Often times the General Assembly has been the focal point for dramatic systemic change, for rallying federation lay and professional leadership and for galvanizing the North American Jewish polity. That was then...this is now. Today, the GA has become so irrelevant that the Jewish media relegates it to a smaller story than the "death pangs of the Jewish deli." Perhaps, the President's and the Prime Minister's attendance, which one month ago could only be prayed for, will restore the General Assembly to its former prominence.
Some of you who have written me have reflected on the incredible experiences of times gone by -- a Yitz Greenberg-Label Fein debate followed by a rallying cry from Golda Meir; the "uprising" of the "Young Turks," the movement to create, in just three weeks, the Washington Rally for Soviet Jewry; the outpouring of emotion honoring the memory of Yitzchak Rabin, z'l, immediately after his assassination -- the list is a long one. What heady times those were. Today, not so much... not so very much. Perhaps, the President's and the Prime Minister's attendance, which one month ago could only be prayed for, will restore the General Assembly to its former prominence.
~ I honestly never believed that the day would come for our system where we would publicize the General Assembly by proudly announcing that an American Idol "contestant" (not even the winner) would headline our annual event or, with words like these, from a Leadership Briefing: "Cantor, who holds the second highest Republican leadership post in the House of Representatives will speak..." Yes, friends, the GOP Whip will be a featured GA speaker. Hip hip and all that. Would it not have been better to promote Eric Cantor as the sole remaining Jewish Republican Congressman...or, maybe, The Jewish Federations of North America could have sent a Briefing announcing "Obama Pay Czar Co-Chairs GA."
~ For all conspiracy buffs out there, the saga of the "Community Hero Award" continues. A correspondent who wished to remain anonymous (!) noted that the only "Judge" appointed by The Jewish Federations of North America with "federation leadership credentials" is a Large City Chair whose election in his community was hailed as something like "the first Chabad (or maybe it was Haredi) Large City Chair ever elected..." This thing is like Murphy's Law (only Murphy had no Haredi credentials).
~ Without notice to The Federations of North America GA staff or lay leadership, the "Jewish Community Hero Award" was inserted into the GA Program -- just one of a number of unilateral acts, the source(s) for which remain unknown. (The GA event at which the Award will be made has been called "the culminating event of this year's GA." OMG!!
~ Once again, a session dedicated to Israeli philanthropy fails to include leaders of JDC or the Jewish Agency even as those partners are the only organizations of "ours" doing the job; leveraging our dollars; partnering with Israeli philanthropists.
~ A sidebar -- Losing Track of Cost Savings. There was a day way back when when the national organization was focused on corporate sponsorships. From the late 90's forward through the Nashville GA, a single fundraising consultant, Sandra Divack Moss, drove us to achieve corporate sponsorships, soliciting many of those potential sponsors herself -- always in consultation with the host federation. When the GA was here in Chicago the corporate achievement reduced Registration fees as was the case going as far back as the $1 million in sponsorships for the Indianapolis GA. The results approximated a $250 per Registrant reduction in cost and GA's that were close to if not at break even. Without any evident rationale, Sandra's contract was canceled before last year's Israel GA. I am told today, that instead of Sandra's often grating prodding (as a past GA Chair, I knew it well), GA sponsorships became a staff responsibility -- ask someone how that's going.
~ A sidebar -- Continued. I have heard that at the upcoming D.C. GA, The Jewish Feds of NA (I can't seem to get this right) will distribute -- at your cost -- thousands of flash drives with the new name emblazoned on each one. Here's how I think that came about. One of our best organizations and partners developed a plan with The JFNA/UJC that would provide every Registrant with a flash drive that would contain the GA Program (with regular updates), etc. A terrific use of technology. The flash drive would be in each Registrant's "bag" upon Registration. A long negotiation to reach a written, signed contract took place to assure The Feds of NA (better?) that it would receive payment for the promotion and the sponsor organization's logo would appear on every flash drive.
Then, with no prior discussion, The Jewish Federations of North America (best?)determined -- somewhere -- "why promote a beneficiary organization, we'll put our new name on the flash drive...and that's it." Forget the negotiated signed contract; marketing now drives The Jewish Federations of yada yada yada. So, you will be paying about $20 for a flash drive to promote The Jewish Federations of North America's new name when those flash drives could have been free. Nice.
~ My cynicism aside, there are some excellent GA Forums/panels. Too few but a start. Yet, at a time that those who could inspire us should be on the Program, committed, there are yawning holes waiting to be filled -- the President's and the Prime Minister's attendance fills so many of those holes -- their attendance says, in shorthand, to The Federation of North America's leaders -- "we still matter." Build on it.
Friends, I still sense that the General Assembly has become an exercise in going through the motions. It should be the place -- this year of all years -- where we discuss how we reinvent ourselves as communities, as federations. At a time that we need true revolution; we can't even get evolution. More's the pity...