Los Angeles Delegates Urge Everyone to Vote in the WZO Elections
The World Zionist Organization’s Congress elections are now in full swing, and the Los Angeles Jewish community is making an impact. Local rabbis and community activists are involved in several of the slates.
The World Zionist Organization (WZO) was established over a century ago and has been supporting Israeli causes within the State of Israel, as well as Israel education in the diaspora. Every five years, WZO holds elections to its congress, and this year is the 38th such elections. The elected delegates meet in Israel in October and decide how to allocate the funds, up to $1 billion annually, that are distributed by four major non-profits: World Zionist Organization, the Keren Kayemet L’Israel (KKL) /JNF, the Jewish Agency, and Keren Hayesod.
The elections are held all over the world, and 500 delegates are elected from many different countries. 152 of the delegates will come from the United States. It is up to the American Jewish community to determine how many delegates will go from each slate.
There are 15 slates total, and they represent the spectrum of American Jewry—Ashkenazi and Sephardi, religious and secular, Orthodox and Reform. As the slates differ greatly in their preferences for fund allocation, it is imperative for all Jews who believe in the importance of the State of Israel to participate in the elections and express their support for the causes that are important to them. While some Chareidi rabbis object to participating in a Zionist endeavor, most American Orthodox rabbis urge their congregants to vote.
One of the slates with a Los Angeles representation is Slate #4: Orthodox Israel Coalition – Mizrachi, with the motto Vote Torah. The coalition unites the major Religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox organizations, such as Religious Zionists of America – Mizrachi, AMIT, Orthodox Union, Yeshiva University, Touro College, Rabbinical Council of America, National Council of Young Israel, Torah MiTzion, Bnei Akiva, Poalei Agudas Yisroel, and other affiliated institutions.
The Los Angeles contingent of Slate #4 is led by Rabbi Elazar Muskin, Senior Rabbi of Young Israel of Century City and honorary president of the Rabbinical Council of America, and Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and CEO of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Other Slate #4 delegates from Los Angeles include Dr. Ernest Agatstein, co-President of the Religious Zionists of America, Rabbi Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills, Cheryl Nagel, Dr. Jordana Topp, Dr. Ron Nagel, Walter Feinblum, Steven Feder, Rabbi Arye Sufrin, Rabbi Ari Segal, and Avi Matanky. The slate is headed by the New York-based Rabbi Herschel Schachter, Rosh Kollel at the RIETS’ Marcos and Adina Katz Kollel and world-renown Talmudic scholar and posek.
Rabbi Muskin explains that members of the Orthodox Israel Coalition have participated in the World Zionist Congress from the very beginning. “Overwhelmingly, Slate #4 is the united voice of American Orthodoxy who care about Israel,” he says. While the organizations which comprise this coalition might have their differences, they “all united as partners in the slate,” hoping to make the greatest impact.
The Orthodox Israel Coalition’s voice is strong, but it still needs to be strengthened, says Rabbi Muskin. Five years ago, during the previous WZO elections, the Orthodox voter turnout was relatively low, and many Orthodox programs lost funding as a result. The delegates are hoping for a better turnout this year.
In addition to greater funding for Orthodox programs, an increased number of Orthodox voters would also serve to counteract causes promoted by some of the other slates, which are contrary to Orthodox values and to the State of Israel’s continued security and Jewish character. For example, the Orthodox Israel Coalition would like to direct the funds to fight BDS while some other slates intend to support BDS. Another issue of contention is building and development in Israeli communities located past the green line.
Outside of Israel, the funds can be used to increase security funding in small Jewish communities. In the past five years, the need for such security funding has unfortunately become more urgent.
The outcome of the election will also affect the local community. Rabbi Muskin brings two examples of beneficiaries of the fund allocation that would have a local impact: Bnei Akiva and MASA. Bnei Akiva is a Religious Zionist youth organization which currently has no shelichim in Los Angeles. Rabbi Muskin is hoping that with a favorable outcome of the elections, the Los Angeles Jewish community would be able to use the allocated funds to sponsor Bnei Akiva shelichim. MASA Israel Journey provides scholarships for post-high school students who spend their gap year in Israel. Over the last 3-4 election cycles, due to poor voter turnout from the Orthodox community, the MASA funds were decreased 90% from $2000 to $200 per student. The local delegates hope to push to allocate more funding towards the scholarships so that local students and their families can take advantage of it.
Rabbi Muskin feels strongly that every member of the Los Angeles Jewish community should vote in the elections and make their preferences known. “Each one of us has the power to really impact this election,” he says. “Each person has a say, and they shouldn’t throw this opportunity away. How often does one have the ability to affect fund allocation? Each vote really matters.”
“I am a life-long believer in Religious Zionism,” says Rabbi Muskin. “The miracle of the State of Israel is a gift from the A-lmighty, and we can’t take it for granted. We have to strengthen our bonds to the State of Israel. It’s a halachah on so many levels. I can go on and on about how many mitzvot one can fulfill by doing something for the State of Israel. Voting in the WZO election is simply doing the right thing. Anyone not voting will have to answer for it.”
For more information and to vote in the WZO elections, please visit www.zionistelection.org.