Changing the World Jewish Congress

8 May

This is a guest post by Gabriel Webber, Deputy for the Union of Jewish Students. Follow him on twitter @gabrielquotes

I’m glad I was able to laugh at the 14th Plenary Assembly of the World Jewish Congress… otherwise I’d have cried.

I spent three days listening to old men reciting a litany of woes, saying how terrible and dangerous and wearing and life-threatening it is to be Jewish in Europe these days.

Our opening dinner was entitled: ‘Celebrating Jewish Communal Life Around the World’, yet not one speaker – not one – did so. Not a single word was spoken about Jewish life flourishing, about new schools or shuls or community centres. Everybody was so busy wallowing in how awful it is to be Jewish that they forgot why we’re Jewish in the first place.

A lot of the delegates, it seems, are not active members of the community because they find our religion spiritually uplifting or culturally satisfying. No, sadly I get the impression that many of them remain Jews simply to spite imagined ‘enemies’ in the wider world.

The Congress is so far removed from actual, ordinary Jewish people. I have many criticisms of the Board of Deputies, but at least our Honorary Officers are always accessible and willing to listen.

The President of the WJC, on the other hand, is a multibillionaire who didn’t talk, sit or eat with any of us common delegates. At one point I accidentally walked within 3m of him in a corridor, and was physically pushed back by one of his bodyguards.

Most Jews have never heard of the WJC, and while it claims for itself the right to speak for global Jewry, it does nothing of the sort.

It provides some glitz and glamour for the media, five-star hotels and police motorcades, and it shows the world that the Jews are powerful and prepared to defend ourselves.

But is this really the image we want to project?

I hope not. Let’s work together over the next four years to ensure that in 2017, the average age of WJC delegates will be closer to 40 than 80. Let’s make sure that plural viewpoints are well-represented, on Israel, the settlements, Progressive Judaism – al the debates that characterise our community.

A smidgeon of proper democracy wouldn’t hurt either, but that’s not as important as doing a good job. So let’s have lots of voices crying out for positivity: schools, children, the future – anything but the endless, soul-destroying wallowing in self-pity that marked this year’s plenary.

The elderly Republican Party billionaires won’t be around forever. We have a chance to ensure that world Jewry’s representative body changes alongside world Jewry, not decades after as usual.


Please click here to see our note to editors.


Read more: More young people and more women as the revolution marches on


7 Responses to “Changing the World Jewish Congress”

  1. Jonathan May 11, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    “old men reciting a litany of woes”

    Why be ageist? Their age is irrelevant

    • Emily May 13, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

      Their age is not irrelevant if the conference is dominated by old men, as the BoD certainly was, although I believe change is slowly happening there.

  2. richardarmbach May 15, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    Church of England Bishop gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar….


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