The Yom HaZikaron ceremony at the Kfar Etzion cemetery, during Mizrachi’s Israel70 mission in 2018. (Photo: David Stein)
The World Orthodox Israel Congress: Behind the Scenes
n April 2023, Jews all over the world will celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary. In honor of this milestone and Mizrachi’s 120th anniversary year, World Mizrachi will host two exciting events in Yerushalayim, including a massive celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut and the inaugural World Orthodox Israel Congress for Jewish professional and lay leaders representing communities from across the world.
We sat down with Rabbi Doron Perez, Executive Chairman of World Mizrachi, and Rabbi Reuven Taragin, World Mizrachi’s Educational Director, to hear more about the plans.
Can you tell us more about the purpose of this celebration and Congress?
Rabbi Doron Perez: One hundred and twenty years ago, the Mizrachi movement was founded to play a proactive part in the revival of the Jewish people and the building of a Jewish state – and to demonstrate that there is no contradiction between Zionism and authentic Torah values. On the contrary, they are indeed complementary!
One hundred and twenty years on, the Mizrachi movement remains deeply dedicated to the vision of our founders – but with an updated mission. Such a significant milestone provides a wonderful opportunity to appreciate being part of such a historic organization, the oldest still-existing movement in the World Zionist Organization. Even more importantly, we will reflect on our illustrious past in order to plan for a reinvigorated future as a relevant and revitalized Religious Zionist global movement.
At our Jubilee Yom Yerushalayim celebrations in Jerusalem in 2017, Naftali Bennett, then Minister of Education, shared a powerful statement: “The State of Israel used to be the project of Jewish people; now, the Jewish people must be the project of the State of Israel.” This transformation crystallizes our reinvigorated Mizrachi mission, in which Israel, as the center and heart of the Jewish world, must play a proactive role in the future of Jewish destiny all over the world. Times are changing, and an increasing number of Diaspora communities are turning to Israel for assistance. We must answer the call, and so Mizrachi is investing heavily in serving the needs of Diaspora communities. This is why we will be hosting the World Orthodox Israel Congress.
Mizrachi is uniquely positioned to play a role on the global stage. With branches and affiliates in over 40 countries, World Mizrachi aims to galvanize a global community where the whole is much greater than the sum total of the individual parts. Mizrachi leaders and affiliates play crucial roles in thousands of communities, schools, college forums and youth movements around the world. We aim to connect and galvanize these communities and join these institutions together to create a powerful, networked and interconnected global community. We will bring institutional leaders – rabbinic, educational and lay leaders alike – from Israel and the Diaspora to work together to address the greatest challenges of our generation and create effective mechanisms to continue this work over time.
Why is the Congress being convened in Israel and at this time?
RDP: The historic milestone of the 75th anniversary of our miraculous State of Israel provides an ideal opportunity. Now more than ever, Diaspora Jewry is defined by its relationship with the State of Israel, and so it is critical that we all deepen our appreciation of the enormous spiritual and religious significance of Israel today. To this end, we are planning mega events to commemorate Yom HaZikaron and celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut. These will include a “Mothers of the Nation” event at Binyanei Ha’uma for Yom HaZikaron and a Yom HaAtzmaut concert featuring Ishay Ribo, along with other exciting events.
The Congress is timed so that the many community leaders coming to Israel for these special events can conveniently stay on to participate in the Congress which will take place right after Yom HaAtzmaut. Those community leaders who need to be in their communities for Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut can join immediately thereafter to participate in our Congress.
This will be the first worldwide Mizrachi gathering since the pandemic. How will the experiences from the last two years impact the meaning and significance of the Congress?
Rabbi Reuven Taragin: During the COVID pandemic, World Mizrachi quickly moved many of its activities online, enabling us to continue reaching global audiences at a time when our regular programs of scholars-in-residence and missions were not possible. Now that the pandemic has largely receded, we are delighted – and deeply appreciative – to have returned to in-person education, which is certainly the ideal.
At the same time, the global pandemic ironically enabled us to significantly expand our reach to even more countries around the globe, effectively shrinking the distance between Mizrachi branches and communities. It also brought many of our branches closer to one another; when everyone was stuck at home on Zoom, it didn’t matter if you were speaking with your neighbor or someone living thousands of miles away. The pandemic effectively shrunk the distance between Mizrachi branches and communities.
What excites you most about the Congress?
RRT: Perhaps not since our exile began nearly 2,000 years ago has there been such a gathering! Bringing institutional representatives of the Orthodox community in an official capacity in a centralized way is truly unique.
Before the telecommunication revolution, such representation was harder and less necessary. Modern technology has created a global village, bringing the world much closer together. Our global Orthodox village presents us with global challenges, which require coordinated global responses.
The Congress will have representatives of Orthodox schools, shuls and institutions from over 40 countries across the world, a truly unprecedented gathering. This will allow us to develop international support networks for Orthodox professional and lay leaders, essentially creating a global community that can continue long after the Congress is finished.
You mentioned communities working together. How do you envision this when the needs and priorities of our global communities are so diverse?
RRT: Each community, city, and country has its unique issues and needs, and local and national organizations to address them. That being said, many of the issues we face are common to all (or many) of our communities around the world. Working on these issues together will benefit all of us. Creating an effective network will help each community benefit from each other’s wisdom, experience, and resources.
The Congress will bring the Orthodox world together and create a representative body that can serve as a voice and address for world Orthodoxy and a forum in which our communities can work together to face common challenges.
Who is invited to the Congress?
RRT: We are inviting the professional and lay leaders of each community organization to join us. In order to properly represent the Orthodox community, the Congress will include all types of Orthodox organizations, including shuls, schools, youth groups, and all constituencies, including men, women and youth. There will be forums for shul rabbis, shul lay leaders, school principals, school lay leaders, a special women’s leadership forum, and youth and young professionals forums.
In addition, we are also arranging forums for Orthodox professionals in fields that pose unique challenges to Orthodox Jews, such as psychology, and are important to our community’s voice and influence, such as media.
Each of these forums will address the issues faced by their organizations and also interact with one another in a meaningful way.
Why does the Orthodox community need its own Congress? Aren’t we part of the broader Jewish community?
RRT: We are certainly part of the broader Jewish community and we will continue to do our best to strengthen our kesher with all Jews in the context of the World Zionist Organization and other broad organizations. Ultimately, we are all Hashem’s children.
That being said, the Orthodox community faces unique challenges and needs a voice that can address these issues from an Orthodox perspective and represent our communities to government agencies and ministries.
How can HaMizrachi readers get involved?
RDP and RRT: We are inviting the leaders of all Orthodox community organizations to join us in Jerusalem. Please speak to the leadership of your shuls, schools and other organizations to ensure they will be represented.
It is important for each organization to be represented by both professional and lay leaders, and to include both men and women in their delegation.
For more details or to register on behalf of your organization, visit mizrachi.org/israel75.