G.A. from a local perspective
There is nothing like a General Assembly of the Jewish Federations for running into long-time friends and colleagues, for unexpected and exciting encounters, and for making new and promising connections. For Rhonda Forest, Loren London, Rabbi Maurice Kaprow, and myself this GA was rich with these experiences. Today, I would like to mention just a few of them.
Saying hello and thank you to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, a former chief rabbi of the UK, and one of the greatest modern spiritual leaders of the Jewish people, is akin to coming close to after he inspired the audience with his speech during one of the plenary sessions. “I know we have many problems, Israel isolated, anti-Semitism in Europe, the Pew report, etc. etc. but with the ingenuity of the Jewish people, we can solve even most seemingly unsolvable problems,” said Rabbi Sacks.
A night at the Smithsonian was a fun and exciting social event held on Sunday night. As Rhonda, Loren, and I roamed the exhibition halls, Loren ran into a friend of hers from her days as a newly minted nurse at the New York Hospital. This friend is now a member of the Board of the Joint Distribution Committee and a vice president of JFNA’s Women’s Philanthropy.
The theme of this GA was “the world is our backyard,” and how wonderful it was to chat with old and new friends at GA’s backyard—a huge exhibition hall set with booths, food stands, picnic tables, and complete with a white picket fence! At a breakfast table on Tuesday, Rhonda and I found ourselves next to the treasurer of the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation, one of the largest Jewish foundations in the country. We had a very good conversation, and who knows where it may lead.
You may have already heard that Federation’s RAISE program was featured as one of the Fedovation (Federation+innovation) programs at the GA. At the session where Loren was one of the four (and the only volunteer) presenters of innovative programs for persons with special needs, I found myself sitting next to Jeffrey Cohen, president of the Washington Society of Jewish Deaf, and had a wonderful conversation with him about his organization and his work to make Jewish life better for people with hearing challenges.
Speaking of hearing challenges, the most eloquent, fascinating, and inspiring speeches at the GA was delivered by Marlee Matlin, an Academy Award-winning actress and activist, who has been a speaker at one of our past CHOICES events (save the date, CHOICES 2015 will be held on Feb/ 19).
Shaking hands with Natan Sharansky is akin to touching a living legend, so when I sighted Natan at the Partnership2Gether reception, I quickly elbowed my way through a throng of admirers and introduced myself to him (no, not in Russian. Natan speaks a very good though heavily accented English. He delivered his inspirational address to the GA without notes or teleprompter).
These are just a few of the many fascinating and heartwarming experiences we had at the General Assembly. I am sure that this is also true for the fifth Orlando participant, Aaron Weil, who spent most of his time with students and on Hillel-related activities. Please visit our Facebook page to see a few photos. If you would like to have these inspiring experiences, I invite you to join us at next year’s GA in Washington, D.C., Nov. 9-11, 2015.