The General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is one of the largest annual gatherings of Jewish leaders focused on the future of Jewish philanthropy, identity and education as well as topics like rising anti-Semitism, Israel and global needs.
This year, Jewish Community of Louisville Board Chair Jay Klempner, past Young Leadership Award Winner Amy Ryan, JCL President and CEO Sara Klein Wagner and Vice President of Philanthropy Stacy Gordon-Funk attended the GA from November 8-10 in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve never been around so many young Jewish people,” Klempner said, “and I’m amazed at all the things JFNA does domestically and world-wide.”
This was Ryan’s first GA, and she agreed that “it was wonderful to see so many people there.”
“The keynote speakers were very interesting,” she added. “I got a lot out of the sessions.” Ryan went to several sessions on developing leaders. One presented ideas to invigorate young leadership programs and another focused on using demographic and affinity groups to get people involved.
One idea that particularly appealed to her came from the Miami Federation. “They let their young leaders co-create their program,” she explained. For example, new Latino immigrants offered a program to explain to newcomers how the American Jewish community works. Ryan would like to share that concept and consider implementing it in Louisville.
There was a special Young Leadership Awards presentation at which Ryan was recognized along with leaders from communities across North America.
“I loved the camaraderie and spirit of the GA,” Gordon-Funk said. “The speakers were amazing, and I learned a lot on the training side” and about the organizational culture. She was particularly impressed by JFNA’s diversity.
People come to Jewish life through many different doors, she explained. “We heard speakers who were inspirational and I learned so much on the training side about our philanthropic culture.”
She was particularly impressed by JFNA’s diversity. “I saw firsthand how individuals come to Jewish life through many different doors,” she explained. “We heard speakers from interfaith backgrounds, from multicultural backgrounds and all were embraced because the common thread that binds us is our Jewish heritage.”
Gordon-Funk found it interesting to learn about the scope of JFNA’s work, “not only what we do for the Jewish community, but also for others in need, and the pride we have in our mission.” For her, the conference’s theme, “Think Forward,” and the message she took away from it, “Sense of Community, Sense of Tradition, Sense of Philanthropy and Sense of Global Community,” are exactly what we have in Louisville.
For Klempner, the overriding message of the GA was that the common denominator we all share is that we’re Jews. We might disagree on issues or perhaps hold differing opinion of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but what really matters is “we’re still Jews and we have to look out for one another.”
“The programs and speakers were phenomenal,” he continued. In one session, he recounted, the speaker talked about being adopted as a child in Germany. Seven years ago, she found a book with a picture that looked familiar. Then she saw a photo of her mother and grandmother. She soon discovered that her father was the officer in the Nazi work camp who is depicted in Schindler’s List as “the commandant who was shooting people indiscriminately from his house.”
Author Jennifer Teege talked about how this knowledge affected her life and what she is doing for the Jewish community today.
Klempner also attended interesting and helpful workshops on the Jewish identity crisis, the role of a community organization – convener and/or advocate – and leadership. Another session addressed how to support Israel when one cannot support its current administration.
There was an all-star lineup of speakers, including Prime Minister Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog, who is chairman of the Labor Party and the leader of the opposition in the Israeli Knesset, President Barack Obama’s chief of staff and several Canadian officials. Gordon-Funk called Netanyahu’s address a high note.
Klempner learned about a JFNA bond program that helps local federations and might enable the JCL to lower its financing charges for capital expenditures. He plans to look into it further.
“Sara and I also met with other combined organizations,” Klempner said, “and with an individual from Orlando whose Federation and JCC are considering merger.” They also met with leadership from Austin’s integrated Jewish community, “and had good discussions on what they found to be positive moves in their transition.”
The Louisville delegation usually attended different sessions so they could bring home as much information and inspiration as possible. They heard about programs and services offered by other Federations that could be used as models for Louisville, including “different ways of connecting Jews through programs and services and building philanthropy within the Jewish community.”
The delegates had the opportunity to meet and talk with Harold Grinspoon and other individuals from the Grinspoon Foundation, which created PJ Library and provides financial support to the program across the country, including in Louisville, as well as the JCamp 180 program for which Louisville was chosen earlier this year. “They all seem to be happy with the PJ Library program we have in Louisville,” Klempner observed. “While we were there, the 300th child was signed up for PJ Library in Louisville,” and the delegation shared the news with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation Representatives.
“Overall, the GA uplifts you,” he noted. Through networking, our Louisville leaders came to realize that our community is dealing with the same kinds of issues other communities are dealing with – finding ways to engage and reengage people, encouraging young people to return after college as well as financial, social and demographic issues.
“Next year,” Klempner concluded, “I would like to see more of our young people attend. … They can learn so much and get energized so much by going” as he has been about “the opportunities we have here at the JCL.”
“It was great to be back at the GA after several years away,” said Wagner. “The biggest difference I noticed were how significantly the tent has widened as JFNA has acknowledged and embraced the Federations’ role as a true convener. The second was the energy from the Hillel students, their desire to help build a vibrant Jewish community and their willingness to step up and take responsibility for the future.”
Gordon-Funk noted that she enjoyed getting acquainted with local leadership volunteers, Jay Klempner and Amy Ryan, as well as spending time with JCL President and CEO Sara Wagner.