The official program lasted barely forty-eight hours. Beginning with a most unusual rendering of the Star Spangled Banner and concluding with inspiring words from Rabbi Jacob Schacter, 3500+ strong professional and lay leaders gathered in Nashville for this year’s rendition of the GA. The official program offered something for everyone; and yet like these conferences always are, the real interaction occurred in the hallways, sitting areas and certainly behind closed doors.
As can be expected, politics played a part; both American and Israeli. Governor Howard Dean spoke at the opening plenary with what several senior UJC staff members complained were blatant partisan comments. C’mon guys, what did you expect when you invited the chairperson of the DNC? And just to make sure the Republican party received equal billing, the Secretary of State addressed the closing plenary. Condi spoke first from the heart, and off the cuff, about her family’s personal experiences during the 1970’s with the resettlement of Soviet Jews in Denver. To bad the canned speech she read on the Middle East lacked the same emotion.
Not to be left out, Rabbi Schacter in concluding this annual event, spoke with great passion about the political decisions Israel may face over the coming months. While he stated that Diaspora Jews have every right to raise questions on Israeli policy, at the end of the day we must support the decisions of a democratically elected Israeli government. Personally, I hope his message is spread widely.
High on the public face of this GA, were programs geared to and about the younger demographic, the NextGen. Hillel came with 325 dedicated and enthusiastic students. Judging by appearances, there were many additional younger faces around the GA (surprisingly the UJC was unable to provide a number). I will give this organization credit; while they freely admit they are lacking answers, they are trying to connect to this demographic. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for many of their peer groups.
For all, the GA proved a time to see old friends and make new ones; renew past alliances and forge new ones. Nashville was a fitting location; the first GA ever to be hosted by a smaller community. Sandwiched between last year’s LA meetings dedicated primarily to the aftermath of Lebanon and rebuilding the North, and next year’s Jerusalem, it was also a time to turn inwards, examine the American Jewish community and the UJC itself.