Noam Kornsgold, 24, is one of several young members of New Jersey’s Jewish community vying to be a delegate to the 38th World Zionist Congress (WZC), which will take place Oct. 20-22 in Jerusalem.
Priorities for Kornsgold, who is a candidate for MERCAZ-The Voice of the Conservative/Masorti Movement, include promoting pluralism in Israel and funding for United Synagogue Youth (USY), the youth movement affiliated with the Conservative movement.
“One of our key goals is to assure anyone can practice their religion in a pluralistic society in Israel the way they want to, without the Chief Rabbinate of Israel imposing any system,” said Kornsgold, who grew up in East Windsor and is the son of Leslie and Rabbi Jay Kornsgold. “We feel that way for Jews and anyone else.”
Kornsgold is in his fourth year at The Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary; his father is rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor. Both of them are board members of MERCAZ USA.
For Jay Kornsgold, the young people are vital to the future of the Jewish community. “We need to get them involved in as many things as we can and build another strong generation,” he said.
The WZC is the policy-making organization of the Zionist movement and is responsible for the allocation of around $1 billion in support of Israel and global Jewish communities. Kornsgold and the two other students interviewed by NJJN are hoping to fill one of 152 seats allocated to U.S. Jews in the upcoming Congress, which meets every five years. The Congress has a total of 500 seats and allocates 29 percent of the delegates to U.S. Jewry, 38 percent to Israel, and 33 percent to the remainder of diaspora Jews. One of several requirements for the slates is that 25 percent of their delegates be between the ages of 18 and 35.
The two other candidates interviewed by NJJN are both students at Rutgers University. Freshman Sam Lurie is also a member of MERCAZ USA and senior Yoni Shargian is a part of HATIKVAH, a progressive Israel slate.
Lurie, 19, a Livingston native and graduate of Golda Och Academy in West Orange, became aware of MERCAZ USA’s slate through his rabbi, Alan Silverstein of Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell. Silverstein is president of MERCAZ Olami, the World Council of Conservative/Masorti synagogues.
“Rabbi Silverstein impressed to me that it’s really important we assure funding for USY and other important Conservative Masorti programming, and make sure the next generation has this,” he said. Lurie is the son of Debbie and David Lurie.
“I’m using all the networks I have, from Golda Och Academy, Camp Ramah, and other spots to get young people I know involved,” Lurie added. “It’s important because in the United States we don’t realize … how good we have it,” regarding Conservative youth programming.
The format for the elections is as follows: U.S. voters choose one out of 15 slates that reflect a diversity of Jewish political opinions, religious affiliations, and ethnic identities. Percentages of the U.S. vote determine the number of delegates per slate that attend the WZC in Jerusalem, and each qualifying slate chooses which delegates will attend.
For example, in the 2015 elections ARZA-Representing Reform Judaism won 21,766 out of 56,737 votes, earning 56 delegates to the Congress, followed by MERCAZ USA with 9,980 votes and 25 delegates, and in third place, Vote Torah: Religious Zionists with 9,594 votes and 24 delegates.
Shargian, 22, was born in Kfar Saba, Israel, and moved to Tenafly when he was 3.
“I believe we know what we can do to help Israeli society grow and become more inclusive,” he said about his secular slate, HATIKVAH, which promotes a two-state solution, LGBTQ equality, pluralism, and dignity for refugees, asylum seekers, and foreign workers, and more.
“What I really like about the slate is, for the first time, organizations such as Partners for Progressive Israel, Ameinu, Habonim Dror, and Hashomer Hatzair will be joined in the HATIKVAH slate by J Street, T’ruah, and others,” said Shargian, the son of Yoel and Odelia Shargian. “Our message is strong.”
Shargian’s views were shaped by participation in the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, an organization with socialist and Zionist roots. He attended and worked at its camps and training farms in Tenafly and East Brunswick. He also spent his gap year at a secular yeshiva run by BINA, which promotes social action and pluralism.
Eligible voters in the WZC elections must be Jewish, at least 18, and a citizen or permanent resident of the United States. Anyone who participates in Knesset elections are ineligible.
Voting, which can be accessed at azm.org/election or at any of the slate’s sites (an option for paper ballots is also available), began Jan. 21 and concludes March 11. The fee for voting is $7.50, and $5 for those 25 and under. At press time, 55,000 votes, or 1 percent of the estimated American-Jewish population of 5.7 million, have been recorded.