I just returned Wednesday from Denver where I, along with seven others from Portland, attended the annual Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly (often referred to as the G.A.). The conference brought together close to 3,000 Jewish communal volunteer and professional leaders from across the world (including as far away as Australia). It was an exciting multi-day conference with international leaders sharing their perspectives on the Jewish world today.
Last year, at Federation’s Campaign Kick-Off event, I proclaimed that at next year’s G.A. (meaning this conference), Portland would be on the agenda. I am proud to tell you that in recognition of what we are doing and our Community Impact Grants (CIG), we made a splash. At the opening plenary for the conference, our community’s Israel Shaliach, Amos Meron, (funded by a CIG grant) spoke to the entire convention body. The crowd was “wowed” that this was the first time in 30+ years since Portland had a shaliach from Israel. In addition, Kathy Davis-Weiner, immediate past Chair of Allocations, and I were on a panel where we were able to share the rationale and implications of our Community Impact Grant process. You should know that throughout the conference people shared the “buzz” about what Portland’s Jewish community is doing. That is a credit to all of us!
Sessions included discussions on issues confronting the Middle East (Israeli-Palestinian issues, the Arab Spring, and the continuing threat of Iran), new innovative ideas for Jewish education, fundraising opportunities and challenges for the future based on the current economic climate, and topics of innovation (including our CIG process). I also had the chance to meet with leaders of international and national Jewish organizations interested in partnering with the Portland Jewish community. These leaders understand the untapped potential of our community and the opportunity to use “us” as a “test market” for new ideas. I expect to share more about this with you in the near future.
Finally, the conference is also an opportunity for the JFNA Board of Trustees to meet. I am delighted to inform you that Michael Weiner, Federation’s Chairman of the Board, has been elected to serve on the national JFNA Board and represent Portland’s interests.
The final part of the conference turned out to be the most informative. Amos and I attended a special workshop sponsored by the Israel Action Network (a collaborative partnership between JFNA and the JCPA) to discuss how “hot spot” communities (yes, the Portland area is considered one) are dealing with efforts to “delegitimize” Israel through boycotts and divestment. We are not alone, as other progressive communities are struggling with similar challenges. This creates opportunities for dialogue. For many Jewish communal organizations and pro-Israel supporters their natural instinct is to “justify” Israel’s actions at all times. This may alienate those who wish to criticize certain Israeli policies, and who upon finding that there is little room for them within the so-called “pro-Israel tent” seek alternative venues for protest.
At the same time, our community is “less attached” to Israel than others in America. For many Jews, unfortunately, Israel has become a “non issue.” For them, the connection with Israel today is less relevant, less important, less a badge of pride, and certainly less of a duty. Israel is not a part of their identity, and may play no role in their day-to-day life. Some Jews may just not care one way or another about Israel.
Together we will need to confront these challenges head on – and the only way to do it is through education, dialogue, and firsthand visits to the State of Israel.
The G.A. is always a special conference. Not only do the foremost thinkers and leaders share their thoughts on the Jewish community’s past, present, and future, but tremendous networking opportunities are made available. Next November the conference will be in Baltimore and I encourage anyone interested in learning more about the global Jewish community to join Michael and me. I have no doubts our community will be featured for its new thinking and great accomplishments.
Shabbat shalom and I look forward to seeing you Saturday night at our Jewlandia event.
PS – Please click here to read a wonderful piece by Nigel Savage, Executive Director of Hazon, regarding the important role Federations play in our communities. The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland is mentioned since we provided a Community Impact Grant.