Unger of a chapter in Long Beach, NY, my sister Leslie Rappaport of a chapter in Merrick, New York and myself of a chapter Merrick, NY and then the Nassau Region. So, I have been around the Hadassah block, it was and is intrinsic in my family and the career of my heart. 

This moment in time as a delegate was different. It informed my sense of purpose. It built on that family background. And I have Hadassah to thank for all of it. The work the organization does in America with advocacy on issues that affect women and Israel. The practical Zionism we accomplish since 1912 in Israel in medicine and care of youth. Family and Hadassah brought me to the Congress. 

To listen to the delegates, speaking from their hearts about the importance of words in the resolutions with such passion for the underlying Zionism, made me sit through three days of meetings online. Everything was so important. Everything had lasting effects. And everything was about Israel, the future and Zionism. This was the real deal. I was in the virtual presence of politicians and great thinkers. I was hearing from thought influencers and other people who came to the Congress from a diversified background. But the unifier was Zionism.

Do I glamorize the experience? Would I be jaded if it weren’t “my first time? I don’t think so. My “been there, done that” colleagues were also deeply moved, they argued the words with the best of them, they took to heart the deeper meaning, the underlying raison d’etre for being there.  They stayed on for the three days. 

This was a particularly important Congress.  It left me, in fact, with the feeling that I lived through a real moment in history and I was proud that my organization, Hadassah, played an integral part in that history making moment when the voice and the authority of the Zionist world was in danger of being tipped to one side, leaving the other Zionist voices without power to make a difference in the allocation of funds and in the jobs of the three major institutions who make decisions in Israel and the Zionist world. You should read about this on the Hadassah website – here is the link:

“Inclusivity, proper representation and unity are principles that Hadassah cherishes and advocates for, and we are proud to support the revised Agreement of Principles for the World Zionist Congress,” was in the statement Hadassah National President Rhoda Smolow shared. 

So, yeah, WOW, I was a part of history. It was thrilling. Long on the computer, tired of zooming? Yes – but why did I set my alarm to awaken at 3:00 am so I could run downstairs to my computer and watch the closing session and yes, standing in my slippered feet with, I will admit, tearing up, while I joined in on the national anthem of Israel, Hatikvah. Hatikvah, hope. Amen to that. 

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