[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]
David Klein, Board chair of the Jewish Community of Louisville, described the General Assembly of The Jewish Federations of North America as “a great opportunity to meet, share ideas, learn what other communities are doing and what trends are happening nationally. It’s a way to find different ways of doing things … and for communities to keep the brain juices flowing.”
From politics to program support to fundraising, philanthropy and philosophy, there’s something for everyone. This year, more than 3,000 thousand Jewish leaders, both professional and lay, from across North America, gathered in Baltimore from November 11-13 for learning, inspiration and networking.
Louisville’s delegation included Klein, Secretary, Campaign Chair and Board Chair-Elect Karen Abrams, President and CEO Stu Silberman, Vice President and CDO Stew Bromberg and Campaign Associate and Jewish Community Relations Council Director Matt Goldberg. College students Josh Goodman, Ben Rubenstein, Keith Callen and Rebecca Waller participated in the Hillel track.
A highlight for many of those who attended was a plenary session with Elie Wiesel and Natan Sharansky who spoke about the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Freedom Sunday March on Washington, during which more than 250,000 people let their voices be heard in the effort to free Soviet Jewry.
Klein, a veteran of three GAs, took a close look at the philosophy of giving while he was there. Looking at Louisville, he concluded that, “We used to tell people to ‘give ’til it hurts, but, as an organization, we’ve done it that way for so long, that now it sometimes hurts to give.”
Over the years, he explained, people change and their interests change. We need people to give to the Annual Federation Campaign if we are going to have a strong community, but, he said, “we need you to give because you believe in what we’re doing. Don’t give because you feel guilt.”
“If people want to move on and stop giving because they have other interests,” Klein said, that’s O.K. However, he asks them to be honest about it and not make excuses.
As Board chair, Klein added, he has made decisions to the best of his ability, and he realizes he has not pleased everyone. “Don’t make me the reason for not giving,” he said.
This organization is about more than the Campaign. It’s about building a strong Jewish community in Louisville, taking care of Jews in need in Louisville, Israel and around the world, and supporting the State of Israel. “Get excited about what we’re doing,” Klein challenged, “about the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Jewish Agency for Israel, JCC summer camp – nothing is more important than the work that is being done by the staff and the lay leadership.”
He encouraged people to look beyond personalities and politics and to consider the good of the entire community.
Karen Abrams focused on programs that might be of interest for Louisville. She was particularly taken with a presentation on the Shababa Community, a program offered by the 92nd Street Y in New York. Karina Zilberman and her puppet friend, Coco, welcome Shabbat there every Friday with songs, stories, challah and snacks. “On the video,” Abrams observed, “this woman just exuded joy and passion.”
Another new program that impressed her was Voices and Visions. The Grinspoon Foundation, the same group that began The PJ Library program, recruited artists “to design beautiful posters around meaningful quotes,” she explained, and educational study guides have been developed for each.
Both the Shababa Community and the Voices and Visions study are programs she’d like to explore starting in Louisville.
“I also really enjoyed being with the Hillel students,” Abrams said. “They are such great young people. … The young men wore coats and ties so they would make us proud. If Campaign is up, maybe we will be able to send more Hillel students next year.”
Next year’s General Assembly will be in Jerusalem.