By Rabbi Shalom Lewis / Guest columnist
We are all familiar with the first Zionist Congress, led by Theodor Herzl in Switzerland back in 1897, which brought together and energized Zionists from around the world. It was a moment in history that announced the end of 2,000 years of exile and that once again we would be a free people in our homeland.
Herzl’s famous prediction that in 50 years from that congress there would be a Jewish state came true in the most miraculous way. Despite Herzl’s not being a religious man, the establishment of Israel was a spiritual, sacred moment in the history of our people.
To be invited by the Conservative movement’s Mercaz/Masorti to serve as a delegate to the 37th World Zionist Congress, held Oct. 20 to 22, was an honor and an opportunity to be a part of a historical event that connected me to Herzl, to Israel and to Jewish destiny.
The congress was a uniquely Jewish event. Decorum was an illusion. The thousands in attendance were with their mishpacha, so Robert’s Rules of Order and buttoned-down behavior were not to be found. The proceedings reminded me of Genesis: There was chaos, but from the tohu vavohu came order and creation.
The passion of the delegates was palpable both when we were all together voting on resolutions and when we were negotiating and deliberating in the back rooms of the congress.
Never have I heard Jews arguing, politicking and grandstanding in so many languages. Never have I experienced an agenda that dealt more with a constant call for respect and rule following than for the actual deliberation of issues.
Yet somehow at the end of the day it all got done. Perhaps we can say, as we approach the Chanukah season, “Nes gadol haya sham/po” (“A great miracle happened there/here”).
I was there when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his comments about Jerusalem’s grand mufti that erupted into a firestorm worldwide. Netanyahu has been known to bury accuracy within his oratory, and this was another such historically inaccurate, manipulative moment.
I have no tolerance for Palestinian self-righteousness, but they pounced on this issue, claiming that now Netanyahu is blaming them for the Holocaust. For sure, many in the Muslim world were complicit, but Hitler needed no encouragement in his Jew-hatred from anyone else.
The next congress will be in four years, but for now I feel that in some small fashion I have been a part of Jewish history.
Rabbi Shalom Lewis is the spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Chaim.