I’m a Korean American immigrant adult convert to Judaism who has never been to Israel. And, truth be told, I have never paid much attention to the World Zionist Congress elections. That is until now. That’s largely because of the Hatikvah slate, which is the first slate to declare that at least 50 percent of members are women. Hatikvah also is the first slate to have dedicated seats for Jews of Color. With those commitments front and center, I decided to pay attention.
For many years, I didn’t think I counted in the Jewish community. Born in Seoul, Korea, I immigrated to the US as a young child. I grew up in a traditional Midwestern household with no formal religion. I converted to Judaism through the Reform movement as an adult and subsequently married a non-Jew. I currently lead a national, faith-based nonprofit, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
(photo credit: JD Scott)
Since converting to Judaism in 2000 and even still to this day, there are segments of the Israeli government and the broader Jewish community who may never officially recognize me as Jewish. And some critics may say I have no business getting involved in what happens in Israel. Yet Israel is more than a physical location for me. Israel represents a people and a promise by those who have chosen to live a life bound by nearly 6,000 years of Torah and tradition.
That Torah and tradition that I chose to be a part of continue to shape and bind my values to my faith: Welcome the stranger. Repair the world. Deeds above creed.
These are the values of the Hatikvah slate. The Hatikvah platform is inspired by Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which proclaims the state “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace as taught by the Prophets; and will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed, or sex; and will guarantee full freedom of conscience worship, education and culture.” Pluralism is rooted in Jewish values. That’s something I can not only fully support but want to be a part of.
And the stakes are high. The World Zionist Congress elections decide who will be able to help set the priorities for several organizations that will spend a billion dollars per year in funding, for each of the next five years. Those funds come from American Jews, among others, and impact every aspect of Israeli society and global Jewish life, whether you are talking about settlements in the West Bank, religious pluralism, gender equity, LGBTQ equality, environmental sustainability, economic justice, or the rights of asylum seekers and foreign workers.
As an immigrant myself, who has led both a community-based social service agency for Korean and Latino immigrants and a statewide policy and advocacy reproductive justice organization, I have seen first-hand how policies are created and resources allocated. Entire communities often are traded away at the bargaining table. By centering those at the most distant edges of the mainstream margins, we can ensure that everyone is counted and that no voices are silenced.
Hatikvah means hope in Hebrew and also is Israel’s national anthem. I hope for a new song that emboldens our hearts, quiets our fears, and binds our souls. The Hatikvah slate will be working for this same song, and I hope you will register and vote to support our collective effort.