[by Adit Herscovic]
As a member of the Jewish Community of Louisville and Hillel, the Jewish student organization, I had the honor of attending this year’s General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans November 7-9.
I was very excited to go to the GA. First, it was a chance to be in New Orleans again, a place that I have so many great memories from.
Second, it was an opportunity to be in a room full of people that I have so much in common with.
As a Jew and an Israeli, I always try to stay connected to my roots. As a person who traveled around the world, I have learned that wherever I am, the Jewish community always makes me feel a part of something strong and warm.
After being away from home for almost eight months, I was really looking for the opportunity to be with my “family” again (and maybe hearing some Hebrew). I knew that being surrounded by my “Jewish family” would make feel right at home.
Trying to stay positive (a plane delay almost made us miss our connection flight), we finally arrived in New Orleans.
Arriving in the New Orleans airport, you can already feel those special energies emerging from every corner.
After an unpleasant encounter with some rude and annoying Israelis on the plane, I changed my mind about wanting to hear Hebrew again.
The city was packed with security (Netanyahu’s entourage…) and 3,000 Jewish people. Everyone greeted us and was very excited about the event.
Watching those anti-Israel groups protesting from across the street made me come face to face with the reality that even though it’s nice and warm in the convention and everybody is hugging you, outside it’s not always like that.
The big names at the conference were its biggest attraction: Joe Biden, Natan Sharansky, Tzipi Livni and Israel’s Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu.
I can say that the common thing about all those speakers is that they came prepared. It was very easy to tell that they know their audience, and they know what their crowd expects to hear. Although some of their speeches were interrupted several times by some radical Jewish groups, our leaders stayed strong and did not let anything get in their way.
Our leaders proved that they are strong and they are not going anywhere. From the looks of it, those protesters only strengthened the solidarity of the Jewish people at the convention and their identification with Israel, as was reflected in the applause for Netanyahu.
After the Prime Minister’s speech, my fellow Hillel friend, Gariy Ocheretner, said, “Netanyahu is a very strong leader. Even when the protest was going on, he still stood his ground and kept his mind on track. Whether we all agree with his views or not, we have to respect him as a man, as a leader of the Jewish state.”
I know that we cannot be loved and wanted by everyone. It’s impossible. I think that people have the right to have their own opinion. I think it’s important and healthy for a democratic society to have different opinions, but I also think that there are more civilized and effective ways for groups to get their voices heard than breaking the peace and causing a mess.
On the second day of the GA, all of us got the opportunity to roll up our sleeves and contribute to the city’s continued recovery. My group joined the wonderful organization called Beacon of Hope for a day of hands-on volunteer work.
The Beacon of Hope was founded by Lakewood South homeowners Denise and Doug Thornton on February 14, 2006.
Following Hurricane Katrina, the Thorntons opened their partially rebuilt home as a place of respite for their weary neighbors who were faced with making decisions without adequate information or government guidance. Denise took proactive measures by forming a grassroots non-profit organization “The Beacon of Hope Resource Center.” Sharing what she had learned in her own recovery, the house became a hub of information for property owners.
When we talked to Denise that day, she told us what went on her mind in those horrible days in August 2005. She was sitting there with nothing and looking back at her life and the way she had been living. “Whenever I wanted something to be done,” she said, “I used to write a check to someone and it was done. Well, we had no one to write a check to; we had to take this matter into our own hands. We knew that if we want to get it done we got to do it ourselves”
Denise served hot meals six days a week, provided internet and phone service, quality contractor referrals, and hosted seminars addressing issues such as mold remediation and power restoration. She also collected information about neighbors’ intentions to return and property conditions, while providing valuable information for residents to help them make educated decisions about their return. More importantly, the Thornton home became a place where neighbors could connect with others and find hope that they could rebuild their lives.
For me, being able to do something so meaningful was a unique experience. Cutting the weeds outside a house no one had stepped into for five years and making it just a little bit more livable made me realize just how powerful we are as a community and as individuals. Now, someone can see the path leading to their house, because of us, because of me.
Today, the Beacon of Hope Resource Center shows no signs of slowing down and more neighborhood centers are opening all the time.
When I was offered to go on a trip to New Orleans I could not be happier. Really? Me? You want to give me a free trip? Sounds like a dream come true. Little did I know about the true meaning of this trip.
At the closing plenary of the GA, Tzipi Livni, head of Israel’s Kadima party, was talking about how Israelis feel about the Jews in the Diaspora. For us, the Israelis, living in a Jewish state means that we speak Hebrew and serve in the military, and that is something that is very hard to explain to our brothers in America. So what connects us all together?
A lot was talked over those three days about efforts to delegitimize Israel. The leaders spoke about it. Vice President Joe Biden said, “The United States will continue to do whatever we can to defend Israel’s legitimacy…”. The protesters shouted about it, saying, “The loyalty oath delegitimizes Israel,” and “the occupation delegitimizes Israel.”
But there was another voice, the voice of those people in the crowd – my fellow Jewish people, my family from America, 5,000 of my closest friends. As an Israeli, sitting there among this loving and supporting crowd, I finally realized what connects us all together. It isn’t something you can put into words. With this group, I felt safe. I felt at home.
Like my mother always says: I guess that after all, we can all use some friends in America.
Another Hillel student, Natalie Adler, summed it up this way: “Participating in the GA was a great opportunity to meet with a variety of Jewish professionals and other students.
“What I learned from the GA was invaluable,” she continued, “and will help me as I discover my place with the local Jewish community and continue to be part of the greater Jewish community.
“It was an excellent experience going to New Orleans,” Adler said, “and seeing first hand how much has been done to rebuild the area. There is still a lot that needs to be done though. More importantly, New Orleans can be a lesson to all of us on the strength of community and the amazing things that can be done when people work together for the greater good.
“It was an inspiring trip,” she concluded, “and I am grateful that the Jewish Community of Louisville afforded me the opportunity to go to the 2010 GA. Thank you!”
Other members of the Hillel delegation to the GA from Louisville were Keith Callen, Lize Goykhberg, Barry Mordukhaev and Eliza Zell. Tzivia Levin is the JCL’s Hillel Director.