This year, the General Assembly 2017 event headed West. Known as the premier gathering of thousands of top Jewish communal change-makers, volunteer leaders from Federations across the United States and Jewish Philanthropists from around the world come together for 3 days of networking, thoughtful sessions, sharing of best practices and general celebrations.
Reuven “Ruvi” Rivlin has been the tenth and current President of Israel since 2014 and is a member of the Likud party. Rivlin argues for a Greater Israel that would embrace all people and give the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza full Israeli citizenship. He is also a strong supporter of minority rights, particularly for Arab citizens of Israel. In his speech, he said:
“The lives of Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews, are bound together. We live side-by-side, and with each other. We share the same land, the same holy places, the same water and the same sky. There will be no peace, until we all understand that we are not doomed to live together, it is our destiny to live together; Arabs and Jews.
In the current situation, we must focus on what we can achieve today. For example, Jerusalem is a microcosm of our ability, Jews and Arabs, to live together. We can and should develop the eastern side of Jerusalem, and give hope to all Jerusalemites. Keep Jerusalem one – in words and in action. Peace is not a moment in time, peace is a process. A process of building confidence, of action to improve the lives of all those living in the region.
‘Peace is Not a Moment in Time, Peace is a Process.’
Dear friends, these are the tasks before us; the fight against anti-Semitism; preserving Jewish identity; safeguarding the security of Israel. We must continue to pass these duties to our children and grandchildren, from one generation to the next.’
Then later on, he asks:
“How can we turn this Start-Up Nation into a Start-Up Nation for all? How can we make the ‘Israeli dream’ accessible to every young man and woman in Israel? To the young Haredi man in Bnei Brak? To the young Arab woman from the Bedouin town of Rahat? Israeli society is going through a major change.”
“It is changing from a society made up of a clear Zionist majority, to a society made up of four clear sectors, or ‘tribes’, which are getting closer in size: secular Jews, National Religious Jews, Haredim, and Arabs. These sectors study in separate education systems, live in separate towns, have different media, and hold different ideas about Israel and its values. These demographic changes are nothing less than an earthquake.”
General Assembly: Beyond the Address
Aside from the powerful Address given by Israeli President Rivlin, there were other talks, break out sessions, activities, booths and more.
This year, the General Assembly was held at the spanking new Downtown LA Live Marriot Hotel. The halls and Exhibit areas of the hotel are filled not only with those who were there to attend sessions, but those who have come to meet and network with everyone present they could find in hallways and outside the venue.
The colorful exhibits ran the gamut of fine Israeli/Jewish scarves, tallits and books for children, to programs for Disabled members of the IDF and simple ready lock-down bolts for schools and offices. They even had AI Visors where you could sit and instantly travel through the wilds of frozen Siberia to meet Jewish life or visit the most amazing places of Israel.
Sessions include topics such as: “A More Universal People: Welcoming Diversity in Jewish Life”; “Global Jewish Bridge Builders: Our Work as Leaders Around the World”; “Beyond Fundraising: New Revenue Models for Federations”; “The Teen Years: Successful Models for Engaging Adolescents Jewishly”; “To Serve with Dignity: Funding Holocaust Survivor Care” and scores more, some in massive ballrooms where a thousand attendees tuned in.
One of the main themes of this year’s General Assembly was how to truly engage and bring in the Millennials, many of whom took spirited part in these discussions. Talking down to Millennials is not an option and not including them in the actual creation of product is a recipe for no action at all.
But every generation of, in this case, Jewish Federations, long-lasting assemblies, has the challenges of sustaining the interest and infusing new passion of current and future generations. How this is managed by those who currently head the Federations of North America and their lay leaders and legions of volunteers, is the most critical of challenges they face.
The event ran from November 12-14, 2017 and ends today. Next year, the General Assembly heads off to Israel itself – the Federations will be meeting in the heart of Start-Up Nation in 2018.
May they and US Millennials be ready for it!