Monday, July 8, 2013


The GA is in trouble, pure and simple. 

Let's face it -- for the last five years, notwithstanding the phony numbers annually thrown out by the national organization, full paid registration has dwindled to around 1,000. GA chairs have served two and even three times even as others who have never served as Chairs are left on the sidelines. The programming has become redundant. There has been no excitement, no buzz. No great names to highlight plenaries, and, recently, neither the President nor the Veep. In announcing the Prime Minister's attendance at this year's GA, a few blocks from his office, JFNA thought the following was apparently "great news:"
"GAs have featured such global leaders as Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel; Natan Sharansky; Vice President Joe Biden; Israeli President Shimon Peres; Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak; Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren; the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro; Former Israeli Opposition Leader and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni; and senior members of Congress including Sen. Barbara Mikulski; Rep. Eric Cantor; Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz; and VIPs in business, culture and philanthropy."
Yes, this was the best that the GA could present over recent years...the very best. A JFNA professional with great promise was engaged, among other things, to bring her creativity to the GA, to revive it; and she left before she could do so. 

And...and...the cost, Oh My God. And, the cost for an Israel GA, OMG squared. It is as if a succession of JFNA professional leaders disregard the escalating costs as if they themselves don't have to pay them -- oh, wait a minute, they don't pay them -- we do, however, and we do so twice -- we pay for ourselves and our Dues pay for a flock of JFNA pros to be there -- their flights, their hotels, their cars, their drivers, all of it. 

I understand that at every City-size federation, the squeeze is on -- JFNA squeezing to find attendance to justify the GA in Jerusalem, and federations being squeezed, unable to justify the escalating costs of Israel travel for their professionals for a three day GA in Jerusalem. All the while JFNA is tweeting its insipid 65 Reasons ("best Hummus," "cool soldiers") to attend while many in the federations are finding about $4000 and more in reasons that they can't.

Some of you may remember the 2004 GA in Jerusalem when Steve Hoffman was at the helm of what is now JFNA. Surprise, the same couple who will Chair the GA this year, chaired it then -- apparently"double the flavor, double the fun." Hoffman somehow sequestered in excess of $250,000 and subsidies flowed to all mission participants who later attended the General Assembly. This year -- just come, pay full price (have you seen the hotel rates??!!), go home.

Isn't it about time that those who demand an annual GA justify it beyond "if we, the federations don't do it, some other organization will?" Shouldn't someone be asked to redesign the GA to make it: user friendly, substantive, exciting and cost effective with a real return on investment. The GA was last "studied" by a one person Committee of Kathy Manning -- after consulting none of the past professionals who ran the GA successfully over time and none of the Past GA Chairs (for what would they possibly know), she did a really great job of recommending moving the deck chairs on the Titanic around -- ever since the "new GA" (yep, that's what the marketer-in-chief insist it be called) hit the calendars, it has been one desultory, under-attended GA after another.

When federation after federation has advised JFNA that they either won't be attending Jerusalem 2013 or will attend, but in smaller numbers (in the main because the costs are too high to justify when accompanied by a lack of corresponding benefits), one would think that CEO Jerry's message to the Chairs would be one of urgency, even panic. Instead, it seems to be -- to these federation leaders "you'll be sorry" and to the JFNA Chairs. he'll just make something up like "all is well, don't worry."

When you hear "don't worry"...start worrying.



Restore our Relevance said...

A simple suggestion to save not only the GA but Israel -Diaspora relations: Announce that during the GA there will be a gender mixed minyan at the Western Wall fully supported by JFNA, individual federations and any other groups Israeli or Diaspora that will sign on. Validate the leadership of Women of the Wall and show that we walk the walk of inclusivity and gender equality.

Anonymous said...

Rosh Chodesh will occur during the GA.

RWEX said...

Both Comments are terrific -- wouldn't it be great if the GA marked a "new Day" as well as Rosh Chodesh?

paul jeser said...

Careful - although I support the Women at the Wall, and gender mixed davening, I'm not sure American Jewish intervention in what is a 'domestic' issue is the way to go. I don't think it'd be well received if Israelis joined pro (or anti) abortion protests here in America.

