World Zionist Organization Meets in Jerusalem – What you did not see

The preparations for Israel to celebrate 75 years were well underway. Thousands of visitors arrived and came for the celebrations to be held for Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.

Jerusalem street signs were up celebrating independence on all the corners of the city, plus parks and museums, and theaters.

In a prelude to the day, the World Zionist Organization held its Extraordinary Zionist Congress in the Jerusalem International Conference Center from April 19-21, 2023.

Newly elected WZO President Tova Dorfman opened the first plenary.

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People came from all over the globe for these political meetings of the 39th World Jewish Congress.

The American Zionist Movement held a special lunch meeting on the first day with Avi Mayer, the new editor of the Jerusalem Post, speaking and answering questions.

Also the first day in the afternoon, the Herzl Forum met at the ICC for a gathering of social and business, tech, and innovation leaders.

The second day opened with a program highlighting 125 years of Zionism.

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Networking, meeting new people, and catching up with long-time friends after the pandemic closed down tourism to Jerusalem were highlights.

Thursday morning the WZC delegates were a wide offered a variety of tours. However, one group decided instead to march with Israeli flags to the Knesset to protest the government.

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As buses returned, a buffet lunch was served.

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The first WZC afternoon plenary began with an award to Avraham Duvdevani. Duvdev, as he is well known, was one of the soldiers who liberated Jerusalem in 1967.  As an Israeli politician and activist, he has served both as the chairman of the WZO and chairman of the Jewish National Fund. Yaakov Hagoel, WZO Chairman made the presentation.

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As Duvdev returned from the stage to his seat, people got up from their seats and crowded around to congratulate him.

And then…the balagan began as the plenary vote on resolutions opened.

The stenographer trying to record the discussions could not keep up with the commotion on stage as the presidium decided to leave for Rabin Hall.

The Rabin Hall was one of many meeting rooms in the Convention Center renamed for this conference.

Meanwhile, in the main auditorium, delegates shouted “busha’ as it got later and later and I and many others had to leave.

However, what you did not see or hear about was another group meeting.

At the same time the “adults’ were disrupting, and continued to do so into the next day to protest the presence of MK Simcha Rothman in the building,

a youth conference for informal education and young leadership was held in the Convention Center. The 1000 young Israelis had the opportunity to meet with young people from around the world.

The enthusiastic delegates aged 18-23 represented 14 global Zionist youth movements from an impressive variety of countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Russia, Ukraine, Netherlands, Mexico, Belgium, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Great Britain, South Africa, Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Italy, Spain, New Zealand, Venezuela, Sweden, Denmark, and Israel.

They met and talked and interacted in large groups with translation provided, and ate lunch together in smaller groups.

They had panel discussions in various languages, here in English

and also Spanish for example.

While the World Zionist Congress ended with shouts of busha being heard,

the Youth Congress ended with the singing of Am Yisrael Chai.

An Extraordinary World Congress to celebrate Israel at 75.

With hope for the future with those Zionist Youth Leaders who were in Jerusalem from around the world meeting in the same Jerusalem International Conference Center. Hope they enjoyed their time on the Jerusalem streets and come back soon and often.

See Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Martyrs’ and Remembrance Day in Jerusalem

As soon as Passover is over, the holiday preparations are well under way for celebrating the Yoms Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Haatzmaut in Jerusalem.

The Beit Hanasi, the Israeli President’s Residence, is the site of multiple activities for Remembrance and Independence Days each year.

To start off a week of memorial events, Sunday morning was at Beit Hanasi.

Entering through the front gate past security, the state symbol of a menorah surrounded by olive branches is ready for celebrations of Israel at 75.

Beit Hanasi has hosted a Zikaron Basalon gathering since the Rivlins first invited the neighbors to share the more intimate setting to hear the testimony of a survivor.

The social initiative has taken off over the years with tens of thousands participating in private homes and other small group venues.

This year arriving early, I got to watch Kobi Oz and Yonatan Raizel rehearse their song on the program, “Suddenly Breathing.”

The main room at Beit Hanasi was arranged with the President and Michal Herzog with the main speaker and his wife at the front.

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 Albert Chen (Hayon), a Holocaust survivor from Tunis, shared his personal story, accompanied by his wife Giselle.

