Worldwide economic crisis puts squeeze on GA

Sources: 2,500 to make trip to Israel despite financial meltdown.

nachman shai 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
nachman shai 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The United Jewish Communities' (UJC) annual General Assembly, to be held here next week, could end up being the smallest gathering since the organization - considered the backbone of North American Jewry - started holding its central conference in the Jewish state 10 years ago, The Jerusalem Post has learned. "Thousands of American Jews are coming to Israel to celebrate the country's 60th anniversary, even though there is a severe economic recession taking place worldwide," UJC's senior vice president and director-general of its Israel operations Nachman Shai told the Post Monday. "We were worried about cancellations but we believe that at least 3,000 people will attend the conference's opening night Sunday, with upward of 2,500 of them coming from the US." Shai admitted that fewer people would attend than in previous years, but said that considering the global economic crisis, that was to be expected. "People are spending more than $5,000 from their own pockets to be in Israel for this conference," he stressed. "We believe that this will be one of the most successful GAs ever to take place." According to sources close to the GA who preferred to remain anonymous, conference organizers had hoped that close to 5,000 people from the US would attend the event, set to take place at Jerusalem's International Convention Center. However, said the source, only about half that number have so far confirmed attendance. "It should not be looked at as a disgrace, but rather as a fact of life in the current economic climate," said the source, adding: "It's obvious that people in the US would opt out of coming and it should be viewed as a miracle that as many as 2,500 people will attend." The GA, which generally features discussions and presentations on aspects of Jewish Diaspora life and Israeli issues, was first held in Israel 10 years ago to coincide with the state's 50th anniversary, and has been held here one other time since, in 2003, when more than 5,000 people from the US attended. The United Jewish Communities (UJC) is the umbrella body of American and Canadian Jewish federations, bringing together more than 500 communities large and small to form the second-largest charity in North America. The community federation system not only raises some $2.4 billion annually, but is the framework that sets communal priorities by allocating that money, distributing hundreds of millions of dollars in social services to hundreds of thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish poor. Internationally, the UJC is the primary source of funds - some hundreds of millions each year - for the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), both organizations that assist struggling Jewish communities of the Former Soviet Union and some of the weakest sectors in Israeli society. For all its influence, the federations' power is decentralized. The center of power, as with many things American, lies in the local communities that raise the funds and set the agendas. It is this immense, powerful, but very diffuse structure that will meet November 16-19 in Jerusalem to address the challenges facing the Jews of the world.