WZO-Logo

Community Leaders Urge Participation
in WZO Elections

Imagine a winning lottery ticket worth hundreds of millions of dollars is just inches outside of your grasp, and there is something blocking your way. You can see it, but no matter how far you stretch out your arm, you can’t quite touch it. The winning prize could significantly benefit your community and your family.

Agrand prize will be given to the winning party to the World Zionist Organization (WZO) online election being held through the end of April. And the winning ticket is well within reach.

This election is so critical, so influential, and so important that the community has been flooded with dozens of emails from the WZO and many of the individual parties, asking folks to register and vote. The reason for this frenzy is the hundreds of millions of dollars that are at stake. A winning vote could help alleviatethe cost of Jewish education that is straining the household budget of nearly every family in our community.

The only thing standing in the way between you and the ticket are your friends, relatives and neighbors who haven’t registered or voted in the WZO election. Each and every Jewish person in the Diaspora can register and vote.

“Sephardim have an opportunity to change the dynamics of Sephardic communities around the world,” said Rabbi Sam Kassin, Dean of Shehebar Sephardic Center. “The World Zionist Organization is allocating $150 million for Jewish education, renewal, outreach, continuity and identity in the Diaspora. Sephardic communities have never before received substantial funding, and we can change that with your vote.”

Background

The World Zionist Organization (WZO) was originally founded at the initiative of Theodore Herzl at the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. Its goal was creating a Jewish homeland in EretzYisrael,and ultimately ending anti-Semitism. The WZO is called the “Parliament of the Jewish people.” Institutions that came out of the WZO include the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemet L’Israel (Jewish National Fund) and Keren Hayesod (United Jewish Appeal), all three of which are actively funded by the Israeli government.

The elections set the course of Israel’s priorities, policy and allocation of funds. This year’s designated priorities are absorption of immigrants and expansion of Jewish education and identity in the Diaspora. Jewish education is of particularimportance, not just in our community, but worldwide, as many Jewish families around the globe struggle to pay for yeshiva tuition.

How Are the Delegates Chosen?

The Congress is attended by 500 representatives of World Jewry, with the number of delegates from each country determined based on the Jewish population of that country: 190 from Israel, 145 from the United States and 165 from the rest of the world. American delegates are elected by the American Zionist Movement.

The 37thCongress of the WorldZionist Organization (WZO) is scheduled to take place in October 2015 in Jerusalem, and the policies and financial decisions decided upon by the Congress will be felt for many years to come.

The World Sephardic Zionist Organization– OhaveiZion 

The World Sephardic Zionist Organization – Ohavei Zion is a member organization of WZO established four years ago by Hacham Ovadia Yosef, zt”l, and the Council of Torah Sages to help direct and influence the future of the Jewish people. The goal is to “give a voice back to the Sephardic religious community here in America and make it heard throughout The Land of Israel.”

Rabbi Elie Abadie and Rabbi David Bibi are Chairman and Vice Chairman, respectively, of the US Delegation of the World Sephardic Zionist Organization – Ohavei Zion, for the 2015 US Elections of the 37thWorld Zionist Congress.

Over 60 leaders from the Sephardic community are candidates for the Ohavei Zion party. A complete list of Ohavei Zion’s candidates is available at ohaveizion.com.

Changing the Balance of Power

Sam Sutton, noted community leader and one of Ohavei Zion’s candidates, explains that past Congresses have been heavily influenced by the Reform and Conservative movements due to their active participation in the election. He emphasizes that the elections have
far-reaching repercussions for American Jewry.

“This election is not only important because of the allocation of funds, it is also crucial in deciding how Israel shapes future policy in support of Diaspora Jews,” he said.

Just as American voters are concerned over the balance of power in the American Congress (Democrats versus Republicans), similarly, American Jews can influence the balance of power in the WZO.

