The JFNA General Assembly

by Zohar Avigdori

Coming into the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America I wasn’t sure exactly how things will turn out. This being my first GA (unlike most people I know in the business) I felt both curious and anxious to see what all the fuss is about. Will I be able to fit in? Promote “Hechalutz” as I should? Strengthen the existence of a progressive, social and sustainable voice within the American Jewish community? Or will I be the awkward guy standing at the corner of the room, not really following what is going on?

“Zohar, relax” Said fellow Siach member and dear friend Idit Klein (Keshet). “You are exactly the kind of person a lot of people there wants to meet. Besides, you’ll have me there to help you out”. That definitely helped… And it also brings me to the first impression of being a Siach member at the GA: As a Siach member, I was surrounded by super friendly and helpful people. I can definitely say that the smiles, hugs and genuine interest I saw between Siach members who attended was heart-warming, and also was the main base of the connections I was able to create and establish during the conference. In the world of environmental and social justice their presence was not just prominent, but also effective and promoting for me.

The GA was a fascinating opportunity to have a deep look into the Jewish community of NA. I was able to take a peek into what is going on in the world’s second largest Jewish community and the encounter left me full of thoughts and also confusion. On one hand, I was humbled and amazed to see how diverse, rich and embracing this community is. Where else in the Jewish world will a launch of a document that tracks GLBT rights in Jewish organizations be attended by Rabbis and community leaders? What other community will have an opening plenary of 3000 people that is dedicated entirely to the Jewish commitment to repair the world? It was so impressive to see what is the agenda, and at the same time, these events and others were the exact same things that couldn’t help but make me feel very strongly that there is a big tear between this reality and what is going on in Israel, the community I am a member of, and feel most committed to; he talks of repairing the world and responsibility while in Israel Jewish racism is on a constant rise, the commitment and passion to democratic values, while just finishing the memorial events for the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the acceptance of religious pluralism while in Israel the Women of the Wall are persecuted constantly- all of these brought heavy thoughts and more than a little bit of jealousy together with the inspiration they provoked.

One thing that encouraged me through these gloomy thoughts is that there is hope in the creation of an alternative Jewish reality. This encounter showed me again how much Israel is in great need of the American Jewish community. In need not of donations or political support, but of a genuine, human, direct partnership and involvement.  Of people reaching out and making their voice heard in favor of Democracy, progressive Judaism, sustainability and civil rights in Israel. To me, the existence of a book like “Torat HaMelech” is as much the problem of an American Jew as much as the disappearing of young Jewish people from congregations and federations is a problem for me, and we are committed to these issues together as a people.

The Siach network is, to me, one of the main venues through which such partnerships and dialogues are created in my life. In the 2 years since its creation this network has helped me see and get to know the people I need and can turn to, to promote the betterment of Israel and the Jewish people. The 2013 GA was another point in which I connected to people in Siach and through them to more people who share my views and efforts in a hope that together we will be able to impact reality and better our world and our people. I and “Hechalutz” owe Siach a great deal, and I think we are not the only ones. We should embrace every opportunity we have to meet each other, make our voices heard and our actions seen and enlarged this community. In the words of the poetess Rachel:

Before nightfall- come, come all!

An alert, stubborn, united effort of a thousand arms.

Will it not suffice to roll a rock from over the well?

בְּטֶרֶם אָתָא הַלֵּיל – בּוֹאוּ, בּוֹאוּ הַכֹּל!
מַאֲמָץ מְאֻחָד, עַקְשָׁנִי וָעֵר
שֶׁל אֶלֶף זְרוֹעוֹת. הַאֻמְנָם יִבָּצֵר לָגֹל
אֶת הָאֶבֶן מִפִּי הַבְּאֵר?

I believe it will suffice. Good luck to us all.

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