JERUSALEM — Several halls of Jerusalem’s International Congress Center were filled with booths representing the best of Israeli innovations as the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) held its General Assembly in Jerusalem for the third time since 2003.
From 1998 to 2012, the federations sent more than $4.5 billion to Israel, so it’s no wonder that Israeli organizations as diverse as the world-renowned Yad Vashem Holocaust museum to the fledgling Hasdera social change organization were vying for the attention of the 1,500 North American delegates.
Representatives of smaller organizations that can’t afford a booth wandered around the halls looking for opportunities to talk with potential donors and hand out a business card or brochure.
The annual gathering of federation leaders generally takes place in the United States, but every five years the organization representing more than 400 North American communities convenes in Jerusalem.
This year, the 1,500 North Americans were joined by an equal number of Israelis, representing the gamut of the country’s social services, commerce, and public institutions.
The theme for the 2013 GA was “The Global Jewish Shuk: A Marketplace of Dialogue and Debate,” with 22 sessions packed into a one-and-a-half-day conference. An additional day was set aside for site visits in and around Jerusalem, culminating in a solidarity walk from Jerusalem’s City Hall in Safra Square to the Western Wall.
For many delegates, the GA was the culmination of a weeklong mission that combines visits to federation-funded projects with visits to Israel’s best cultural events.
At the opening plenary, headlined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the tone was set by the introductory speech given by GA co-chairs Michael and Susie Gelman.
“We dream of Israel as a Jewish, democratic, pluralistic state,” Susie Gelman said.
One Israeli blogger present retorted: “You mean we’re NOT? That bus I took to this very conference filled with an amalgam of Haredi, National Religious, white, black and Peruvian Jews was not a pluralistic environment? That election in which I voted earlier this year in which I had the privacy to choose whatever ballot I wished was not a democratic vote?”