The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
When the ARZA slate for the World Zionist Congress elections was officially announced last week with my name on it, I was humbled. The World Zionist Congress is the democratic body of the Jewish people worldwide that will meet this fall for the first time since 2010, and as a member of the ARZA slate, I will have the opportunity to represent Reform values to the World Zionist Congress and advocate for more funding to programs that promote religious pluralism, equality, and peace in Israel.
Yet aside from being humbled, I thought back to my experience on my Birthright trip three years ago. I remembered my night out in Tel Aviv and my trip to the Western Wall, but the most lasting images are from all those hours I spent on our tour bus, crisscrossing from Haifa to Tiberias to Jerusalem to Beersheva. I remember most strongly the scene as we left Tiberias, driving up the winding roads from Lake Kinneret to the hills beyond. Looking out the window, I saw the yellow-brown grass everywhere, green bushes dotting the landscape and the occasional signpost that listed our location in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The land looked so serene from my seat on the bus, equal parts austere and equal parts welcoming.
That ten-day Birthright trip was my only experience spending time in Israel, and as someone who has been involved in Israel advocacy for much of my life, my connection to Israel stems much more from my relationships to friends there, from books I’ve read and from learning about things like its political system. Yet, so often, I still think back to that image from the bus window leaving Tiberias as a kind of Zionist dream, signifying that the Jewish people could return to this historic and holy land and create a society that is prosperous, welcoming and inclusive, a society that cares for its environment and prizes Arabic as much as it does Hebrew.
And yet, when I went to other parts of Israel, and I read about it in the news, I didn’t always find such welcoming scenes. At the Western Wall, I saw a women’s section that was far from equal to the men’s section; in Tel Aviv, I saw open disdain for Reform Jews. Elsewhere, I read about Orthodox radio stations refusing to hire women, tensions and violence between Arabs and Jews, and “modesty signs” around an Israeli city.
These parts of the Israeli state are challenging for me, but they only deepen my love of Israel. Working to right these divisions is why I’m a member of the ARZA slate for the World Zionist Congress elections. I believe in an Israel that can be welcoming to all peoples, whether they be men or women, religious or secular, Reform or Orthodox, Jewish or Arab. With a vote for ARZA, we will work for an Israel that we can believe in, one that is welcoming and just and prosperous. With everyone’s support, we can help to shape an Israel as peaceful as the winding roads outside Tiberias.
The polls are now open! Go vote!