The largest annual gathering of Jewish leaders might be taking place in Los Angeles this year, but its organizers want to use the event to highlight ties with Israel. To that end, the General Assembly is revamping its program to focus heavily on Israel-related topics.
The change comes on the heels of the summer's war, which took a devastating toll on Israel's North but led North American Jewry to raise more than $300 million to help affected citizens.
"It became clear to us that whatever was being planned for the GA, something needed to be done to address the current realities," explained Michael Kotzin, the executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, who was tapped to transform the event. The yearly November gathering of some 4,000 participants is put on by the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for all of North America's Jewish federations.
The war, Kotzin said, created "an intensified sense of connection between Israel and North American Jewry," and as a result this 2006 conference will be titled, "Together on the Front Line: One people, one destiny."
Unlike in the past, all of the major sessions are expected to feature Israel-related topics, including the Israeli homefront and the threat faced by Israelis and Jews worldwide. In another departure, the last day of the four-day assembly will include creating an agenda for action.
The GA is also hoping to draw in several Israeli ministers. Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog is the only confirmed cabinet member so far, although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has also been invited. Two years ago, then foreign minister Silvan Shalom attended, but last year, prime minister Ariel Sharon only sent a video-taped message.
In the past, Kotzin acknowledged, "You were lucky to get one [minister]. I hope we'll have at least three."
He added that the opportunity would also be used to reinvigorate the fundraising campaign, whose success he said was one of the things that made Israelis take notice of American Jews over the last few months.
Nachman Shai, director-general of UJC-Israel, also pointed to the fundraising campaign as unifying the two populations. "Israel unprecedentedly needs those funds and depends on those funds for rebuilding the North," he said. "There's more awareness and understanding between the North American federations and Israel."