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Momentum participates in first-ever Women’s Zionist Congress

The event, which took place in Jerusalem, was held 127 years after the original Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland.

Jewish women leaders take part in Momentum's breakout session at the first Zionist Congress. Credit: Momentum.
Jewish women leaders take part in Momentum's breakout session at the first Zionist Congress. Credit: Momentum.

Momentum, an organization dedicated to helping Jewish mothers all over the world feel more connected to Israel in order to identify with the country, adopt Jewish values and become agents of change in the spirit of tikkun olam, was one of six women-led, Jewish organizations to host the very first Women’s Zionist Congress earlier this month.

The event, which took place in Jerusalem’s Shalva National Center, was also hosted by the Jerusalem municipality and the World Zionist Organization.

A diverse group of 120 women leaders participated in the Congress, with prominent figures in attendance including former Knesset Member Shuli Mualem-Rafaeli; former Knesset member and Momentum Israel Public Council member Aliza Lavie; and former Tel Aviv deputy mayor and Momentum Israel Public Council member Mehereta Baruch-Ron. In addition to Momentum, the organizations that took part included Na’amat Jerusalem; WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) Jerusalem; Emunah Jerusalem; the Foundation for Zionist Leadership; and Sisters.

The event was planned prior to Oct. 7 as organizers wanted to calm tensions stemming from the controversy surrounding the proposed judicial reform laws in Israel. Together, they shared the understanding that women can bring about meaningful change in society. The demand for unifying leadership—the central theme of the Congress—became ever more apparent in the aftermath of the horrors of Oct. 7, which reinforced the need to address the role of women during times of routine and emergencies, while considering the heavy price women pay daily and their lack of involvement in the decision-making processes.

The Congress highlighted women’s heroism, valor and leadership to promote discourse that will lead to the empowerment and advancement of women leadership in Israeli society.

The women also heard personal stories of grief and hope from Danielle Aloni, who, along with her young daughter, was held hostage in Gaza, and Sarit Zussman, the mother of the late Maj. Gen. Ben Zussman, an Israel Defense Forces soldier who died while fighting in the Swords of Iron War.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion opened the event saying, “This unique Congress places a singular issue at the forefront: the empowerment of a woman’s voice. When we talk about a woman’s voice and the need to make it heard on every platform, we must, above all, remember the voices that have not been heard for over five months: the voices of the 19 kidnapped women held by Hamas. Nineteen women, who experience hell on earth. Even from this honorable platform, it is important for me to say on behalf of all present that all our hostages must be returned home now.”

As for Momentum, which works in partnership with the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism, they led the breakout session on the topic of mutual responsibility between Israel and Diaspora Jewry that was moderated by Racheli Chefetz, vice president of the board and chairwoman of the Israel Committee at Momentum, and Pnina Agenyahu, director of the Global Partnership Network at the Jewish Agency for Israel.

After a lively and thoughtful discussion where the women shared their hopes and fears for the future of Israeli-Diaspora relations, they concluded with a call to action that read: “Inspired by our differences, we will create more opportunities for joint engagement through shared experiences between Israel and the Diaspora, each as an individual in our own organization and together as a collective.”

Momentum’s founding director Lori Palatnik said, “When women come together, even with our differences, there’s nothing that we can’t achieve. Momentum recognizes that half of the Jewish women in the world live in Israel. We are sisters, we’re part of the same family, yet, we don’t have to share the same values. But when our family is in crisis, it’s time to come together.”

Chafetz added, “This was an eye-opening exercise. Herzl said, ‘If you will it, it is no dream.’ We’re sitting here in 2024, five months after Oct. 7, and our reality is no dream. When it comes to Zionist women, we’ve shown that when we want something, we do it smarter and with vision. It doesn’t matter where we’re from. It doesn’t matter where we come from whether it be Boston, Toronto, or South Africa—we’re all here for the same reason. Oct. 7th was a painful wakeup call for us all, we don’t have the privilege of not answering it.”

Gusti Yehoshua Braverman, a member of the board of the World Zionist Organization, said, “This is an opportunity to create a new discourse for connection. Our research indicates a growing need among Diaspora Jewry in general and Israelis in particular to foster a sense of belonging. This is the opportunity to open the gates and search for the unique voices that women have to offer to a world full of hatred and war. This is our time.”

Other calls to action from the first Women’s Zionist Congress included:

• Establishing a national center for recognizing gender-based violence and creating a program for the treatment and prevention of this violence.

• Working to create an equal representation of women at all levels in decision-making bodies.

• Working to create programs and tools to encourage women to break through and reach leadership positions.

• Reformulating the term ‘heroism’ so that it also recognizes elements of female heroism.

• Creating opportunities for joint experience and action between Israel and the Diaspora that build understanding and unity without uniformity, as a woman, as a leader, as an organization and as a people.

Founded in 2009, Momentum’s four central goals are connecting to Jewish values, engaging with Israel, taking action and fostering unity without uniformity. Momentum has built a movement based on Jewish values and taking action. The movement represents an army of women, men, partner organizations, Jewish leaders, influencers and change-makers.

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Momentum is a global movement focused on the greatest influencer – the Jewish mother. Through transformational journeys to Israel, leadership fellowships, a robust multimedia platform, and expansive resources for Jewish learning, Momentum inspires Jewish mothers to live their most meaningful lives and transform themselves, their families, and their communities. Since Momentum’s founding in 2008, more than 23,000 individuals from 35 countries have experienced Momentum’s flagship program, the Momentum Yearlong Journey. In 2023, Momentum was awarded the Jerusalem Unity Prize for its dedication to promoting unity without uniformity in Israel and across the Jewish world. Momentum is where Jewish comes to life.

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