by Naomi Rosenblatt
The theme was “anything is possible,” and yet the predominant mood of this year’s GA was anything but starry-eyed. Amidst the inspiring stories of hard-won campaign achievements and anecdotes from those whose lives have been touched by Federation, an overall sense of gravity pervaded. Steve Schwager, CEO of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, informed us that this past year, JDC could not serve 60,000 frail Jewish elderly in the FSU due to a lack of resources. Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, reminded us of the dire threat to Israel posed by Iran’s nuclear program. Forums and workshops such as “Fundraising in Hard Times” and “Betrayal, Redemption and Reward in a Post-Madoff World” grappled with the unprecedented economic challenges that we face today.
Yet I found that this gravity lent the conference a strong sense of purpose. At the opening plenary, Joe Kanfer, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Federations of North America, recounted the story of the twelve spies. Why did Joshua and Caleb counter the report of the other spies, and encourage the Jews to continue on into the land of Israel? Kanfer argued that it was not only because they were inspired by the challenge, but that they kept their focus on what was possible, rather than on what was impossible.
The GA certainly echoed Kanfer’s sentiments – the enormous sense of gravity also lent the conference a strong sense of purpose. The entire hotel was abuzz with energy as ideas were exchanged and connections made. Personally, I attended a number of informative sessions, including workshops that addressed the shifting landscape of Jewish influence in political Washington, mobilizing community in response to economic crisis, and changing trends in philanthropy.
This was my first GA. Going in, I didn’t really know what to expect, other than that I would meet a number of interesting people, and hear from a few interesting speakers. And while I felt that there were a number of pressing topics that could have been better addressed, in the end, I found the experience highly educational and incredibly inspiring. Now I’m just counting down until next years’ GA in Orlando!
Naomi Rosenblatt is a graduate student at NYU studying nonprofit management and Judaic studies, and is a FEREP scholarship recipient from The Jewish Federations of North America.