A Missed Opportunity: The World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly

If we are to look at the future relevance of the WJC, and the host of other organizations that claim to speak on behalf of the Jewish people to the rest of the world – it is time to sit down and begin having conversations, rather than speeches.

conversationsby Marni Mandell

Unlike Gabriel Webber, whose post – linked to in Thursday’s eJewish Philanthropy newsletter – cried out for topics of relevance, I feel like 500 Jews gathering cries out for something else: conversation – not votes or resolutions. And while many might say that plenty of conversations happened – it was by happenstance, and not by substance. When 500 Jews gather from around the world, it is a profoundly missed opportunity if we are not learning from one another, engaging in a worldwide discussion on innovation and growth. And yet, not one block of time focused on what was happening within our Jewish communities (outside of the topic of anti-semitism and/or anti-Israel activism). Our worldwide community (if that is what the WJC truly represents) is locked into the defensive position where growth is improbable, if not impossible.

From the seat layout, to the methods of communication, it was as if we stepped back in time – a time where it was life-threatening to be a Jew. Where the weight of the Jewish future hung on the principle that we must all come together to show our solidarity by voting, rather than with discourse. Then, there was the lone figure – unfortunately not pointing out the tremendous need for discourse – but rather for procedure and information dissemination. Certainly not unimportant in an organizational world that cries out for transparency, but most definitely misses the critical white elephant in the room.

I was heartbroken not to hear the voices of Jewish revival that I have been so fortunate to be a part of in Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, Costa Rica, Buenos Aires, New York, LA, Atlanta, Jerusalem, Be’ersheva, Moscow and China – just to name a few. What are THEIR concerns, what are their dreams? What can these 500 people, and the countries, organizations and philanthropists that they represent DO and INSPIRE each other to do for the future. It is not enough to bring 50+ young people to a conference and ask them what they want, and then place those same young people at the proverbial “kids table” outside of the main hall where the speeches are being given.

If we are to look at the future relevance of the WJC, and the host of other organizations that claim to speak on behalf of the Jewish people to the rest of the world – it is time to sit down and begin having conversations, rather than speeches. Innovation does not only happen in small brightly colored rooms in retreat centers for a select few. It is transformative when our established organizations take a look at their human capital and realize that its future lies in finding out what their REAL potential is. And that can only happen in conversations – not resolutions.

Marni Mandell is the Founder of Friendraising for Success and serves as an organizational consultant, trainer, facilitator and coach to a range of organizations and start-ups in Israel and worldwide.

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Comments

  1. Hi Marni,

    I have to say, I agree with you entirely! I think that your point about the lack of conversation – the structure of the WJC being based on people talking ‘at’ delegates from a platform, maybe with time for one or two carefully-selected questions from the floor after each speech – is valid and extremely important.

    It’s different from but similar to the point about the lack of proper democratic processes within the WJC: uncontested elections, hasty constitutional amendments, motions being amended verbally with nobody clear what the actual amendment was. It gave the impression that the delegates were there to act as a statistic, so that the leadership can say, “Look how many people we’ve brought together!”, rather than on our own merits or to provide our own input.

    But then all of these problems are linked: the unrepresentative nature of the delegates and WJC leadership, the unstinting negativity, the lack of conversation, the lack of democracy. They all feed into and from each other. I can only hope that – since this year’s assembly has generated so much critical interest – the 2017 gathering will be a more positive experience.

    Gabriel :)

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