Like so many of you I enjoyed the General Assemblies -- I attended every one of them over 35 consecutive years. I received my community's Young Leadership Award at one; and I accepted the Sapir Award on behalf of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago at another. I even Chaired one (not a particularly inspiring one BTW). They used to be exciting events -- many of us remember the "Young Turks" uprising at one, where a new generation of leaders demanded and received their place at the decision-making table and all of us who were there will always remember the GA where the plans for the incredible Rally for Soviet Jewry was framed just weeks before it took place. These were just two of the seminal moments for our system, our federations, that took place right there, at a GA. We were energized by them; challenged by them; angered by them -- they were events both exciting and sometimes thrilling. They were never boring.
Now, during our time, we have watched as the GA has, like JFNA itself, withered and died. The GAs have become the Potemkin Villages of Jewish organizational life, full of surface, cliche and "Jerry-speak," signifying nothing of substance behind them. Why else would the most recent GAs attract more flies than lay registrants. Do we really continue to need an annual conclave merely to bring Federation CEOs and staff together with fewer and fewer lay leaders each and every year? This year, in addition to the Prime Minister's commitment to speak at the GA, the GA "headliners" appear to be fundraising "guru" Dan Pallotta, Hollywood/Broadway B-teamer Debra Messing (whom I and too few others enjoyed in the failed TV show "Smash." But, come on -- this is a "draw?"), former NBC newsman David Gregory and Dennis Ross, now out of the Administration, once again a "friend" of the federations, as he becomes every few years. And, assorted others.
Has it really been a great "new" idea to make Washington the apparent "permanent home" for this desultory meeting? (Other than JFNA staffer with GA responsibility Renee Rothstein's familiarity with D.C. "events" from her days with AIPAC?) (I seem to recall that over a decade and one-half ago JFNA abandoned the incredibly successful and exciting bi-annual Young Leadership Cabinet Washington Conferences because "Washington is so played out;" yet, here we are.) In this iteration of JFNA, a "big idea" is just to throw money (ours) at failure -- so, another $500,000 is included in this year's annual budget to be thrown at the GA for no known purposes and no questions asked. Maybe JFNA will just use the money to pay people to attend.
Now we have been told that the 2015 GA has been "redesigned" to "focus on fund raising." Nice. No FRD staff but a "refocus" of the GA. WTF?? If one looks at the GA Program on-line, it's truly hard to determine exactly what the "focus" of this GA is. Most recently, JFNA seems to be suggesting that "focus" will be the shake-out from the Iran Deal controversy -- I'm guessing...not. The tagline for this GA is "Think Forward" perhaps that should be followed with the real theme: "Act Backward."
Aren't we all sick of watching JFNA use the GAs merely to create new cliches as a substitute for substance? Last year and this, the GA was and is to be a place for Fedovation. As it turned out, Fedovation was nothing more than the explication of federation "best practices" -- a good idea but nothing more than evidence that JFNA leaders seemed not to comprehend that they should have been distributing "best practices" throughout the system every day from braishit. And, they still don't get it, do they? They think that creating a fenced-in area is a "backyard" for the discussion of...what, exactly?...is an appropriate substitute for thought, for exciting programming.
The GA has died, with JFNA's so-called "leaders," lay and professional alike performing the last rites. The sad fact: the GA is dead and no one even notices.