Delegates from Bay Area are eager to make impact on major Israel agencies

Daryl Messinger has made the cut.

Results of the elections for the 37th World Zionist Congress were announced recently — and Messinger’s ARZA slate was one of the liberal slates that fared well, meaning the Palo Alto Jewish community activist will be a WZC delegate in October in Israel.

“This congress helps determine how Israel allocates hundreds of millions [of dollars],” said Messinger, who was on an ARZA slate representing the Reform and Reconstructionist movements. “I want to make sure [the money] goes to causes and programs that are pluralistic, that allow for the free expression of religious belief and help Israeli society move forward in a democratic way.”

Daryl Messinger

More than five weeks after online polls closed, the election results were finally made public on June 5.

Of the 145 seats allocated to the United States in the 500-member body, approximately 70 percent went to religious denominations: 56 seats went to the Reform movement’s ARZA slate, 25 went to the Conservative movement’s Mercaz USA and 24 to the Modern Orthodox religious Zionist slate known as Mizrachi.

The remaining U.S. seats went to slates affiliated with the American Forum of Russian Speaking Jewry (10), progressive Zionists (eight), the Zionist Organization of America (seven) and the young activist Alliance for a New Zionist Vision (seven). The final eight seats went to a smattering of smaller slates representing Sephardim, environmentalists and others.

Vivian Saper

The election ran from Jan. 30 through April 30, and though all American Jews over age 18 were eligible to vote, only 57,000 did — down significantly from previous WZC elections.

Going into the election, each slate submitted a long list of potential delegates, generally in ranked order. So if a slate won 10 seats, for example, the top 10 people on its list would be ticketed as delegates.

The World Zionist Congress meets every four or five years to elect officers and set policies for the World Zionist Organization, a powerful quasi-governmental body that promotes Jewish and Zionist education and identity-building in Israel and around the world. It also has a say in the allocation of Jewish Agency funds for religious and civil society projects in Israel.

“The World Zionist Organization is a 50 percent owner of the Jewish Agency, and therefore appoints 50 percent of board members to the Jewish Agency,” Messinger noted. “You can really impact the agenda and priorities.”

Naomi Jatovsky

Messinger, who serves on the boards of the Union of Reform Judaism and URJ Camp Newman, was an ARZA delegate to the last congress five years ago. Vivian Saper, a Palo Alto doctor representing the Mercaz slate, will be attending for the first time.

Though going as an alternate, Saper wants to stand up for the Conservative movement, in Israel known as Masorti.

“Israel needs to recognize Masorti Judaism,” she said, “and there have been instances where it has not. [The WZC] can have a great impact on inclusive and pluralistic Judaism.”

Hatikvah, which dubs itself the progressive Zionist slate, advocates policies such as a freeze on Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank, an expanded social safety net, and strengthening the rights of women and minorities in Israel. The slate won eight seats, with S.F.-based New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch among its delegates.

Daniel Sokatch

Naomi Jatovsky, a San Francisco nurse practitioner who attended the 1981 congress as a Labor Party delegate, was also on the Hatikvah slate. She may attend the congress as an alternate, but even if she does not, she feels Hatikvah will be a voice for what she calls “progressive values.”

“Not only religious pluralism, but issues around the settlements and [Palestinian] territories as well as socio-economic issues,” Jatovsky said. “Hatikvah will continue to put pressure on WZO executives to be forthcoming and make sure Jewish money from abroad is spent responsibly.”

But it was ARZA that was the big winner with 40 percent of the United States’ 145 delegates. Israel gets 190 delegates and there will be 165 from the rest of the world.

Arthur Slepian, founder of A Wider Bridge, an S.F.-based nonprofit that promotes ties between LGBT communities in Israel and North America, will attend the congress as an ARZA delegate.

“I want there to be an Israel that the next generation feels is as relevant to their Jewish lives as to my generation,” Slepian said. “The only way we get there is to address these issues and have a strong voice for pluralism and for Reform Judaism.”

Messinger said the issues of greatest importance to her are broadening Israel’s regulations regarding marriage and conversion so that non-Orthodox Jews have a say.

Having attended a WZC gathering before, she knows what to expect: some good old-fashioned politicking.

“It brings me back to the old model U.N. days, haggling over procedural points,” she said. “But at the end of the day if you don’t have a seat at the table it’s a lot harder to make sure different views are represented.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.