General Assembly 2009

General Assembly 2009

The General Assembly 2009 conference kicked off in Washington DC on Sunday with an estimated 3,000 conferees, mostly made up of representatives from 157 North American Jewish federations and 400 communities, or in basic terms, nearly every professional leader of UJA campaigns, JCC’s, Hillel’s and some major summer camping movements. The theme of this year’s assembly is “Remember When Anything Was Possible? It still is.”

One thing that is possible is to bring in a new CEO and to rebrand the group’s name and logo. The new CEO is Jerry Silverman, who since 2004, ran the group that support Jewish summer camps; and prior to that, he held management positions for Stride Rite, Levi Strauss, and Keds. (He wore shoes, not sneakers at the conference) Raised on Tulsa, Silverman moved to a lot of Jewish communities as a kid, following his cantor/rabbi father, and at Levi Strauss, he was moved over half a dozen times. So, he knows a lot about the workings and needs of small and large Jewish communities. And having sold Keds and Dockers, he probably knows about the GEN Y consumers to whom his federations need to appeal (yes, I know Dockers skew older than Gen Y)

Formerly known as the UJC, the group changed its name last month to “The Jewish Federations of North America” or the JNFA. This is a shocker. Is it a sign of changes to come to the organized Jewish community? I mean, on most other nights, most abbrevations are just three letters: UJA, UIA, JNF, ORT, JDC, AJC, HUC, JTS, CIA. Now on this night, it is four letters: JNFA. I already feel changes coming.

New logo, energized inspired mission

New logo, energized inspired mission

The opening plenary featured Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren; Congressman Eric Cantor, the lone Jewish Republican and the GOP’s party whip, who spoke of the current dangers facing Israel and wuoted from three Holocaust survivors (Wielsel, Lanzmann, Primo Levi); Steve Schwager, the head of the “Joint” JDC; and Kenneth Feinberg, the current Pay Tsar of the United States who oversees the compensation of 700 highly paid execs, and is the husband of this year’s GA2009 Co Chair, Dede Shaff Feinberg. She is an Execitive COmmittee Member of the JNFA. I wanted to ask Ken Feinberg if we would agree to higher compensation payments to Wall Street execs who promised to increase their pledges to Jewish federations, but decided it was better left unasked.

Rahm tells his boss he will fill in at the GA

Rahm tells his boss he will fill in at the GA

Among the conference speakers are Binyamin Netanyahu, the current PM of Israel; Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA); Natan Sharansky, the Jewish Agency Chair; and Ehud Barak. Another Barack, Barack Obama, has dropped out of the GA2009, unfortunately, due to a memorial that will be held at Fort Hood in Texas. His assistant, Rahm Emanuel, will fill in for him.

Sunday’s forums focused on a wide range of concerns. Okay, not too wide, but not too thin. There was a forum on the international campaign to delegitimize Israel; the idea of Peoplehood 2020 (what will the Jewish community look like in 2020 and must the federations do to nurture the Jewish collective potential); Does Israel Still Need Us? (hopefully the answer was yes, or else they do not need to raise funds for Israel; what is the role of American versus Israeli philanthropists in allocation goals); How Do You Manage a Federation in a Recession when funds are down and need are increased; and Renaissances in a time of rationing. I chose the latter, it featured the heads of the Jewish community’s three spears: JCC’s, Camps, and Hillels. The leaders each stressed the need to stop being silos and the need to collaborate more. Isn’t it logical that federations should share information on their leaders when leaders move to a new city? Or shouldn’t JCC’s inform Hillels of their high school grads, camps share counselor info with Hillels, and Hillels introduce their grads to the JCC’s of their students’ post graduation locations? Sounds like a start, but something told me that it is not about to happen.

In 2010, the GA will be held in Orlando, and in 2011, the Jews will converge on New Orleans. It is held in Israel every five years.

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