What I Learned at the General Assembly

It was my first time at the GA, and I’m very glad I got to go. But then, I really like conferences. Here are some thoughts:

1. I knew quite a few people who were there, including one of the Jewish Voice for Peace protesters. This conflicts with my sense that politically and communally, I’m a marginal Jew. Conclusion: the mainstream, official, institutional Jewish world isn’t quite as narrow as one might imagine.

2. Two young women wearing Israeli army uniforms were mingling with folks at the conference. I asked one of them if I could take her picture, thinking it would be fun to share here on Jewschool. Right before the snap, she said – but you can’t post my picture anywhere. Let’s recap: this nice Israeli woman soldier was fine letting me photograph her for my PERSONAL collection. How creepy is that? Made me wonder if men asking to take her picture was something normal.

3. There’s a class of older guy in a suit and white shirt who wanders around talking to clones of each other and looking important. I have no idea what they are doing. They weren’t at any of the workshops I attended. Who are they? Anyone know?

4. After the JVP protest/disruption of Netanyahu’s speech, I heard folks say that there was a mismatch between the alleged tactic and the reasonable message of the youngsters. Why not a JVP booth next year? The way to win an argument with the mainstream is by dressing it in mainstream clothes. I fear that disruptive tactics that aren’t part of a constructive plan make ‘our’ side a bit weaker in the corridors of power. Then again, they sort of made headlines, right? So I’m torn. I also think Rae can do no wrong….

5. Secret plan uncovered: the ‘refuse to talk about Israel’ wing of the progressive Jewish world might be on to something. Pro-peace folks are unlikely to ‘win’ an argument about Israel’s importance or get leaders to admit they are wrong about knee-jerk supporting of the Israeli government. But they might make a case that a rising cohort of Jews who care more about universal values and less about tribal hallmarks of Jewish identity need more and better alternatives to a focus on Israel.

Actually, they’ve done it. The Social Justice Roundtable that includes JFSJ, Avodah, AJWS, Repair the World and others are proving to general satisfaction that they offer programs that work with young people. In a few years (I predict) we’ll have solid evidence that those programs represent the solid core of Jewish continuity work, performing better and costing less than Israel related programs.

Some day, at a meeting of those strange dudes in suits and white shirts will conclude that the whole Israel thing is coming at the expense of continuity work, at least as currently formulated. Will they choose what works by the numbers, or drive the Israel right or wrong agenda with a smaller and smaller audience?

6. Some public facing leaders of Jewish organizations have personas that ooze sincerity. Am I the only one who sees almost all of it as performance, leaving me cold to any emotional content they might have sought to impart? It’s the same trait I’ve noticed with many politicians and rabbis. Is it just me?

15 Responses to “What I Learned at the General Assembly”

  1. who wanders around talking to clones of each other and looking important.

    As opposed to the whole Lefty Progressive crowd, where everybody is so unique.


    Jonathan1 · November 10th, 2010 at 8:44 pm
  2. That’s a different post for another day….


    Jew Guevara · November 10th, 2010 at 8:58 pm
  3. ‘Performing better and costing less than Israel related programs’

    There’s a group of people on campuses who avoid fun at all costs. Its nice that the GA provided space for them.

    For the fun-positive there’s Birthright.


    Dave Boxthorn · November 10th, 2010 at 10:48 pm
  4. Come ON, J1. You have your hippie grandmothers, your radical punks, and your hipsters, and your co-op-dwelling families. There’s plenty of diversity on the Left.

    Troll harder.


    B.BarNavi · November 11th, 2010 at 11:49 am
  5. DB confirmed for promoting “fun” and vapidity at the expense of thought and substance. Surely that’s not what you would like to promote at America’s universities?


    B.BarNavi · November 11th, 2010 at 11:52 am
  6. Great post!

    New Israel Fund is a member of the Social Justice Rountable also.


    Kung Fu Jew · November 11th, 2010 at 11:52 am
  7. Troll harder.

    No!!!! Don’t expose my master plans!!!!!


    Jonathan1 · November 11th, 2010 at 12:11 pm
  8. Some day, at a meeting of those strange dudes in suits and white shirts will conclude that the whole Israel thing is coming at the expense of continuity work, at least as currently formulated. Will they choose what works by the numbers, or drive the Israel right or wrong agenda with a smaller and smaller audience?

    Doubtful. Those guys will be retired or dead by the time that people in power share your view on this.

    For the fun-positive there’s Birthright.

    Boxhead, I’ll agree that Birthright does the continuity job with a certain segment of young Jews. But is going to a country in a perpetual state of war for ten days of binge-drinking going to convey the right message–or any message–about why Jewish continuity is important?

    The thing I hate most about my generation–or maybe it’s just a popular misconception of my generation that some of us have bought into–is this notion that all we want to do is have self-centered fun.


    David A.M. Wilensky · November 11th, 2010 at 12:48 pm
  9. And by the way, Guevara, nice post.


    David A.M. Wilensky · November 11th, 2010 at 12:48 pm
  10. My biggest beef with the left is that they won’t grant me the importance of Judaism and Jewish peoplehood, even after I give up on the demand for a ‘Jewish’ Jewish state. My biggest beef with the institutional Jew crowd is they minimize what it means to be Jewish by forcing it to occupy a small square stamped with ‘we heart Israel.’

    We must destroy our idols so we may truly worship god.


    Jew Guevara · November 11th, 2010 at 1:35 pm
  11. Thought I: Was the JVP protest a conspiracy? Did GA leaders let it happen in order to show that its open to everyone? OR to get some press coverage? Maybe the middle is exploiting the agendas of the right and the left to accomplish something. (shudder)

    A different question: Whither arts and culture at the G.A.?


    adam davis · November 11th, 2010 at 2:04 pm
  12. adam davis writes:
    Thought I: Was the JVP protest a conspiracy? Did GA leaders let it happen in order to show that its open to everyone? OR to get some press coverage?

    That wouldn’t make it a conspiracy, unless the GA leaders arranged this with the JVP protesters ahead of time.


    BZ · November 11th, 2010 at 2:07 pm
  13. I don’t know details, but I’m pretty sure the GA leadership did not collude with JVP to disrupt Bibi. If those kinds of connections were possible, the fight against the occupation would be a lot farther along.


    Chorus of Apes · November 11th, 2010 at 2:31 pm
  14. DAWM, did you binge drink on your birthright trip? I remember having non-stop, deeply meaningful experiences and one night of getting buzzed on a ferry boat. I’ll grant you that some people do drink to excess, but I don’t remember that having any serious impact on programming or meaningful participation on my bus.


    Victor · November 11th, 2010 at 9:48 pm
  15. I never went on Birthright. I’m ineligible because I spent a semester in Israel during my senior year of high school (which is, incidentally, what got me started in blogging).

    And your experience–and the wonderfully meaningful experiences of many others–does not diminish the number of people who go on an Oranim party bus for ten days.


    David A.M. Wilensky · November 12th, 2010 at 1:35 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik