Lest we forget: How the General Assembly developed

October 11, 2018 14:42
(Left to right) The three giants of American Jewry: Abba Hillel Silver, Israel Goldstein and Stephen

(Left to right) The three giants of American Jewry: Abba Hillel Silver, Israel Goldstein and Stephen Wise. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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For the first time since 1932 when the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America was born, the event will be held in Tel Aviv this year with some 2,500 participants. The central core of the meeting is “We need to talk,” an opportunity for Israelis and North Americans to delve into the issues that bring us together and tear us apart. The past year has witnessed very acute discussions of key problems that have pushed North American Jewry away from Israelis. The General Assembly of 2018 hopes to reactivate this linkage by drawing upon the roots of the two communities to confront the problems which tend to separate and find those elements which will bring these “natural allies” closer once more.

My interest is in the past rather than the present. In 1932, the year before Hitler rose to power and the year the New Deal was about to be established by FDR, the Bureau of Jewish Social Research created the National Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds. We are beholden to those early leaders because they chose Harry L. Lurie to be the executive director. Lurie, noted for his leadership in the field of American social services and American Jewish social services fashioned the “GA” through his innovative ideas until he retired in 1954.


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