[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]
Each year, the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly convenes representatives from across North America to connect community leaders with each other, engage them in Jewish life and learning, and brief them on the latest news and initiatives in the Jewish world. This year’s GA was held November 6-8 in Denver, and more than 3,000 Jewish leaders attended.
This year, Louisville’s delegation included Jewish Community of Louisville Board Chair David Klein; Vice Board Chair and Lewis W. Cole Young Leadership Award Winner David Kaplan; President and CEO Stu Silberman; COO Sara Wagner; Women’s Division, Young Adult Division and Hillel Director Tzivia Levin and 13 Hillel members.
“The national Federation movement is the portal that gives our Jewish community access to become part of the world Jewish community,” Klein said. “Locally, we have just scratched the surface of the opportunities that are there for us as we grow and mature organizationally. This community will grow as we engage more members of our community.”
“This year’s GA really recharged my batteries to be an enthusiastic lay leader for the JCL and contributor to the annual Campaign,” Kaplan said.
For him, GA scholar-in-residence Rabbi Elie Kaunfer’s message resonated strongly. “Rabbi Kaunfer reminded us that the survival of the Jewish people is no an end in itself, but a means to the higher goal of preserving Jewish values and Jewish learning,” Kaplan said. “So, in addition to focusing on passing on a Jewish identity to our children through programs like Birthright Israel, we also need to pass on Torah through Jewish prayer and Jewish study.
“Hearing that message,” he continued, “has motivated me to access some of the excellent Torah study podcasts available for free at www.MechonHadar.org.”
Both Kaplan and Klein were moved by the strong participation of Louisville Hillel students at the GA.
“It was refreshing to be with our Hillel students and discussing with them their experiences along their Jewish journeys,” Klein said. “They are very proud. More than most local Jews, they experience repercussions of their Jewishness on campus. With the support of the local and national Federation affiliate groups, they are able to respond in an appropriately informed manner.”
“These young people are facing all the same challenges,” Kaplan elaborated, “such as anti-Israel attacks on campus and maintaining a Jewish identity as a minority in a secular world – that have recurred through my years of volunteer involvement in our community.
“More than ever,” he added, “I am convinced that our young people need our support and mentoring as they steer themselves into a Jewish adulthood. The annual Campaign’s support of Hillel is a critical component to ensure that our traditions are passed onto the next generation.”
The Hillel students who participated in the GA are writing their own account of their GA experience. They had not completed it by the time Community went to press, so watch for it in the December issue.
The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) introduced a major change in the allocations process it uses to distribute dollars raised by local Federation Campaigns across North America to meet the needs of Jewish communities in Israel and around the world. For many years, JFNA had allocated 75 percent of the dollars available for overseas use to the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and 25 percent to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).
“Under the new model,” the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported, “representatives of North America’s 157 federations on a so-called Global Planning Table will make spending decisions for overseas allocations, deciding together how the money they raise will be doled out to various organizations and programs.”
“Under the new arrangements,” the JTA report continued, “the Jewish Agency and JDC will still get a share, but they will have to compete for it with other groups. They also will have less discretion than they do now about how to spend their allocations; the federations will be dictating more of the spending program to them.”
This change reflects a recognition of the reality that, “in recent years, federations increasingly have been opting out of the historic overseas funding arrangement, cutting funding to the Jewish agency or giving directly to causes in Israel and elsewhere around the world,” according to JTA. “Backers of the plan hope that the new arragement will keep federations doing things toether by offering collective decision-making and more options for overseas spending.”
JTA reports that JAFI sees this paradigm shift as a major challenge to the programs and services it delivers, while JDC welcomes that change and sees it as an opportunity to secure additional support for global needs.
The Global Planning Table will also open up the possibility of JFNA funding for other Jewish philanthropic endeavors like Birthright Israel and collaboration with philanthropic foundations.
Silberman expressed appreciation to the lay leaders who took the time to attend the GA and encourages more members of the community to attend next year’s convention.