Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA)


Every fifth year, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) holds its annual General Assembly in Israel. This is one of those years, and the excitement among JFNA officials is palpable

"We are very excited to bring our North American leadership to Israel, says Michael Siegal, JFNAs Chair of the Board of Trustees. The GA provides an important forum to debate the issues that allow us to survive morally, spiritually and economically. The GA is about two futures – of Israel and of North America Jewry.
JFNA President and CEO Jerry Silverman says the GA also underscores the Jewish Federations close ties to the Jewish State. JFNA is the only Diaspora organization that has committed to holding its annual conference in Israel every five years, says Silverman. This demonstrates our unbreakable bond with Israel and deepens our historic partnership.
The General Assembly of the Jewish Federations, which is taking place at Jerusalems International Convention Center November 10-12, is indeed contending with the biggest challenges facing Israel and Diaspora Jews. The GA focuses on two futures: the future of Israel and its relationship with the Diaspora; and the future of North American Jewry. There are critical discussions on a range of contemporary issues in Israel and North America, from the recent Pew survey of American Jewry to prayer access at the Western Wall.
An unprecedented gathering
More than 2,500 Jews from North America, Israel and Europe are convening in Jerusalem for the organizations 82nd annual GA, which is being led by U.S. Chairs Susie and Michael Gelman and by Israeli Chair Ronny Douek. Approximately 1,500 of the participants come from North America, and most of the remaining participants hail from Israel, making it one of the largest Israeli contingents to date. Our Israeli chair Ronny Douek has put in a tremendous amount of effort to recruit Israeli participants, says Siegal.
The GA features an unprecedented lineup in Jewish gatherings: President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israels rising political stars, major business and thought leaders – 140 diverse figures, half of them women, and many younger, emerging voices. Only the Jewish Federations can bring together such a broad range of top leaders to confront these kinds of challenges facing our communities, says Siegal.
Having the GA in Jerusalem also brings participants from Birthright Israel and Masa, providing them with an opportunity to connect with North American Jewish leaders and connect them to a cross-section of Israelis. Susie Gelman says Federations are at the forefront of engaging younger Jews, and bringing them to the communitys central meeting place is no less crucial. Its important for them to see whats happening, to get involved and to become part of Jewish life, in the Diaspora and in Israel, she says.
Programs like Birthright and Masa also serve to strengthen the Diaspora-Israel connection by providing many young Israelis with direct exposure to their counterparts in the Diaspora Jewish community. These North American young adults experience Israel firsthand and make some of the most reliable and effective reporters when they head back home, says Rebecca Caspi, JFNAs Senior Vice President and Director-General of its Israel office.
Coming together as a community
The theme of this years GA is The Global Jewish Shuk: A Marketplace of Dialogue and Debate, and since its being held in Israel, the GA digs deeply into a range of contemporary Israeli challenges, including the religious-secular divide, civil marriage, the growing economic gap in Israel and much more. GA participants will also explore the challenges facing American Jewry highlighted by the recent Pew survey, including major new proposals from JFNA.
The GA is going to be a place of substantive, serious dialogue that helps us move forward together as a Jewish People, says Silverman. The GA allows us to convene together to explore the biggest challenges and opportunities for Israel and for Diaspora Jewry, adds Siegal. What will the Jewish State and what will American Jewry look like in 50 years? Were going to be unpacking that kind of big conversation and inspiring big ideas. 
There is major significance in holding the GA in Israel. Approximately 35 different communities are also using the conference as a chance to bring their leadership here and to visit partner communities. This GA creates a powerful moment for hundreds of people to deeply connect with the land, notes Silverman.
Also participating in this years GA are representatives from the first Israeli Federation – Takdim, and from Sheatufim–The Israel Center for Civil Society. Through Sheatufim, the organization that he founded, Ronny Douek is building a community of Israeli philanthropists, says Silverman. One GA session will introduce the Federation model of centralized, collective fundraising and allocations, to help promote and grow a new culture of philanthropy in Israel.
Federation impact in Israel
Federations footprint is already felt throughout Israel, in absorption centers, ulpans, classrooms and social service projects from Jerusalem to the Galilee to the Negev. In fact, 35% of funds Federations raise go directly to Israel, and JFNA creates strategic partnerships to care for the most vulnerable members of society. A partnership with ORT enables Federations to help hospitalized youth keep up with schoolwork, and a partnership with the Ethiopian National Project allows Federations to help Ethiopian students advance academically – just two among scores of examples. From the days of the Yishuv, Federations have worked closely with key organizations, including the JDC and the Jewish Agency, in helping build the Jewish State, says Silverman.
Many Federations have established partner regions in Israel, with representatives on the ground to facilitate their impact. Federation activity in Israel demonstrates an increased commitment of the global Jewish community in Israel, says Caspi. We are involved in high-meaning, high-impact work that makes a huge difference.
The GA will move from the convention center to the citys center on the third day, as participants visit think tanks and educational institutions, see Federation-supported projects and finally walk together from Safra Square to the Western Wall in a show of Jewish unity.
Having the GA in Jerusalem is both timely and very important, adds Caspi. Issues at the top of Israels agenda are priorities for Jews everywhere. We are underscoring the centrality of Jerusalem for all Jews, and our belief that there is a place for all Jews at the Kotel. 
Introducing the interactive GA
This years GA is being planned very differently, by presenting topics in fresh, new ways. In addition to plenaries, forums and breakout sessions, the format has been expanded to include idea-pitching sessions and FEDovation talks – JFNAs answer to TED Talks. The relatively new concepts of online crowd-funding and crowdsourcing – harnessing the power of virtual crowds to raise funds and generate ideas – are also on the agenda.
More than ever before, this GA is harnessing technology to bring the world to the event and making it a global dialogue. Bloggers will be posting about events and activities as they happen, and live Tweeting will enable people to stay updated about GA activities, no matter where they are. President Peres will also be fielding questions via a special tab on his Facebook page, a first for the Israeli leader – and for the GA.
For more information about GA 2013, go to

Last year's General Assembly of the JFNA took place in Baltimore