Leaders of Jewish federations set to gather in Jerusalem

General Assembly will run from Sunday through Tuesday: PM and President slated to speak.

Jerry Silverman 370 (photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
Jerry Silverman 370
(photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
Leaders of Jewish Federations from throughout the United States and Canada have gathered in Jerusalem to attend the 2013 Jewish Federations of North American General Assembly, which will run from Sunday through Tuesday.
Both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres are set to address the gathering, as will Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett.
This year’s GA, which is held on an annual basis in the US and every five years in Israel, will highlight the American community’s growing concern with assimilation and intermarriage. Last month the Pew Research Center unveiled a massive study of American Jewry, reporting that “intermarriage rates seem to have risen substantially over the last five decades,” with 60 percent of those married after the year 2000 choosing a non-Jewish spouse.
“We’ve been studying the report in depth,” JFNA President Jerry Silverman told The Jerusalem Post last week. While nothing in the report was truly shocking, he said, it has “shaken up the GA” and led to the revision of “significant amounts of agenda.”
The gathering comes only days after diaspora Jewish leaders held a two day planning summit with representatives of the Israeli government in an effort to fashion a joint Israel-diaspora strategic plan for increasing Jewish engagement.
Jewish leaders from over 20 European nations are set to arrive in Israel this week as well and will hold several events in conjunction with the GA. The European leaders are set to meet with both Israeli and JFNA representatives on Tuesday at a Trilateral Dialogue organized by the Israeli Jewish Congress.
Over 3,500 people have registered to attend the GA, JFNA spokesman Dani Wassner told the Post on Saturday evening, with some two thirds of those having flown in from the US. Of those, he added, a “large proportion are people on missions” and around one quarter are young people.
Despite Wassner’s optimistic tone, not everybody is excited for the GA. In an op-ed posted on eJewishPhilanthropy.com, Stephen Donshik, the former director of the Israel Office of the Council of Jewish Federations of North America, asserted that “most of the [GA] program is taken up by [...] large group sessions where people are making presentations and speaking at each other – not with each other.”
“High-profile Israelis make their presentations, express their opinions, and then leave the conference,” Donshik stated.
However, Wassner believes that the GA is indeed a venue for dialogue. “Almost every session is designed for dialogue between Israelis and Americans,” he said and adding that “the opening reception was purely designed as a meet between senior Israelis and senior American Jewish leadership.”