The two famous Israeli musicians were a bonus not usually found at the Zikaron Basalon events.

Kobi Oz performed his song “We Didn’t Have Anything”, which he dedicated to his mother, as he began she motioned with her finger in the air in agreement.

It was a meaningful event, especially seeing the honor and respect Kobi Oz paid to his survivor mother. How to reach younger generations as survivors pass on is the question, and music is one answer being suggested and offered at this event.

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The memorial flames are again on some public buildings.

The Israeli flags at Har Herzl Cemetery were already at half-mast as I went to Yad Vashem for the official state ceremony to open Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. Which was observed on April 17 – 18, 2023, with thousands of events throughout Israel.

The theme this year was Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust, marking 80 years since the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Each year I try to arrive early to get through the layers of security to get to the Warsaw Ghetto Plaza where the televised program is held.

New this year there was the opportunity to light a memorial candle in the Hall of Remembrance before the start of the 8:00 pm program.

The room was surrounded by small flames from those candles as people slowly filed thru the large hall.

Chairs were set near the memorial flame to be used in the morning ceremony at Yad Vashem as the morning siren sounded.

A long list of dignitaries and Israeli government officials attend both ceremonies, as they do each year.

Special attention was given before the night program started to the arrival of Reza Pahlavi, the son of Iran’s former leader Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, here with MK Gila Gamliel.

Former President Reuven Rivlin greeted Pahlavi and commented on how much he looked like his father whom he met in 1978.

New IDF Chief of Staff Halevi also captured the photographers’ attention as he entered and proceeded to his seat.

Government ministers are seated in the front row, while the crowd goes back to the very rear of the plaza with guests, soldiers, and youth leaders.

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The Israeli President and Prime Minister spoke as they do each year. But there seemed to be more empty chairs in the first section, even though the weather was much warmer than usual.

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The honor guard stood at attention. Once a soldier fainted, fell, and was replaced during a televised video segment. Not this time.

A highlight of the evening is the lighting of the six memorial flames.

During the ceremony, Holocaust survivors are honored to light six torches. This year’s survivors were: first torch – Tova Gutstein; second torch – Ben-Zion Raisch; third torch – Judith Sohlberg;

fourth torch – Robert Bonfil; fifth torch – Efim Gimelshtein; sixth torch – Malka Rendel.

The stories of survival are always impressive. It is the only time that the entire audience of hundreds stops, listens,s and focuses on the screens. If you did not see them, I have attached the links above to Yad Vashem.

And at the end of the program, which ran smoothly this year, were the traditional prayers, ending the singing of HaTikvah.

El Maleh Rahamim was supposed to be by Efraim Mol, born in 1938, in a suburb of Brussels, Belgium. His long story of survival, from an orphanage to a French family, includes coming to Israel as a lone soldier. He worked in an Israeli defense industries factory and continued to serve in the IDF combat reserves, fighting in all of Israel’s wars until the First Lebanon War. After retiring, he became a sofer.

However, he was in the hospital, suffering a stroke after the rehearsal.

His son Yoel Mol and grandson were present and requested people that pray for him. However, Yad Vashem announced before Shabbat that Efraim Mol z”l had not recovered and passed away.

Yad Vashem was open during the day for free for visitors.

When Passover is over, every year, the Israeli flags go up

and out on the Jerusalem streets, as Jerusalem prepares for Yom HaZikaron followed by Yom Haatzmaut.

It’s that time of year, having to decide what to do first with so much happening on the Jerusalem streets.

Exciting to see so very many tourists here to help celebrate Israel at 75!

Passover in Jerusalem: what you did not see

Where to begin this week!?

The Jerusalem streets experienced holiday highs, as well as extreme lows, and I am not just referring to the weather that has gone from summer to winter and now back to summer.

I decided to share what was different and unexpected this year.

The first surprise is for those who followed the news prior to Sunday, when Passover, Easter, and Ramadan were all to be celebrated in the Old City.

With all the talk of threats and pending trouble in Jerusalem and the Old City, there was no closure of the Jerusalem street between Mamilla Mall and the David Citadel Hotel. Gone was the usual big ugly closure truck.

