NEW ORLEANS – The Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in New
Orleans came to a close on Tuesday, wrapping up an intensive five days of debate
about Jewish communal life, past, present and future, Jewish philanthropy and
New Orleans was chosen as the venue to
highlight efforts by the Jewish community to revitalize the city which was
devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and is still licking its
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In all, 1,700 volunteers rolled up their sleeves in various
service projects throughout the city to get New Orleans back on its feet on
Monday. The efforts on that day were orchestrated by Repair the World, a
For the Jewish Agency for Israel, the
gathering was of particular importance. It was the first time it officially
presented its new strategic plan to US Jewry, who, through money raised by the
Federation system, is the source of much of its budget.
“The plan was
received very well,” a JAFI source said.
“A lot of Federation leaders
were in the know on the development plans so nobody was shocked. It was received
very well. Federations believe we’re on the ball.”
Still, a lot of issues
– especially regarding the restructuring that redefining the mission objective
would require – are “up in the air,” the JAFI source admits.
instance, MK Sofa Landver of Israel Beiteinu was quoted as saying JAFI should
fold if it shutters its aliya department. Some voices within JAFI feel strongly
that input by Israeli politicians, which they say aren’t as well-versed with the
Diaspora as they are, isn’t unhelpful.
“She doesn’t have an idea on how
to bring aliya, and if she has one then she’s invited to come tell us,” the
source put it bluntly.
The protest by Jewish Voices for Peace, whose
members heckled Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
during his speech Sunday, left
a bitter taste for many.
When the five leftist protesters got up one
after the other and interrupted Netanyahu it gave an unexpected twist to the
conference. To an extent, the protest was successful, because it made headlines
in Israeli and international media outlets.
The bigger question which
emerged was, how much the action by the five individuals resonated among the
other 4,000 or so participants of the GA? In other words, was this the
manifestation of Peter Beinart’s prophecy that Zionism and liberalism are
drifting apart? The answer depends on who you ask. According to a quick sampling
of people immediately after the fact, most of whom are devoted Jewish
professionals and activists, the protest didn’t resonate at all.
several secular and liberal participants said that in many ways they agreed with
the two messages JVP chose to highlight: Ending Israel’s occupation of the West
Bank and opposing the controversial loyalty oath.
They expressed their
opinion that they would like such issues that weren’t aligned with the policies
of the Israeli government to be discussed at Jewish events.
large majority of people interviewed by The Jerusalem Post
, from the Left and
Right, disagreed with the JVP’s method of delivering their message.