JERUSALEM, Dec. 15 (JTA) — For months, thousands of people around the Jewish world have been taking part in a “Virtual Zionist Congress” over the Internet. Some of them will be here for the 33rd Zionist Congress, scheduled from Dec. 23-Dec. 26, where they will convert their discussions and resolutions from “virtual” to “real.” After the congress ends, they will be back at their computers, reliving their experiences and refining their positions on the various issues on the Jewish agenda in preparation for “Jewish Web Week.” Slated for Feb. 22-27, the Web Week hopes to attract some 600,000 online enthusiasts to visit the 613 participating Jewish sites. The Zionist establishment, Israel’s Education Ministry and top high-tech companies are involved in the Virtual Congress, which is the brainchild of Mordechai Friedman, a Jerusalem educator who heads the the pedagogic center of the Joint Authority for Jewish Zionist Education, an arm of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organization. The Virtual Congress, in a string of draft resolutions to be submitted at this month’s “real” Zionist Congress, calls for the massive development of Jewish “electronic citizenship,” enabling Jews around the world to be part of the debates that are at the core of Jewish communal life. In discussion groups led by experts in Israel and the Diaspora that were held over the Internet during the past few months, the strongest theme was that of the need — and the possibility — of greater grass- roots involvement through new technology. One resolution emerging from the online deliberations that is sure to arouse interest and controversy calls for Israeli and Diaspora Jewish leadership to create a Jewish electronic university. This would translate into the finest minds in the Jewish world lecturing and tutoring in a global classroom. A women’s issues discussion group is weighing in with a resolution urging that the Internet and electronic communications be harnessed to afford women a more intensive role in Jewish affairs. In another discussion group, young businessmen are looking forward to the next General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, scheduled for November 1998 in Jerusalem, as a venue where many of them will meet and crystallize ideas and ventures that they have brought into being in their electronic forum. At this month’s congress, participants can shuttle between real and virtual meetings, says Friedman, creating a “global shtetl” that will engender a sense of connection and community weakened by the modern world and urbanization. Most of the participants in the Virtual Zionist Congress have been youngsters, drawn into the activity through their schools or youth movements. The “webmasters” involved with the Virtual Congress are providing resource materials, reference archives and even games that address specific areas of Jewish and Zionist history, providing a rich learning experience in addition to the discussion groups. The congress’ Internet address: http//www.jajz-ed.org.il/
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