Counting on Shabbat Shekalim

By Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin

As we approach Shabbat Parshat Shekalim, we recall the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt on their journey to the land of Israel. We remember on this special Shabbat that they paused to take a census. Each person counted was required to donate a half-shekel, the coinage at the time, to be used in the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. 

Every person needed to participate in this vital project of the Jewish people. 

Now we have the opportunity to have our voices counted in Israel, to participate in a modern version of that national project.

Every five years, American Jews have the chance to voice their opinions on the future of Israel by voting in the World Zionist Congress. This election is the only political arena in which Diaspora Jews get a seat at the table in Israel – the only time that the Israeli government hears from world Jewry.  

This election is our chance as American Jews to have a democratic say in what happens in Israel. At stake are such vital issues as religious pluralism, equality, and inclusion for all Jews; equal access to the Kotel; the peace process with the Palestinians; the status of our rabbis; the continued growth of our Kehillot, our synagogues and minyanim; and the Conservative/Masorti movement in Israel – which now includes hundreds of thousands of Jews.

Founded by Theodor Herzl in 1897, in Switzerland, the World Zionist Congress created the concept of a Jewish state, which is now modern Israel.

Today the Congress makes major policy decisions concerning the future of Israel, including Zionism; Aliyah and absorption; Israeli advocacy worldwide; Jewish education; and other vital issues for Israel and the Jewish people’s future. It also controls significant funds – up to $1 billion annually – that get spent on programs and policies.  

MERCAZ is the Zionist organization of the Conservative/Masorti movement and represents its interests in the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel and Keren Kayemeth, or Jewish National Fund. MERCAZ is the force that guarantees funding for our religious stream that is so crucial to all organizations with our movement.

Although other slates share some of our values, only a vote for MERCAZ, Slate 6, will help us gain the power and influence we need to move our movement forward.

I am proud to be the first female rabbi to head our slate. It represents our movement’s diversity and our commitment to working for a more open Israeli society, one that grants equal inclusion for all, with no restrictions because of gender, age, race, or sexual preference.

We know there is more than one way to be Jewish. Our traditions have kept us together for thousands of years, and yet it is clear that the ways we observe them have changed, influenced by our surroundings throughout our dispersion. This respect for our tradition is our strength, infused as it is with the energy and enthusiasm our history and experiences bring. It deserves full recognition.

But ultimately the choice is yours. In this critical election, we hope you will decide to be counted with MERCAZ as a Conservative/Masorti Jew. A vote for MERCAZ will help ensure that our right to practice Judaism as we choose is recognized and funded by the people and government of Israel. Vote MERCAZ Slate 6. The election is open through March 11. You can Vote MERCAZ by going to