Tuesday, November 2, 2010


My federation has pled annually it seems with JFNA leaders to get a compelling GA Calendar on line as early in the year as possible. Doesn't seem possible. At least every other day I examine the GA Program in the hopes of finding some worthwhile programming that would draw 5,000 Registrants (a Co-chair's estimate made with great certainty [some months ago]) to New Orleans. So, here's what I have found:

~ In this "Jerry-era" someone from something called Big Duck is speaking on vu den? Brandraising Jewishly. Now, what might that be about? The wonders of #ish and Heroes or, maybe, changing logos and business cards? Should be just ducky.

~ Two old buds are going to observe upon "Disruptive Philanthropy" -- the insightful Jeffrey Solomon, a great thought leader, and Diana Aviv, the past Director of the CJF Washington Office. Jeffrey has written and spoken constantly about FRD in a 3.0 (or maybe it's a 2.0) world; Diana, to my knowledge, is brilliant in her role as CEO of Independent Sector (where Jeffrey may also be involved) but FRD as I know/knew it to be...not so much. This will be all about "crowd-sourcing innovations" and other such jargon (nothing yet, however, beats "bradraising").

~ There will be programs -- on the same day -- that evidence a certain confusion: Leading the Jewish Community Response to Poverty and the Recession one morning and, that very afternoon, The Post-Recessionary Federation. My suggestion: hold these sessions in the same room, at the exact same time.

~ On September 16, in one of its frequent hyperbolic announcements, JFNA broadcast that the redoubtable Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, will speak at the GA. And that's fine in and of itself, and now the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition will also be on hand. And, more.

~ There are some excellent programs, including those led by Jack Wertheimer, Chicago's Midge Perlman Shafton (on the response to Iran), large segments of time dedicated to the social justice agenda and greening our system, and the Vice-President is currently scheduled to join the GA. But, OMG, you have to search and search again to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. And, more often than not...you can't. The GA is an imperfect paradigm for JFNA itself -- all over the place, unfocused and without energy, passion or fun (though I hear there will be a comedian, most of the comedy will be on ready display). And the ILOJE will have Judy Gold. None of this is to suggest that there are not presentations and panels of importance even criticality to the federations and the federation movement. There are.

~ Then there is this classic. The JFNA Endowment Department is holding its annual Endowment Leadership Institute during the GA. This has been an important event from time-to-time. The cost is $75 per participant...plus, the payment of full GA Registration of, I guess, still $695 per person, plus air, plus housing. For most endowment departments, for most endowment professionals, the costs are outrageous. They want to attend, but they cannot afford it. True for most lay leaders as well.


What would I suggest for programming, were I given a chance? Perhaps that someone read to the JFNA leadership Dan Brown's brilliant piece in his eJewish Philanthropy Blog: Rebuilding Our Global Jewish Family. In this brief challenging paper (on August 30), Brown wrote of the need for "new vision," the fact of our Peoplehood and the compelling need to remain "one." He pointed to JAFI's Director General, Alan Hoffmann's challenge: the "..issue of the future of the Jewish People as a people is the biggest issue we are facing." But while Dan found "...a renewed sense of desire, and strength to rebuild our Global Jewish family," I read nothing on the GA Program that reflects this vision, these desires and strengths. There is no examination of "...the future of community" about which the insightful marketing and communications consultant, Gail Hyman, wrote recently in a column again in eJewish philanthropy. No, we will gather in New Orleans and talk on the margins.

I would love (a) to learn from Jack Wertheimer on The High Cost of Jewish Living (instead of the amorphous "Vision" thing); (b) to listen to a panel of Jewish college students (from, e.g., Berkeley, Brooklyn College) moderated by Jehuda Reinharz on "defending Israel on Campus;" (c) partners from a number of American law firms on their learning experience in Israel advocacy sponsored last month by the Israeli Foreign Ministry; (d) from Ambassador Oren on "defending Israel in difficult times;" (e) a Panel on "Jewish Community Centers and the Federations: Changing the Paradigm Before It's Too Late;" (f) a reception honoring Ambassador Gabi Shalev on her service as Israel's UN Ambassador; (g) Doniel Hartman, as scholar-in-residence for the three days of the GA reminding and charging us with our responsibilities; (h) sessions on the federations' moral responsibility to fund needs in Israel and overseas during times of shortage, on the crisis in Jewish day schools and innovative funding of Jewish pre-schools; (i) awards to the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation for their brilliant grant-making in Jewish education, new leadership and the PJ Library, respectively; (j) Bret Stephens on the growing attempts to deligitimize Israel; and (k) maybe, a panel discussion among North American and Israeli thought leaders (e.g., Irwin Cotler, Stephen Cohen, Danny Gordis) on "North American Jewry Speaking out on the flotilla and 'Who is a Jew' -- shanda or moral obligation?" Surely, you have even more thoughts after looking over the desultory Pre-Assembly Program on http://www.jewishfederations.org/

Friends, I remember the excitement of General Assemblies past. The Chicago contingent would meet before the GA to assure that we spread out to cover as many Panels and Break-Outs as possible because the GA was so content-rich. Today, we do have a golf outing and a mitzvah day, that's true.

I remember the incredible excitement of the 1987 GA where much of the entire program was discarded to channel the excitement of the federation system around the March on Washington that was organized there to become the great Rally on the Mall that brought 750,000 of us there...so many of you. I remember when "young Turks," including many young leaders from Chicago, used the General Assembly to demand their seat at the table, I remember the inspiration of Yitz Greenberg and Arnie Eisen, the appearances of Vice-Presidents George H. W. Bush in Chicago and later Al Gore, in Chicago. I remember the Boston GA Memorial Service in memory of Yitzchak Rabin, z'l, assassinated only weeks before, and, of course, I remember the Los Angeles GA, just a few years ago, where the federations had to coopt the agenda from JFNA to refocus it on federation issues and our system's relationship to Israel.

And, in a few days...you will get to see some old friends, make some new ones and, in general, wonder why you spent all of this money and time.

It's all so sad.


No comments: