Reporter's notebook: Finding common ground

A smorgasbord of themes, sessions and speeches bombard participants in the GA, with little cohesion.

General Assembly Israel 2013 (photo credit: Courtesy Jerusalem Press Club Twitter)
General Assembly Israel 2013
(photo credit: Courtesy Jerusalem Press Club Twitter)
At the 2013 JFNA General Assembly – subtitled “The Global Jewish Shuk: A Marketplace of Dialogue and Debate” – there was something for everyone.
Jewish federation professionals and staff from North America and their Israeli counterparts were bombarded with a smorgasbord of themes, sessions and speeches related to the challenges facing North American Jewry, the future of Israel and its relationship with the Diaspora, and the current political/diplomatic situation regarding Iran and the Palestinians.
As timing would have it, the latest “crisis” between Israel and the US regarding both the “third intifada” comments of Secretary of State John Kerry and the pending agreement between the West and Iran to ease sanctions dovetailed nicely with some of the featured speakers in the numerous breakout sessions.
Right after Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon scared the bejeebers out of everyone with his grim assessment of the Iranian situation, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro did his best to smooth things over in a we’re-still-on thesame- page message delivered during his speech and Q&A.
Of course, if geopolitics was less your style, another session entitled “The Wall at the Heart of Israel” with Natan Sharansky and Anat Hoffman might have provided the spark to get some Women of the Wall advocates going.
But while the sessions were pretty well attended if far from full, much of the action was taking place in the “shuk” – the central area of the Jerusalem International Convention Center. Against the backdrop of dozens of booths promoting companies and organizations (including The Jerusalem Post), participants mingled, took meetings, picked at the complementary packed lunches of egg salad or cheese sandwiches, and looked around to see who they should be taking meetings with.
The Iranian threat and women’s prayer options at the Western Wall may be very important issues to them, but a scheduled visit to a Jerusalem area winery planned at the same time proved more enticing for some.
The questions that continue to pervade the GA are: Is there a common language at the global Jewish shuk, and if so, what is it? English or Hebrew? The GA is usually an awkward mix of internal Jewish community issues, larger Jewish themes and Israel.
Generally the Israelis are flown in to the North American destination and provide a little spice to the festivities.
When the conference comes to Jerusalem, that spice becomes the main course.
And it appears for some participants from North America, it might be a little difficult to digest.