Greetings from Denver, my pretties.  I’m writing you from the #JFNAGA, otherwise known as the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, otherwise known as the marquee Jew-schmooze event of the year, otherwise known as “you’d better empty your pockets because you’re about to fill them with enough business cards to feed a small army” (ech omrim “I think I just mixed metaphors”?)

As our friend CK so successfully explained, the GA brings together both leaders in the Jewish establishment and the “next generation”, college students, and young adults who either will be making their presence felt in years to come or have already begun to do so through organizations like the Federations or startup-type innovations.  If you’re into Jewish networking, there’s no better place to be.

As I wrote in my 2008 GA wrap-up,

….is there a more American, or American Jewish professional, activity than power shmoozing at one of these conferences? The Amazing Race should create a version where your goal is to exchange as many business cards as possible in a 24 hour period. “Ready? GO!” 

It really did feel like the best Matza Balls (or whatever the Christmas eve parties are called in your local community….Bagel Bash, whatever) I attended where there was an inverse relationship between the number of people you speak to and the number of seconds you’re capable of paying attention to them before you’re off to the next person you know.

In one hour, you might run into an ex-girlfriend, ex-camp counselor, ex-camper, ex-employer, ex-roommate, and yes, approximately 45 bajillion current Facebook friends (whether or not you’ve actually met them in real life).

And without a doubt, while there are plenty of great panels and sessions, the best reason to go is for the meetings that happen informally, like in the exhibit hall.

Just hours away from the official launch of this year’s conference in Denver, here are just a few thoughts as I peruse the official program schedule:

7:00 AM-8:00 PM Exhibit Hall Opens

Ok, even I’m not awake enough to schmooze at 7 AM but for some reason this kicks off bright and early.  My personal recommendation:  while there’s nothing wrong with stopping at the first table you see to say hello and make a connection, I like to walk through the entire hall at first, looking around and getting the lay of the land.  No way can you speak to everyone in one shot, which is why the hall is open for days.  Might as well see who’s there first to get an idea of which tables you can skip completely and who you’ll want to be sure to track down later.

Scrolling through schedule:  JFNA Israel and Overseas Institute…..FEREP Meeting….Partnership2Gether: Creating Unique Entry Points to Jewish Life Locally & Globally

Ok, this is a great reminder that a lot of the programs aren’t even open to everyone.  If you’re going to the GA and reading this, I recommend going through the schedule, circling your top 5 can’t-miss events, and then being spontaneous throughout the rest of the conference.  It’s all about the personal connections, remember?

5:00 PM-6:30 PM Opening Forum: Community Building in Jerusalem, A Conversation with Mayor Nir Barkat

This to me is a can’t miss.  As someone who lives in Jerusalem, I definitely want to hear Mayor Barkat.  If you’re not familiar with him, he’s a great speaker with an excellent command of English who knows how to tailor his message to his audience.

6:00 PM – 7:30 PM  Telling Israel’s Story: A Conversation with Aluf Benn New Editor of Haaretz; By invitation only

Well, poo.  I have 24 hours to get an invitation.  Nice to see another Israeli presenting, especially a media guy who should have interesting things to say, whether or not you agree with him.  By the way, add this to this list of names you don’t want to give your children if you ever plan to live in America.

“Hi, I’m Aluf.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself; just pay attention to your surroundings.”


At least his name isn’t Dudu.

Allright, let’s jump to the good stuff, aleph, because parties are more interesting, and, bet, because I don’t have wifi on my flight and I can’t see the rest of the schedule.

Sunday and Monday nights, local event planning company E-3 Events is putting together some great parties for GA attendees and the local Jewish community.  Sunday night, Matisyahu will be performing which should be good (if memory serves, along with Y-Love, a supertalented guy with an interesting life story who I’ve had the privilege of meeting a couple of times.)

Again, if you’re into schmoozing (and if you’re not, the GA may not be right for you), these parties are a great way to let off steam after long days of wearing your business attire.

Lastly, I’m most excited for the Monday night Rocky Mountain Schmooze, the unofficial “Next Gen” event, put together by Esther Kustanowitz, one of the Jewish community’s most visible online figures.  “Next Gen”…you know, when the (insert name of established Jewish organization) tries to appeal to the young crowd.  Fortunately the age limits of “next gen”/young professionals group always seem to just barely include me.  Thanks to JFNA and the ROI Community, the first drink is on the house.  This is a phenomenal opportunity to meet all kinds of great young people, especially ones who love social media and staying in touch via Facebook and Twitter.

I’m especially psyched to be one of four presenters giving an “Ignite” talk.  As I learned recently, an Ignite presentation is a format in which a speaker talks about the topic of his choice for five minutes to convey whatever point he or she wants to get across.  The catch?  The talk is accompanied by a slideshow which the speaker puts together.  Twenty slides, fifteen seconds each, moving all with the talk.  If that’s not making sense, just Google “Ignite presentation” or wait a few days until these ones are online.  The presenters are as follows:

“Conversion: It’s Not Just for Marriage Anymore,” presented by Chaviva Galatz (Denver)

“Going for the Gold: How Jews Came to Denver, and Why They Stayed,” presented by Talia H. Davis (Denver)

“The New Influentials: Going Gonzo with Community Relations,” presented by Jeremy Burton (Boston)

“Aliyah Survival Guide: What My Shaliach Didn’t Tell Me,” presented by Benji Lovitt (Jerusalem)

If you want to follow what’s happening at the GA as it happens, you can monitor the #JFNAGA hashtag on Twitter.  Some people will definitely  be live-Tweeting individual sessions.  Good times.

That’s all for now.  Time to go catch some Z’s on my flight into Denver.  It’s going to be a fun and intense few days of socializing.  If you’re planning on being there, be sure to introduce yourself!

About the author


Since making aliyah in 2006, Benji Lovitt has spent roughly every waking moment doing one of the following: trying to make people laugh, eating chumus, or writing about chumus to make people laugh. In addition to working with tons of Jewy organizations to promote Israel, Benji has performed stand-up comedy about Israel for groups including Hillels, Birthright Israel, Jewish Federations, and of course, at Jewlicious Festival. His perspectives on aliyah and life in Israel have been featured on Israeli television and radio and in publications such as the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and the Jewish Daily Forward. It is said that every time he calls CK "Mr. Jewlicious", a tree is planted in the Jewish National Fund forest. For a hilarious comedy show, contact him at [email protected].