One People. One Destiny. Jerusalem 2008

This year’s GA opened in Jerusalem on Sunday night. With a plenary that saw a mix of lay and professional leaders from North America, communal professionals and invited guests from both Israel and the WZO, hundreds of young people from various MASA programs, KolDor, Hillel and young Israeli adults currently serving in the IDF all gathered together. And, in the view of many the musical parts of the program were the highlight of the night.

Over the past two days, long attending GA participants from North America expressed a very different take to me than Israeli’s and NextGen participants attending for the very first time. There is no question that a visitor’s perspective to this GA was colored by ‘where you are from’. But, let’s hold that thought and go back to the preceding 24 hours.

The hottest ticket in town this past weekend was the invitation only event hosted Motzei Shabbat by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation at Jerusalem’s Cinematheque theater. Renting out the entire building for most of the night, movers and shakers of the international Jewish philanthropic world gathered to hear a conversation between David Horovitz (of The Jerusalem Post) and Edgar M. Bronfman titled, Setting the Agenda: A Candid Conversation on the Critical Issues Facing the North American Jewish Community. Focused around Bronfman’s recent book, Hope, Not Fear, the dialogue was engaging, and for some controversial. And once some technical difficulties with the loudspeaker system were corrected the next hour flew by.

Sunday was home to a multitude of events. On the UJC front, was Next Generation Day –  supported by The Samuel Bronfman Foundation to provide an opportunity for young people from various communities around the world to explore issues of Jewish identity together. Wayne L. Firestone, president of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, had this to say about the program:

“It was frankly thrilling for me to see hundreds of Israeli and American students interacting with one another at UJC Next Gen programs and at the GA. Many had been involved in other Israel-Diaspora programs such as Otzma, Taglit and MASA, in which Israeli and American young people can engage in meaningful conversations about their Jewish identities, reinforcing one another in their appreciation for Jewish peoplehood. I did not encounter any of the cynicism that one might expect from this age cohort but rather a spirit of optimism and entrepreneurship that is very encouraging for our future.” From my conversations with many in this group, Wayne’s last comment is right on target.

Sunday afternoon, Hillel honored Edgar Bronfman’s commitment to Israel and Jewish students by naming their Israel headquarters on the Hebrew University campus in his honor.

On the other side of campus, many of us were gathered at the University Center for the Study of Philanthropy for the conference, Jewish Philanthropy and The Israeli Third Sector in a Changing Environment. The keynote speaker was Dr. Jeffrey R. Solomon, president of The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. Dr. Solomon’s presentation on The Changing Patterns of American Jewish Philanthropy was informative and filled with qualitative and quantitative information. I have pages and pages of notes and will post highlights next week. The room was filled to capacity; though it’s a shame there was a complete absence of UJC and Federation professionals who could have learned so much.

This is just a snapshot of a part of Sunday. Beginning last week when the participants in the International Lions of Judah Conference and JAFI Assembly came to town, this is what every day looks like. Tachlis, with lots of networking, and for many visiting from abroad, added visits to local projects and meetings with Israeli counterparts.

Stay tuned.