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.
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. First, JFNA 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.