The benefits of inclusion, the need to mend rifts opened by the summer’s bitter Iran nuclear debate, and efforts to adapt to a changing Jewish community were high on the agenda of this year’s gathering of national Jewish federation leaders.
The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ sent 33 delegates to the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, held Nov. 8-10 in Washington.
The theme of this year’s GA was “Think Forward,” a reference to new ideas that Jewish groups will need to embrace due to shifts in Jewish demographics and funding models.
“We are really seeing lots of discussion about how to operate in a changing Jewish environment — in terms of generations, in terms of communications — and much more awareness of how changes are taking place and…the tectonic plate-shifting that is going on in the Jewish world,” said Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, president of the GMW federation, reached at the Washington Hilton on Nov. 10. “We need to be responsive in what we do.”
Robert Kuchner of Westfield — cochair, with Becky Freeman, of the federation’s delegation to the GA and former chair of GMW’s Israel and Overseas Committee — said the organization must adapt to changing demographics in the Jewish community.
“The federated world is trying to keep up with changes in the 21st century and trying to keep up with engaging Jews of all types who perhaps in the past were not part of our key base. Now we are realizing that it is important to reach out and build young leadership,” he said.
“I think the federations are trying to put themselves back in the saddle again in terms of being a convener for the Jewish people. I think we lost a bit of our mojo over the past couple of years but we are trying to come back and have the Jewish community talk in a civil way with a united voice,” said Kuchner.
Four local delegates received special recognition in leading panels called “Fedovations” — workshop discussions of best practices and innovations at federations in the United States and Canada.
One was Rebecca Wanatick, the GMW federation’s community inclusion coordinator, who spoke on communities that welcome and engage all people.
A second panel, on affordable day school education, was presented by federation lay leader Steven Levy of Livingston, vice chair of the Greater MetroWest Day School Council, and Kim Hirsh, endowment development officer at the Jewish Community Foundation of GMW.
GMW federation leader Paula Saginaw of North Caldwell chaired a third “Fedovation” panel on the organization’s “Global Connections: Israel, Greater MetroWest, and the World” department, of which she is chair.
Melanie Roth Gorelick, director of the federation’s Community Relations Committee and its interim chief marketing director, said, “We were really proud to have three projects recognized from our community. It’s a big deal.”
Following this year’s rancorous and polarizing debate over the Iran nuclear deal, organizers of the GA wanted their annual conference to be an opportunity for reconciliation and healing in the Jewish community.
Speakers talked about civility, touted the strength of the Israel-America relationship, and managed to secure the participation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, a day before his GA appearance on Nov. 10, had his own reconciliatory meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House.
“You didn’t feel the rifts in the community over the Iran nuclear agreement” at the GA, said Roth Gorelick. “We have to come back together because now that the Iran deal has gone through, we want to ensure there is compliance, and that is something that unifies everybody. We will continue to monitor the situation and educate the community about what is happening with Iran.”
Roth Gorelick said the conference included frequent discussion of the need to engage often overlooked populations, including LGBTQ Jews and those with special needs, as well as respecting Jews from all backgrounds.
“There was an agreed agenda of inclusiveness, she said. “It was a very positive experience.”
With additional reporting from JTA