From Where I Sit

The good, the bad and the ugly; some random observations on the GA.

Everyone is smiling and having a good time. Jerusalem has that effect on people. But, in conversations, the story changes. Everyone is worried. They’re worried about numbers; a shrinking donor pool, endowment losses, donors extending on paying pledges. Higher costs due to higher communal need. Budget deficits. The large Federations often have mega donors and endowment funds as a fall-back (UJA-NY has already authorized some dipping into reserves). The smaller Federations generally have more limited resources. JAFI’s cutting another $45m – the Joint has not yet weighed in. Both organizations are worried about a backlash with donors feeling they need to use their resources locally. The Haredi world is already experiencing this.

The good: I attended two sessions yesterday, Educating Towards a Global Jewish Future and Social Entrepreneurship: Reinvigorating the Jewish People for the 21st Century (where I was also a facilitator). Both were excellent and easily could have been a plenary by itself; content summaries on both coming next week. Meanwhile, if the entire break-out session program was on a similar level, Kol Ha-Kavod to those who made it happen.

The exhibit hall featured the most attractive and professional set of exhibits I have ever seen at a GA.

Sunday’s NextGen program: the participants are psyched
, despite the day’s dinner selection. A message to our communal leadership: don’t blow it! And be sure to take a listen from JAFI; NextGen is finished. Kaput. They’re the NowGen.

Numbers: hats off to the Lions for raising $16m this year; more than a 13.3% increase

The bad: more numbers. Seems like everyone is having difficulty with them these days. Are 2500 people here for the GA; 3000 or 4000. All three have been quoted in recent days by professionals who have access to accurate registration details. Spin, spin, spin. Nashville was the same way. Perhaps Wyndham Jade needs new computers. Or a simple adding machine.

MASA, numbers again. How many are here on MASA programs this year: 800, 850 or 900. I’ve heard all three quoted this week from those whose paychecks indicate they have access to registration information. This is likely not spin; most probably carelessness. I wonder if these same people can balance their own checkbooks.

The GA deficit: this is the number that counts for the week. How much is the unplanned budget shortfall for this year’s GA; $100K, $500k or $1m? More important, where will it come from?

The ugly: Binyanei Ha’umah, the Jerusalem Convention Center, was one huge balagan all day Sunday, right into the  evening program. Someone did a pretty poor job of organizing the entire entrance way along with the necessary security screening. Blaming it on the Prime Minister’s Office doesn’t cut it; especially with people who live through Israeli security 24/7/365.

Israel’s politics: The winds of change are most certainly in the air. The Prime Minister addressed the opening plenary (and said nothing). For a man who has been warmly embraced by the American Jewish community for a very long time, the tepid audience reception must have hurt.

Shimon Peres on the other hand was treated to two standing ovations and cameras that wouldn’t stop clicking as he slowly made his way out through the assembled guests.

Nir Barkat, Jerusalem’s Mayor-elect: As I listened to him I could not help thinking that like Obama, he has set a very high bar for himself. I hope for all our sakes, that both of them are successful in reaching their goals.