Also, on Sunday morning, heavier security was not apparent inside Jaffa Gate either. A sign pointed to the Kotel, Western Wall.

In the Rova, the Jewish Quarter, a large tent was set up by the Hurva Synagogue and provided a shaded place to sit, which was a good idea on the sunny day.

Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing was said twice on Sunday morning. I missed the first time by a few minutes, and many people left. Here you see that the plaza was not full.

But it’s hard to count how many attend, as people are also watching from rooftops and lookout points around the Jewish Quarter.

From the top of the Aish Building where I was standing, there is a good view of the Al Aqsa Mosque. After the previous riots there, the windows were finally fixed. However, I noticed at least one was broken again.

With a zoom lens, here is what the Temple Mount looked like in the morning during the Birkat Kohanim. Not exactly what my social media was sharing over and over about police and violence.

At the other end, over the Kotel, the Dome of the Rock was shining in the blazing sun with police nearby, though not needed that day.

The Kessim have the right idea, those umbrellas the Ethiopian religious leaders carry are smart protection on the sunny Passover day.

Closer to the Kotel, men were crowded in with the Kohanim in the front.

Security personnel watched, from all directions, but missing were the helicopters, drones, and security balloons seen in years past.

While I waited for the second Birkat Kohanim to be recited, I took time to notice the dome of the Sharei Tefilah Synagogue is slowly progressing.

The view toward the Dung Gate where buses usually enter was off-limits to vehicular traffic.

A sign marking the exit hung over the gate, but few people were leaving.

Birkat Kohanim, men covered their heads with white tallis during prayer.

While the dignitaries watch the crowd from above,

and others watch from afar.


I wonder how many thousands of selfies were taken that morning?

During the prayer, you can see the crowd was fuller. In past years, the whole area might have been full. But the tens of thousands who came all week even after the media warned of pending trouble was remarkable.

Near the entrance to the Kotel Plaza, you could see people arriving, getting drinking water, and in the little shed-like area the Jewish people waiting to go on the Temple Mount.

On Sunday small groups were allowed until 11:00 am. During the last 10 days of Ramadan, those trips are forbidden. Eid al Fitr, the celebration at the end of the Ramadan month of fasting is at the end of this week.

The exits were clearly marked.

Pedestrians walked away from the Kotel, thousands at a time.

The popcorn and cotton candy vendors were in positions again as was a parked ZAKA motorcycle. With tens of thousands of people, there were no reported serious problems in spite of the heat, making it a good day.

And people were still arriving, all day and all week. The tourists are back!

Having been in a crushing crowd once in the Old City on the way to Birkat Kohanim, I appreciate that there is better enforcement of pedestrian traffic flow. This woman was not happy to follow the plan, however, it is much safer.

As you see, when I was leaving, people were coming to go inside

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and outside Jaffa Gate, and the same during the rest of the week.

While Birkat Kohanim is an annual highlight, there were activities galore for families, as school was out and tourists were around all week.

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One event was a special children’s program at the Tower of David.

Mamilla Mall was busy and watched closely by security.

Amazing after the big holiday meals, there were still long lines waiting for food. Plus, there were lines for car rentals on Sunday.

I thought it amusing that this shop was open during the pandemic more than the others in Mamilla Mall, but for Passover, the window was covered.

There was a new way to patrol Mamilla Avenue.

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Jerusalem is colorful, but one new art exhibit was black and white.

People were in Gan Sacher, Sacher Park when the sun came out. On cold rainy days, I assume it was not so popular, but I did not go to check it out.

The Jerusalem Theater was warm and dry and the impressive quilts of the Israel Quilt Association lined the lobby walls again – more HERE

There you have a taste of the Holiday of Matzah in Jerusalem.

Now the weather hopefully will not have the extremes of hot and cold that we suffered last week. The annual ‘Yoms‘ with their highs and lows, begin with Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day Monday night, April 17, this year.

One of the first events for Yom HaShoah was the Zikaron BaSalon meeting hosted at Beit Hanasi, the Israeli President’s Official Residence.

The special musical numbers included Kobi Oz and Yonatan Raisel, but more on that for next time.

So much more is happening on the Jerusalem streets if you missed it –

see you Next Year in Jerusalem!