Budget issues to loom large at mile-high GA

Participants debate a range of issues affecting the Jewish world; officials meet on sidelines to discuss how to allocate money raised.

Jerry Silverman 311 (photo credit: Courtesy Jewish Federation)
Jerry Silverman 311
(photo credit: Courtesy Jewish Federation)
The Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) General Assembly, drawing some 4,000 people from around the world, will kick off in Denver on Sunday.
During the three-day event organized by the network of loosely affiliated fund-raisers, participants will debate a wide range of issues affecting the Jewish world, while officials meet on the sidelines to discuss how to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars raised over the past year.
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“This 2011 GA offers a powerful opportunity for our community to connect around the critical challenges and opportunities of the day, and come away energized to do even more to help Jews in need, nourish Jewish identity and grow our community worldwide,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of JFNA.
In recent years the federations have been buffeted by the double blows of the 2008 financial crisis and the Bernard Madoff scam, making it harder to raise donations. Their annual intake from donations that fund an extensive system of community centers, schools and organizations around the globe has dropped from a peak of $1.04 billion in 2008 to $921 million in 2010. But federation officials say most have weathered the storm well, arguing that donations have not decreased dramatically, despite the ongoing economic uncertainty.
One of the most anticipated announcements out of this year’s GA is the expected formation of the Global Planning Table, a committee that is part of a major shakeup in how federations spend money abroad.
The new committee will help JFNA decide how to divide a purse of $135m. in overseas funding among the Jewish Agency and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and other groups on the basis of need and merit, rather than the existing 75:25 percent split between the two, respectively.
Unlike last year’s GA in New Orleans, which was attended by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, opposition leader Tzipi Livni and US Vice President Joe Biden, there are fewer big names on this year’s list of speakers.
Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) and MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) will be the highest-ranking Israeli politicians at the event, while Florida Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz will be the most senior US representative.
Judy Gross, the wife of Jewish- American contractor Alan Gross, who in 2009 was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Cuban court for “subversion,” announced that she would speak at the event. She is likely to try to enlist members of the community to work for the release of her husband, who says he is innocent. Gross was arrested while working under contract with the United States Agency for International Development to help the Cuban-Jewish community improve its Internet access.
The GA is often used as a platform to bolster ties between US and Israel. This year, Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren and US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro will both be present, their personal backgrounds illustrating the bonds between the countries: Oren was born and raised in the US and had to give up his American citizenship to become Israel’s ambassador, while Shapiro spent considerable time in Israel and is fluent in Hebrew.
Besides the plethora of panels touching on politics and philanthropy, many social events will be held at the GA including a concert by Jewish singer Matthew Paul Miller, better known by his stage name Matisyahu.
“We are thrilled to welcome so many of the Jewish world’s most influential leaders to the GA stage in Denver this year,” said Judy Silverman, the co-chairwoman of the GA. “This is the preeminent Jewish event on the communal calendar, where we, as a community, can come together to examine every facet of Jewish life.”