Most of the key positions at JFNA are held by devoted and energetic volunteers. Gail Norry and Michael Siegal are examples of outstanding lay leaders who have been involved with Jewish Federations for many years

Liza Rosenberg
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Liza Rosenberg
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The year was 1984 when college student Gail Norry, the co-chair of JFNAs 2014 General Assembly, donated money towards the cause of a secret airlift bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel. This was Norrys first interaction with JFNA. It was a life-changing moment for her, and not only because this was when she began to get involved in JFNA. Norry met her husband when she handed over that check. They lived in New York while her husband attended medical school and Norry became increasingly more active. I felt very, very fortunate and became more involved, she notes.

Today, Norry lives with her family in Philadelphia, where she is on the Board of Directors and Trustees of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and was a past National Chair of Young Leadership. She is also the immediate past Chair of National Womens Philanthropy and a past president of Womens Philanthropy, where she held a number of other positions. Norry is currently a member of the United Israel Appeal Board and the By-Laws Committee. She was the founder and co-chair of OROT, a special needs initiative in Philadelphias Jewish day schools, and is also a board member of the synagogue to which her family belongs. In addition, Norry was a board member of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) and the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and was also the co-chair of the 2008 International Lion of Judah Conference.

A more inclusive Jewish community

The word inclusive peppers Norrys speech frequently as she talks about challenges facing the Jewish community. We are constantly looking for ways to widen our tent, says Norry, as she discusses the need for a more inclusive Jewish community that speaks to everyone. Norry believes that the Jewish community has to be more embracing of intermarriage. She is also a strong proponent of addressing the issues of community members with special needs, especially when it comes to classroom education. It is a very challenging situation where many families simply dont have a place, she laments.

Norry worries about the next generation of Jews. The next generation feels less connected, and it is important to make Judaism more relatable for them, she says. She sees community programming and strengthening the connection to Israel as key ways to help younger members of the community to stay connected. Norry notes that as a result of programs and family trips, Jews are being exposed to Israel at a younger age. JFNA can help change the messaging in order to create a more unified position, she asserts.

Co-chairing the GA

Norry stresses that this years General Assembly is about bringing the GA back to the communities. We surveyed the communities and the leadership and, as a result, made the decision to bring our programming to our constituents, she says. Among the topics to be addressed at the GA will be response to emergencies, the relevancy of the system currently in place, various community needs and being effective fundraisers. There will also be a symposium on special needs, as well as programs for alumni and schedules that are specifically geared towards special interest groups.

All of the programming will be very substantive and engaging, promises Norry, who wants participants to look at the GA with fresh eyes. I hope participants will take advantage of all the new opportunities being offered, and that these opportunities will revitalize the participants as well as their communities, she remarks. Norry finds her role to be incredibly fulfilling. As much as you give, you get so much more back. I hope others feel as enriched as I do by these experiences, she says with fervor.

Involved in many organizations

Some of us believe that we can change the world, says Michael Siegal, Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Jewish Federations of North America. Siegal, a volunteer lay leader, has been involved with JFNA in his native Cleveland for a number of years, serving in various leadership capacities, including chairperson of the Cleveland Jewish Federations annual campaigns in 2009 and 2010 as well as Board Chair of the Cleveland Federation.

In addition to JFNA, Siegal – who is also the Chairman and CEO of Olympic Steel – has served on boards for non-profit organizations such as AIPAC, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Israel Bonds, and has received various awards from the Jewish community as well as from professional organizations.

In addition to his professional involvement and Jewish community commitments, Siegal is also on the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland-based Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. This subject always comes up, says Siegal with a laugh. Siegal believes that the museum is a testimony to the diversity of America, and that music plays a big part in how we look at life. Music keeps you in touch with people, he says earnestly. It adds a lot of meaning and its a fun way to address serious issues. Its a good stress release, he adds. Music is the ultimate way to be antiestablishment.

Addressing the challenges

There has never been a better time in Jewish history, says Siegal with conviction. The community is thriving. There are Jewish schools, Jewish camps, he points out. Siegal is keenly aware, however, that the Jewish community today is facing a number of challenges. One of the issues weighing on his mind is the concept of affordability and how to make Jewish life more affordable, to create a meaningful, joyful prosperity. We need to figure out how to keep young people engaged in Jewish life, to ensure that it will be both accessible and affordable, he says. To a great degree, Jewish community simply isnt affordable and we need to find a way to serve the most vulnerable members, he notes.

Another topic that Siegal mentions is the notion of enabling existing Jewish communities to maintain their vibrancy. When he talks about this years GA, its clear that addressing such community-related themes will be a focal point of the agenda. JFNA is creating a number of programs for various communities of different sizes, and we are laying the groundwork for communities to be able to come together with similar communities in order to discuss common problems they face, he says. We will be rolling out new programs that will help us to stay focused in terms of our campaigning and our leadership, explains Siegal. These programs – such as the Yesod initiative being rolled out at this years GA – will allow JFNA to identify and train leaders in a national system. They enable us to create a thought leadership, he adds. These initiatives will address issues that include such topics as global planning, table initiatives and Israeli civil society.

Siegal is excited about the GA. If you dont come to this years GA, youre going to miss an incredible opportunity to talk, he says emphatically. Youre going to miss a very special, meaningful GA.

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