Within our tradition, there are a number of ways of looking at Judaism. It’s founded, of course, upon a belief system with religious components, but it’s also composed of social, cultural, intellectual, political and national characteristics. Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan pulled them all together when he described Judaism as a civilization.

In the late 19th century, Jewish national identity took a political form through the Zionist movement, which ultimately succeeded in establishing the State of Israel. Known to many of us as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, Zionism still plays an important role in how Jews around the world express their ongoing concern for the safety and welfare of the Jewish people.

Some are of the view that Diaspora Jews have no right to weigh in on in issues that affect the security and well-being of Israel, and argue that such decisions should be made only by those who live there. But that’s not the majority view, and it is certainly not the view of the World Zionist Organization, founded by Theodor Herzl in 1897, which has been convening congresses every few years since then to consider a wide array of issues affecting Jewish nationhood.

Since Israel was founded, the WZO has become a meeting place for Israel and Diaspora Jews for whom the Jewish state is a joint national project. It is an institution of Jewish unity.

The 38th World Zionist Congress will meet in October in Jerusalem. It will make decisions regarding institutions that allocate nearly $1 billion annually to support Israel and world Jewry. Delegates to the congress are elected by the Jewish people – including all of us.

The United States will send 152 delegates to the congress, constituting about one third of the total participants. Israel and the rest of the Diaspora will select the remaining delegates. The election of delegates — which is conducted online, and is open to Jews 18 and older — begins Jan. 21, and is coordinated by the American Zionist Movement. A click on azm.org will show how voting is done, and how one may select from the 13 different slates that are vying for American representation in the congress — including candidates representing Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Sephardic, right-wing, progressive, young adult and Israelis who live in the United States.

We encourage our readers to participate in this election process, and to vote their conscience, with pride.

Democracy is a good thing, and the opportunity for every adult Jew to participate in this process is welcome. Unfortunately, there is a $7.50 fee to vote ($5 for those 25 and under). Although we would like to see those fees waived, administration of the voting does cost money, and the fee is a relatively small price to pay for the privilege of participating in this important Jewish national process. JN

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