“It’s a shame for Sephardic Jews and for the Orthodox, who have not participated in any significant way in the past, not to take a role in formulating  policy and to have a leadership role in the WZO,” he said. “Currently the Reform and Conservative movements are disproportionately represented. With this election, we can change the balance of power and influence in our favor.”

Benefitting Our Community 

According to Rabbi Elie Abadie, voting in the WZO election, and in particular for World Sephardic Zionist organization (Ohavei Zion), will give Sephardim ourown voice, opinion and vote on issues affecting Israel as a Jewish State.

“We will decide where the money is going to be distributed in Israel –
to the right causes that represent our interest of Torah and Zionism. We can partake of the $150,000,000 coming to the Diaspora and distribute to our schools, synagogues and youth groups, who teach Jewish education and identity,” he said.

Rabbi Sion Setton, another Ohavei Zion candidate, said, “We hope that our involvement in the WZO will help make Jewish education in the Sephardi communities a priority for them, possibly allowing us to take a few steps closer to resolving the tuition crisis facing our community,” said.

Sephardic Jews have never had a seat at the table in helping decide how monies are allocated – until now. By voting in the WZO elections, Sephardim can unite and make a difference in the future of our communities.

There are three main reasons that this election is important, according to Rabbi Abadie. The World Zionist Congress can influence policy in Israel and can convince the Israeli government to adopt certain policies. If the WZO Congress is controlled by groups that do not share our values, they can force their views on Israel.

The second reason concerns the flow of funds from the Diaspora to Israel. The WZO decides where the money coming from the Diaspora through the WZO is distributed in Israel. If the WZO is controlled by those who do not believe in Torah and our traditions, they will distribute the money to non-Jewish causes under the guise of Jewish Values. If the WZO is controlled by Sephardim and groups with shared values, then the funds will go to support Jewish education and institutions that will strengthen Jewish aspects of Israel.

Third, and most important, is the control of funds from Israel to the Diaspora. Rabbi Abadie says, “This Congress will decide how over $150,000,000 that Israel is giving to the Diaspora is distributed to Jewish education and identity. This money will be distributed according to the makeup of the Congress. If the Congress is controlled by certain groups then the money will be distributed by them to their own groups.”

He adds, “I believe that the Sephardic community has been silent for a long time about the future of Israel. We need to have a voice, an opinion, a say, and a ‘seat at the table’ of Jewish communal leadership. This is our opportunity to act.”

How Does Voting Work?

Whoever wins the most votes receives the most important positions and control of budgets. Israeli citizens are represented in the elections through political parties in Israel; world Jews are represented through international Zionist political parties to which they belong. Sephardim are represented by World Sephardic Zionist Organization – Ohavei Zion,which, as mentioned, was established by Hacham Ovadia Yosef, zt”l.

“Hacham Ovadia understood that we the Torah observant community must have a strong and paramount influence in the education of the Jewish people throughout the world; to provide rabbis and educators in the Diaspora, absorb and encourage Aliyah and ensure that these issues are not left to outside influences,” Rabbi Bibi wrote.

The entire process of registration and voting is done electronically. Those over the age of 18 can register online at wszo.org and vote. There is a small registration fee of $5 or $10 depending on date of birth.

Individuals must register and vote by April 30.

You Can Make a Difference

Every vote counts, and what is more important than the future of Israel?

“Each and every lover of Torah and mitzvotmust join in this endeavor,” Rabbi Bibi says. “And it takes so little to do so. There are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of us. We can really make a difference. We simply need to register and vote.”

Rabbi David Yosef, son of Hacham Ovadia Yosef,zt”l, wrote “All of those who assist in the success of Ohavei Zion in the upcoming elections will strengthen Jewish communities living their lives according to Torah and mitzvot based on Sephardic tradition.”

You can also contact Ohavei Zion to volunteer to go to synagogues, community centers and communal events where you can register voters. Contact info@ohaveizion.com to volunteer. Additional information can be found at ohaveizion.com.

The lottery ticket is in our hands. We simply need to register
and vote.