G.A., Eh?

JPost offers,

Almost 4,000 Jewish leaders are attending the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities (UJC) in Toronto this week, one of the biggest such gatherings ever. The organized Jewish communities of North America raise $850 million annually, not counting special campaigns, such as $160 million being raised for Jews in distress and $24 million raised for US hurricane victims.
Yet with all these impressive accomplishments, some still wonder why there is a GA at all. Even proponents of the annual meeting admit that the days when it set the agenda for American Jewry seem to have passed, and one of the main reasons to continue it is to avoid sending a signal of diminished organizational power.
What explains this confluence of achievement and malaise?

For official spin from the UJC (as well as transcripts of speeches, photos, etc.) go here. We’re also awaiting a report-back on The 3D Jewish Teach-In (a GA counter-convention)…

12 thoughts on “G.A., Eh?

  1. “one of the main reasons to continue it is to avoid sending a signal of diminished organizational power”
    Sounds like Iraq! Stay the course and support our troops!

  2. The jpost article further says “the sense that the organized Jewish community – though it is composed of the most active, committed and affiliated Jews…”.
    This is evidence that they have their heads in the sand (where “they” is either the jpost writer or whoever is said to have this “sense”). Yes, it is a tautology that the organized Jewish community is composed of the most affiliated Jews. However, many active and committed Jews these days are choosing to find their place outside the “organized Jewish community” precisely because the organized Jewish community does not provide a place for active and committed (liberal childless non-professional) Jews.

  3. or as rob corddry put it on the daily show last night, “we must avoid sending the message that america lacks the will to continue being wrong.”

  4. I attended the GA this year as a student in a Jewish Communal grad program. I do think that United Jewish Communities does incredible social justice work in not just the Jewish Community, but all around the world. However, I did get a bad taste in my mouth at the convention. It may be due to my cynicism that ‘the system’ will eventually listen to what the next generation has to say.
    But I agree with what BZ commented. And it was stated at a very many of GA sessions I attended that the UJC and other such ‘system’ Jewish organizations just do not get it. They don’t get that us young Jews have many reasons for not affiliating. They very often blame it on intermarriage, when there are many other issues our generation are dealing with (poor economy, assimilation, etc.).
    Aaron Bisman, the co-founder of JDub records, made the most poignant and important statements at the GA, in my opinion. He said that federations and the like need to realize that alot of young adults are straying from going into the high-paid jobs of doctor and lawyer like their parents and the community want them to in order to do jobs that they are passionate for. This being the case, we simply are not able to go to their $500 a plate dinners. He said that the system needs to honor and appreciate each $18 donation just as much as the major ones if they really want young Jews to be involved with all of the wonderful programs that the federation is providing.
    I hope in all seriousness and urgency that the federation execs and other professionals at this years GA ‘got it’. I know that there are many young Jews who do take traditional routes of affiliation in the community and they should not be ignored (this was evident when I beamed with joy after hearing Aaron speak and a classmate who is younger than me said, “But he wasn’t speaking to me. These alternative outlets for Judaism are not my community.” But I think the point is there are many of us that even if we want to be involved in the Jewish community and our Jewish identities, do not feel comfortable jumping in to do our life’s work and volunteering through federations because we do not yet have a seat at their table. They do not listen to ‘alternative’ (for lack of a better term) young jews. It is a shonda because they do great things.
    SOrry to rant, but I needed an outlet for my experience this past weekend. Seriously, if someone like myself who obviously wants to do her life’s work in the Jewish community and is on her way feels alienated, the system seriously has got to change. I hope to be an agent of that change, but in the meantime, visiting my first GA, I can see why journalists are carrying on about the current insignificance of the annual conference.

  5. The older generation leading the Organized Jewish world incorrectly thinks that our non-affiliation is a symptom of assimilation. So they spend a paltry amount of money to fight a losing battle against assimilation. But its too little too late for those who’ve already checked out, and besides, ITS THE WRONG FIGHT.
    Identity and affinity is the issue, not affiliation and membership, and taking what Bisman said as generally true, the days of $400,000 salaries for Federation execs are numbered. We want a personal Jewish identity and meaningful experiences, not a membership card so we can swim at the JCC.
    The Organized world has so much invested in capital and facilities that they’re struggling to fill 362 days a year. They close their eyes and ears to the societal trends around them and expect whats worked (uh, sorta) for 30 years to hold true. The top down “we know best” attitude doesn’t jive with us, and most of us spend more time in online than in shul.
    Hillel learned after a decade of floundering that they can’t wait for people to come to them, they have to go out and find people on campus. We’re talking about the same people, different life stage 5-10 years on, and the Organized community is still waiting for people to walk through the door and plunk down their dues, their donation, their dollars.
    Even the success of BI had nothing to do with membership, and everything to do with identity and affinity. Sure the price is right, but that’s just removing the barrier. If they said “You have to join BI, here’s your membership application and there’s a fee” most would have said no thanks.
    We want our Jewishness on our own ground, in our own spaces in ways meaningful to our lives, not dictated to us how and where by the same people who forced our generation (largely) through meaningless Bar Mitzvah factories to lead lives of spiritually empty, life-cycle Judaism meaningful only to Campaign associates, perpetually soliciting donations out of guilt for not being “more Jewish.”
    Do we really need to attend yet another overpriced conference of talking heads to tell us that? Or waste more of our breath and precious dollars (in CDN, no less) to convince those that aren’t listening anyways?
    We have the solution they and we are looking for, and it is us, collectively creating our own non-institutions, havurot and initiatives. We’re engaging the people they’re shrying about, they just are too far removed from it in their “planning sessoins’ to see it.
    If the “non-movement” groups opur generation can hold out a few more years, they’ll come around, or perhaps the money people will and that will be enough. IYH.

