Learning to Count.
Yes, I scoffed at UJC's pre-GA published claim of 4,000 registrants in a Post in early October. After all, UJC staff had reported to its Executive Committee that a $500,000 GA deficit was anticipated. Then, I read in a pre-GA Jerusalem Post report that 2,500 registrants were expected and in an interview with Howard Rieger in the JTA that the number would be 3,000. So, I was convinced that UJC had absolutely no idea how many would be registered for the GA but its spokespersons couldn't remember what number they had made up for which interview. I hope it's 4,000; heck, I hope it's 3,000. We'll know soon enough.
I remember the days well when CJF ran this big show. I remember when there was a GA Planning Committee (back in the pre-Rieger/Kanfer era) made up of federation lay and professional leaders who actually understood what their constituents wanted of a GA.
I remember when the GA was a "can't miss" event. I remember when CJF CEO's ran the event but did not speak at it (that was true through the years that Steve Solender and Steve Hoffman helmed UJC as well) but the greatest of modern Jewish scholars did. I remember an era when American political leaders never failed to attend. Those were the days when the GA was effectively sold out -- SRO. We now call those the "bad old days" of "silos" and cultural differences and multiple organizations. (And I even remember that the horrible Philadelphia GA that I chaired had more substance to it relevant to the federation agenda than the one starting here today.)
Then I learned from friends that many Israelis who had planned to attend the GA were not coming this year because UJC in its wisdom was charging $300 per Israeli registrant and students in Israel weren't coming because their cost was $300 per student registrant. I knew a number of federations had cut back on staff going to the GA because of the cost. So, I assumed that the registrant numbers would be cut to include a small group of UJC officers, a bunch of federation CEO's and those of us from North America who had registered and prepaid our hotel and air before the economy collapsed. Maybe they'll paper the house with Howard's and Joe's relatives and friends of their families. So, maybe the deficit will be $1 million and the UJC CEO will send out a "bail us out ask" of the federations as an even higher priority than the Ethiopian National Project. (Don't get me started!)
Learning to Share.
My wife in her decades as a pre-school teacher and then a pre-school director always told me stories of teaching the children under her care to share, just as she taught our children. By the time the kids matriculated to kindergarten, they understood the value of sharing. In looking at the GA08 Program, I realized that some folks never learn. Here are the Plenaries and their Chairs:
~ A Vision of Israel's Future -- Kathy Manning
~ Faces of the IDF -- Michael Gelman
~ Stanley Fischer and Bibi Netanyhu -- Toni Young (in addition to her role Moderating two Panels/Breakouts)
~ Closing Plenary -- Joe Kanfer (and featuring, among others, an address from Howard Rieger
Come on, kids, share those goodies. In my federation experience, at UJA, on Missions, at GA's we passed out leadership roles to others recognizing that they were our future. Not these guys. Back to pre-school.
Learn to be Flexible.
Yes, GA08 is in our beloved Israel. And, apparently still a mystery of UJC, the world-wide economic crisis is impacting our donors and campaigns and communities and People beyond measure. When Israel was confronting the pain and loss of the Terrorists' War amd facing the Iranian Nuclear threat, though the GA was in Los Angeles, at the insistence of my federation and others, the entire program was reoriented to focus on Israel. This year, there is a program on Disturbing Economic Trends in the FSU and another The Impact of a Turbulent Economy on Israeli Society but, Israeli newspaper stories to the contrary notwithstanding, not one Plenary, not one Breakout on the impacts of the economic crisis on our communities, our beneficiaries, ourselves.
Why? Isn't the GA, wherever it is held, about federation, community, People? What could be more critical at this moment in our communities, our federations than how to remain vital in the face of the worst economic devastation since the Depression? To ignore this reality at the annual gathering of our system is incomprehensible.
Finally, A Suggestion.
Never list all of those employed at UJC in one place. (When you see the Program, you'll get my drift.
Have a fun and meaningful GA. I wouldn't miss it.