By Yochanan Gordon
The World Zionist Organization was founded in 1897 by Binyamin Ze’ev (Theodor) Herzl and comprised four major organizations that today continue to be the driving force in developing the land of Israel, attracting Jews worldwide to come home to their eternal homeland, as well as fighting the onslaught of antisemitism throughout the land. Although just 50 years later the state of Israel was formed with 600,000 Jews, because today a majority of world Jewry lives outside the land of Israel, there is a great need for these organizations to cultivate involvement from world Jewry who will in turn be given a voice and formidable influence on all matters pertaining to the day-to-day development of the land.
The process through which worldwide Jewry can become active partners in the development of the land of Israel is by participating in the election that is held every five years.
There are a slew of issues at stake in this year’s election, such as egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, the anti-religious voice of the Jewish Agency on college campuses, and their past ability due to their prominent representation to quash the religious influence. In order to combat this, nine leading modern Orthodox organizations, including the Orthodox Union, Amit, Mizrachi, RZA, YU, Touro College, Torah MiTzion, and National Council of Young Israel, have unified under the Orthodox Israel Coalition (OIC) — Mizrachi: Vote Torah banner. They hope to garner 100,000 votes to further the influence of Torah in the state of Israel.
If you are hearing about this for the first time, it is due to the great efforts of one man, Rabbi Doron Perez, who has been CEO of World Mizrachi Movement for the past five and a half years. In that time, Rabbi Perez has established a system of Mizrachi shlichim, which he admits is based on the Chabad emissary plan of action, founded by the Frierdiker Lubavitcher Rebbe and his successor Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. In the last five years or so, World Mizrachi, which up until then was an organization focused on inspiring Jews the world over to make Eretz Yisrael their home, started reaching out to Jews across the world to become more involved in the state of Israel and its daily goings-on even if they were not considering aliyah.
Rabbi Peretz was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he lived with his family until age 18, at which point they made aliyah. Rabbi Peretz would later return to South Africa where he served as a rav for 18 years under the Mizrachi Umbrella Organization. Five-and-a-half years ago when World Mizrachi’s previous CEO Sauli Sachs turned 70 years of age and the organization was looking to inject creativity into the next generation, Rabbi Peretz was tapped as its Chief Operating Officer at which point he moved back to the land of Israel where he has been ever since.
Rabbi Perez, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in the 5TJT office a couple of weeks ago, explained that often one’s greatest strength can ironically also be their greatest weakness. Therefore, the first item of change that he brought to Mizrachi five and a half years ago was putting aliyah as an overriding objective on the back burner and instead cultivating a growing passion for religious Zionism across the world. In these last few years Mizrachi has had a worldwide presence in 10 countries, including Rabbi Yedidya and Mrs. Sivan Rahav-Meir who relocated from Israel to the Five Towns for the year. They have been giving classes, inspiring new innovations in Torah study groups for men and women, and increasing awareness in the great significance of Toras Eretz Yisrael at a local level.
The mantra, if you will, that Rabbi Perez coined along these lines is as follows: “For the first 70 years, the State of Israel had been the project of the Jewish people; for the next 70 years, the Jewish people have to be the focus and project of the State of Israel.” In addition to building awareness of Torah and Eretz Yisrael to Jews the world over, this means creating a unified identity for World Mizrachi on an organizational level. Until Rabbi Perez assumed a leadership role, every chapter of the organization had a different logo, which no doubt took away from the momentum it could have generated with a more unified identity.
Historically, the Orthodox turnout in the WZO election has been extremely underwhelming. In the last election five years ago, 57,000 votes were cast by all the slates combined. Of those, 9,500 were from the Orthodox voting bloc. The electoral system works based on a delegate system. There are a total of 500 delegates worldwide with one-third represented in Israel, one-third in the United States, and the rest scattered throughout the world. The U.S. makes up 152 delegates, which compared to the 190 in Israel is the second-largest electorate bloc on the world stage. The top vote getters are vying for $1 billion in annual funding, which would go a long way in funding the existing programming and afford exponential growth in religious Zionism and the sway that American Jews will have with these major organizations. Anyone who will be 18 by June 2020 can vote on their smart phone, at https://azm.org/elections, which, depending on your age, will cost you either $5 or $7.50. Now, while the money is a good-enough incentive to cast your vote, it is essential that other organizations such as Reform, Conservative, and J Street, that have a clearly anti-religious agenda for the state of Israel, not be allowed access to those funds.
There are a slew of issues at stake in this year’s election, such as egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, the anti-religious voice of the Jewish Agency on college campuses, and their past ability due to their prominent representation to quash the religious influence. In order to combat this, nine leading modern Orthodox organizations, including the Orthodox Union, Amit, Mizrachi, RZA, YU, Touro College, Torah MiTzion, and National Council of Young Israel, have unified under the Orthodox Israel Coalition (OIC) to create a unified front in generating the largest representation to date. They hope to garner 100,000 votes to further the influence of Torah in the state of Israel.
Our right to vote in this pivotal election gives us the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat, to ensure a favorable life for Torah and avodat Hashem throughout the land of Israel. I cannot overstate the importance of every vote cast, which translates individually into hundreds of dollars of funding for the measly $7.50 that it costs to participate. Let us become proactive ambassadors in reversing the course in this year’s election cycle, proving to the leading organizations that Orthodox life in Israel and around the world is a force to be reckoned with and that Torah is the face of the future of Israel, now and forever.