I think that the best way to solve that - and the many other issues Israel faces - is to make Israel a stronger and more secure nation. The FEDS have moved away from that responsibility with the significant reduction of percentage of funds raised being sent to Israel. That sends a loud and horrible message.

I hope that the GA planners will follow the lead of those who planned National UJA missions to Israel - more time with the people than in meeting rooms. Revive what happened on the KOACH and other mega-missions. I think that will be much more effective than taking sides at the Wall.

Anonymous said...

And if during the GA on rosh chodesh morning more eggs, epithets and worse are thrown at our sisters at the wall, will we be sitting quietly in a hall waiting for a glimpse of Bibi? Just once, once, let us stop being "responsible" and "nice" and do what our values tell us is right.

RWEX said...


Even though we most often agree, I find myself in real disagreement with you over whether the right to pray at our People's holiest site is a "domestic issue." It isn't; it is a fundamental right of the Jewish People, of Jewish women as well as Jewish men. It is far too simplistic for you, Paul, to unilaterally determine that this issue (or others) are "domestic to Israel" and, therefore, Diaspora Jewry has no voice and no right to assert basic Jewish values.

We can make a statement, as Women of the Wall have done, and still support a "stronger Israel;" in fact, some would argue that pluralism and tolerance will "...make Israel a stronger and more secure nation."

Anonymous said...

Isn't a restudy of the GA one of Jerry's "Signature Projects" in the 2014 Budget? Maybe he'll appoint Manning to Chair the effort -- keep it "in the family" once again.

paul jeser said...

I understand the points made.

First - to be clear - I will not daven where men and women are separated. When in Jerusalem I try to attend Kol Hanishama.

2nd - I think that what is happening at the Wall is unacceptable and needs significant and quick change.

Having said that, and not withstanding the earlier comments, I still feel that having a delegation from the GA join the WoW is not the right way to go - especially since there are many within the FED system, traditional Jews, who do not believe in 'mixed-gender' davening.

I also find it questionable that the FEDS, with their significant lowering of percentage support of Israel, think that they will be effective.

The issue is larger than what just happens at the Wall. I'd suggest that if the FEDs want change that they support organizations such as Hiddush (S.Gold) and others. If those organizations are strengthened, then change will come much more quickly than if a bunch of GAers show up at the Wall.

RWEX said...


Thanks. Of course, all of this is hypothetical and the expectation is that nothing at all will happen until the GA is over, all have gone home...and JFNA delivers a letter to the P.M.

paul jeser said...


Instead of spending time writing that letter, JFNA should invite Stanley Gold (who happens to be past President of the LA Fed) to speak about Hiddush ( Now, that would be a worthwhile expenditure of time and effort.

Anonymous said...

And consider the optics as found in a future headline in The Forward. "Women risk safety to pray while cross town machers are feted in their fair and balanced GA".

Anonymous said...

Paul, I must say that I agree with Richard. The fact that many supporters of federations are traditional and opposed to mixed davening, is not an acceptable excuse for JFNA not to act. Think back to the late 1980's when "Who is a Jew" was the most important issue that Diasporah Jewry dealt with. I remember recruiting Orthodox leaders in my own community at the time to meet with the PM who was closely connected to them) to advocate for the inclusion of Reform and Conservative Jews regardless of halachah. This was done on the basis of how divisive the issue was. If I am not mistaken even the then president of CJF, herself a traditional Jew was one of the strongest advocates for the position of inclusion. JFNA and the federations should take a leadership position in having traditional Jews address this issue now. It is not an issue of davening together, but rather to be able to daven at the Wall.

paul jeser said...

As the Executive Director of CLAL at that time, I was very involved with the 'Who Is A Jew" issue. The effort by the CJF (led by Shoshana Cardin) was done the appropriate way. No picketing or other public demonstrations. And, it was effective.

I never said that the JFNA should not be involved. I said that GAers going to the Wall was not appropriate and would not be effective. Picture some GAers supporting the WoW and some supporting those who do not beleive in mixed-gender davening, which is, in fact, what will happen.

If you reread my last comment I suggested that the JFNA connect with Hiddush and or other organizations dealing with the bigger issue of developing a pluralistic nstion.

The changes in Israel will be made by the people of Israel. It is our job, and the job of the FEDS, to strengthen them.