Tomorrow begins the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities–basically a nationwide gathering of Jews representing federations and Jewish organizations ranging from YU to PresenTense Magazine 🙂 and beyond. I’ve never been, but working in the Jewish organizational world as long as I have, one can’t help but being a little bit nervous and excited.

I’ve been to Jewish conferences before, for sure. Hadassah alone took me to four cities for conventions, and I did attend a young leadership conference that was sponsored by UJC a few years back in Washington DC (got four great singles articles–and met a new friend–out of it). But this has a wider scope, and my function here is multi-layered, as often is the role of a freelancer. I’ll be representing PresenTense, for sure; myself, as Jewishly capable writing and editorial entity; and working on at least one article for the Jewish Week, if not more for other publications. While there, I’ll also network with other Jewish journalists and reunite with visiting members of the ROI 120 who are in for the event. And I’ll try to integrate a little bit of personal into the professional schedule; I’ll also try to see my L.A. peeps, apologize to those who I don’t manage to see and hope they’ll still want to see me when I’m back in March for the JTB3 conference.

However, at its core, this is a network of the affiliated. And as such, the focus is likely to be similar to that facing the Jewish community at large–how to attract younger donors, how to engage younger minds, how to ensure a future of philanthropy and support for the community and for Israel in a generation with less disposable income and greater alienation from traditional Jewish communal structures.

Over the next few days, I’m hoping to find some of the answers. But I suspect that at the end of it all, I’ll discover that it was YoYenta who phrased it best, talking not at all about the GA, but about Jewish identity in general in the 21st century:

I know compared to anyone remotely observant, I’m at best an ignoramous; at worst, and infidel. I can list a hundred more instances of how I am a subpar Jew — lighting candles on Friday night and driving the soccer team for pepperoni pizza on Saturday, choosing sleep over Hebrew school on Sunday mornings even though my children do not know any other Jewish kids — yet each paradox could not exist if not for the defining fact of our Jewishness. […] Honestly, I’ve learned more about Judaism researching this blog for the past two and half years that I ever learned from any rabbi or Jewish institution. God bless the Internet for giving free access to information no synagogue ever made available to me without dues I couldn’t afford.

God bless the Internet, indeed. But where does that leave the Federations and the other Jewish communal institutions jockeying for position within the contemporary scene of Judaism? I guess we’ll either find out, or we won’t. Stay tuned.

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Esther Kustanowitz

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  • Thanks be to Al Gore too! Yes, the Net is a powerful & useful tool, and yet it needs more recognition everywhere. UJA’s & JCC’s everywhere need to be more supportive of such enterprises, in their own communities & nationwide too. The reach could be revolutionary if they really were on the ball too. Cheers & Good Luck & say hey to all the peps, ‘VJ’

  • Thanks for the props, Miz E…although I was being more defensive than definitive in figuring out this thing called Judaism that feels so ambiguous but any rabbi or observant person would argue is not. It’s all spelled out in the Torah, right? But somehow even the most ignorant Jew is still a Jew (thinking of the uber-assimilated of 1930’s Austria and Germany.)

    On some level I want to be keep perfectly kosher, be shomer shabbos, be better at following the ancient directions, but my life has always gotten in the way. I grew up knowing only the bare bones of Reform life; I am doing my best to provide my children with more (except for skipping Sunday school this year, a decision made in the name of having one uninterrupted morning of family time. I believe God prefers marathon snuggles to yet another rushed breakfast and hours in the car.)

    Though we are affiliated Jews who give tzedakeh to Jewish charities, I, too, wonder if organizational Judaism will survive in its multi-commitee form through this generation. There just seem to be so many groups to join, donations to give and not so much relevance. I’m looking forward to benefitting from your all-access pass at the GA.

  • I read somewhere the theme of the GA will be Israel and not American Jewish life. Is this true? Ithink it’s important to get the machers to pay some attention to Generation Y and other counter- culture religious and cultural groups. These apparatchiks have to be brought into this century.