But, if you don't attend, as most of us will not, it should be understood how the literal collapse of the GA mirrors the collapse of JFNA in almost every way. JFNA itself expressed it best in its October 11 Leadership Briefing -- General Assembly Program News.
"Among the headliners...are David Gergen, senior political analyst for CNN; Rabbi Dick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism...;Michael Oren, ambassador of Israel...; Shelly Yacimovich, leader of Israel's Labor Party; Rabbi Heather Borshof, chaplain with the U.S. Army; and Edon, the 14-year-old 'America's Got Talent' semi-finalist."*Yes. from the headliners of Past GA's -- Prime Ministers, Vice-Presidents, critical thought leaders, newsmakers -- now we offer... (and, I am betting that the sitting Board Chair will offer a duet with Edon as part of her long-awaited [ahem] "swan song.") All of us remember when an exciting GA Program was matched with exciting debate and discussion...we do have our memories and they are vivid and great of, e.g., the "revolt of the 'Young Turks'" demanding a place at the table, or a little more than a quarter-century ago, the total flip of the GA Program to create the momentum for the Rally for Soviet Jewry that would turn the tide for the Exodus; the refocus of the LA GA six years ago on our relationship with Israel. And, today...Edon, et al.
Sure, the GA remains a vital place to renew old acquaintances, to walk the bazaar of many competing fund raising organizations (I always love the corridor entourage -- organizational CEOs walking the halls with their hangers-on, eyes always searching out someone better to talk to), the networking. But...as in all things JFNA: "where's the beef?" There was reason to expect better these past years -- after all, the Board Chair had been a one-person (but, of course) GA Study Committee and all of us expected a "new GA" to emerge from the ashes of the old -- uh, no. After dumping Houston and Orlando for so-called "more attractive venues" (New Orleans, Baltimore, Denver), registration is at an all-time low,and the AIPAC Policy Conference has become the place to be -- a place, by the way, where money is actually raised. In addition, it has become de rigeur to trot out the same old leadership as national GA Chairs going so far as to trot out the Silvermans two years running and to name the Gelmans, wonderful philanthropic models, as the Chairs of next year's Jerusalem GA -- a leadership role for them, among so many others they have had, that they had this role once before -- are there no other leaders, who might be fresh to the roles, who could not have been found? (Rhetorical question, of course: the names Arlene Kaufman and Sandy Baklor, Jane Sherman, Lynn and Skip Schrayer, pop into the mind.) Real leaders who had served before might have declined this repetitive service.
Yes, certainly JFNA can continue to call the GA ..."the premier North American gathering of the Jewish communal world," but, thanks to the current leadership, that has become like calling TribeFest "Birthright in the American desert." Making the GA once again that "premier gathering" that it should be will be another challenge for our new leaders.
* -- Even as JFNA chooses to call "Edon" by only his first name -- as if he were Cher or Bono -- he remains Edon Pinchot, the terrific son of a terrific Chicago family.