general assembly 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Next week, I shall
travel to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North
America in New Orleans in a better state of mind than when I traveled
back from last year’s GA in Washington.
Last year, I left the GA
and publicly expressed my concern about the insufficient attention paid
to the plight of needy, elderly Jews worldwide. This year, a sense of
cautious optimism guides me to the GA.
What has changed? A number
of freestanding moves that, when added up, may be the harbinger of a
new, wiser approach to global Jewish responsibility.
leadership has made a serious attempt to tackle the manner in which
American philanthropic funds are allocated for overseas needs. It is not
an easy task for the faint of heart, but JFNA’s new leadership took the
challenge. It recognized the impact of the worldwide recession on so
many Jews in Israel and 70 countries across the globe. They saw that these Jewish needs could not be subject to historic funding rigidity in the face of such dynamic global change.
Second, Natan Sharansky is
now at the helm of Jewish Agency. He is a longtime colleague and partner
of JDC in many of his former ministerial positions in the Israeli
government. As brave as always, he is introducing a major change in the
agency’s traditional focus, asking American Jewish philanthropists to
give his new agenda a seal of approval.
Why is this refreshing? Because JDC has stated repeatedly that
philanthropy must follow need, so when missions change, funding levels
need to be reevaluated.
The third change is that, despite the slow pace of economic recovery,
American Jewish philanthropy is carefully returning to the playing
field. Donors are now focused on needs and searching for agencies that
can provide critical services to maximize the use of every dollar. In
this climate, both JDC and the Jewish Agency can benefit from newly
available funds if they propose projects of excellence, primarily
through the federation system.
Those are certainly reasons to face this upcoming GA in New Orleans with
hope. This gathering will be a reminder that when we put our collective
strength and philanthropic dollars to work, we can serve Jews in need
wherever they may be.
The writer is executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.