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As the 74th annual General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities came to a close on Tuesday, the North American Jewish federation system approved a new process for allocating funds overseas.
At the closing session, the UJC's board of trustees passed a unanimous resolution that called for the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), its main overseas partners, to negotiate their own share of funds.
In addition, a group of lay leaders and professionals from different federations will consult with them and make recommendations to the UJC board. The format will be effective for a two-year period beginning July 1, 2006.
The resolution also asked federations to increase their overseas allocations and called for considering punitive measures against noncompliant federations.
The Los Angeles federation abstained from the vote. At the meeting, Carole Solomon, chair of JAFI's board of governors, and Ellen Heller, JDC's president, urged the UJC board to increase overseas funding in accordance with the federation system's growing annual campaign.
"This has not happened and, as a result, JDC and JAFI have been unable to provide necessary critical services for Jews in need in Israel and overseas," they said in a statement.
Also at the GA, there was a $160 million pledge by the UJC towards "Operation Promise," a three-pronged campaign of the Jewish Federations of North America. Its objective is to bring the remainder of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, assist the government of Israel in absorbing the entire Ethiopian-Israeli community, as well as taking care of the needs of those Jews remaining in the former Soviet Union, including education and social assistance for the poor and elderly.
On the final day of the GA, Howard Rieger, president and CEO of the UJC, looked towards the future of the Jewish community in the closing plenary titled, "The Call to Action: Taking Back Our Future."
"On Sunday we celebrated our past, on Monday we accepted the challenges of our present and today we are going to hear from our future," Rieger said.
Overall, the atmosphere at the close of the GA was one of strong accomplishment and hope for the future of world Jewry. The Hillel delegation of over 300 university students from four continents added energy, vitality and excitement to the crowd of over 3,000 Jewish leaders, professionals and volunteers gathered in Toronto.
They discussed a wide range of topics from leadership, communication and career opportunities, to Jewish poverty, Israel advocacy, aliya, disengagement, demographics and Jewish education. Delegates could choose from a number of lectures, panel discussions, seminars, meetings and professional development sessions. It is the single largest gathering of Jews of its kind.
The GA also featured a "Global Jewish Marketplace," an enormous exhibition of Jewish organizations from around the world and Israeli vendors. Before the GA began, the Toronto community was invited to stroll through the hundreds of displays and encouraged to support the Israeli economy by buying Israeli goods. The marketplace continued to be open throughout most of the GA for the delegates to visit.
Delegates participated in large plenary sessions which featured a speech from Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, and a video-taped message from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
There was also a performance by four-time Emmy award winner Valerie Harper. Harper dazzled the audience with a scene from Golda's Balcony, her one-woman play about Golda Meir.
Eytan Schwartz from the Israeli television program Ambassador worked the audience well, while the Idan Reichal Project entertained them.
The organizers were tremendously pleased at the overall success of the event.
"I'm very proud that the GA is in Canada and that such a large concentration and cross section of Jews from various communities throughout North America are here," said Israel's ambassador to Canada, Alan Baker. However, he added: "I'm somewhat disappointed of the minimization that I feel is taking place of the Israeli content at the assembly."
Baker appreciated the need for North American Jewry to address the problems that they are facing, nevertheless, he stated "that the fact that the Israeli ambassador was invited merely to give a three minute closing greeting is disappointing and I would have hoped to take a far more substantive part in the meeting."
Baker was a leader of Jewish student movements in Britain before making aliya, and his brief remarks were directed mainly towards the younger generation.
"Twenty-thirty years ago I was sitting where you are sitting," Baker told the Hillel delegates. He advised the Jewish community to support Jewish students on campuses.
"We have to help the Jewish student leadership," he said. "We need your help, the help of the Jewish communities to provide the Jewish students with whatever is needed, whether it is money or whether it is facilities."