  6. 1) Go Toronto Go… sorry… gotta love the home town
    2) The “counter-conference” isn`t quite what it should be. Frankly this GA`s done a better job of reaching out to left wing jewish organizations that any of the ones in the past as far as i can tell.
    The counter-conference represents a radical “anyone who`s angry” type of event, and that`s not productive. Yes, the occupation needs to end. So does terrorism. So does homophobia.
    I come from a community that prides itself on “Going against the stream” (hell, we even put out a book by that title) but in order to make a difference we can`t just stand by the riverside and yell at the stream to stop flowing.
    We need to wade in deap. Link arms together, and slowly divert the waters down a safer path. Anything else is just hot air.
    So if you don`t think the GA deals with the issues enough, then attend and bring up the issues. If you think there`s too much homophobia in the Jewish community use the GA as an educational tool.
    The fact is that if you support the right of israel to exist there is no reason not to call yourself a zionist. No reason not to add your voice. When we let the right wing dictate the path and abandon the masses we are as much to blame as them.
    In one word: TACHLESS
    (sorry for the rant 🙂 )

  7. Woo! Toronto! Yeahhh!
    *Ahem* Pardon my Canuckery. The rest of TomC’s post is also right on the mark. Hillel taught: “Do not separate yourself from the community.” Knowingly or not, that’s what the counter-demonstrators were doing.

  8. That’s right, there’s nothing quite like tilting at windmills! I can’t comment on the counter conference but regardless, here’s an honest question in olight of Toms rant:
    Regardless of whether your issue is the top down dictated agenda, generational exclusion, non-movementism, GLBT issues or use of blue ink in the official GA pens, how do we get our issues on an agenda we don’t control? Who do we lobby, how do we organize? Around what issues and using what numbers? By the time you get to the GA, its too late. Getting on the agenda is determined by the inside people, and the real “decision making” of the event is done before and afterwards by representatives of the UJC member federations and various committees and task forces.
    I think this comes to the heart of the matter. We feel the GA has become a bit of a dog and pony show uput on by the same organizations that by and large don’t recognize the trends, refuse to see the validity or usefullness of “alternative/fringe/nu Jew” initiatives and issues.
    So we’re not surprised to feel talked down to, programmed, tokened, excluded etc, whether we went to the GA, the counter conference or stayed home.
    Attending the GA or infiltrating it is a fine idea if there’s unity in purpose and numbers to back it and get on the agenda.
    For example, there’s no doubt that the creativity, engagement and involvement that establishment leaders seek in our generation is not happening within institutions and organizations but in our own independent initiatives, minyans, websites, etc. We’re all under/un funded but are effective and vibrant at what we do.
    Whatever personal differences some of us have, it seems to me that we would do well to assemble a network that can present and lobby at the next GA for broader recognition, funding, etc. Perhaps that was the initial intent behind the counter-conference, I don’t know.
    If we do expend our energy trying to make an impact at the GA next year, we’d have to start planning now. Ideas, people? Because Toms right in one respect, that bitching doesn’t do much good, but neither does attending without a plan to affect change.
    Maybe there’s a funder out there who would cover expenses for 1000 young attendees that can attend as a block, supporters of independent initiatives, an of under 40’s- the name isn’t coming to me.
    If we have an agenda, an effective action plan, recruit people and remove the barrier to attendance, it could be interesting, especially if we know what we want to get and who to lobby for it way in advance of the GA. Are UJC’s R&R or JESNA places that might offer advice on this?
    Thoughts, ideas?

  9. How do we get our issues on an agenda we don’t control?
    See, I think that’s the problem with your analysis. If you’re saying that you can’t be part of something with people you disagree with, then your problems are much larger. But I think you mean that you can’t be part of something which completely shuts you out, and I think that’s just not true — and defeatist.
    We feel the GA has become a bit of a dog and pony show uput on by the same organizations that by and large don’t recognize the trends, refuse to see the validity or usefullness of “alternative/fringe/nu Jew” initiatives and issues.
    So get involved and find strategies to point out the validity or usefullness. Honest dialogue rather sniping. Nu.
    Whatever personal differences some of us have, it seems to me that we would do well to assemble a network that can present and lobby at the next GA for broader recognition, funding, etc.
    Well, how does a GA work? Isn’t it supposed to be the meet up for all the Federations? So why not think about a network of young people who keep in touch, and who join their respective Federations?

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