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Local delegates laud this year’s GA

 
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UJA-NNJ GA delegation members, from left, Stuart Himmelfarb, Richard and Allyn Michaelson, Paula Shaiman, David and Gale S. Bindelglass, David Goodman, Rochelle Shoretz, Alan and Karen Scharfstein, Carol and Alan Silberstein, David Gad-Harf, Joan Krieger, two Hillel students, and Leonard Cole, at a reception Sunday night. Courtesy Stuart Himmelfarb

Thousands of Jewish communal leaders from around the world gathered earlier this week in New Orleans for the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, the biggest pow-wow of Jewish leaders in the world.

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey sent a 17-member delegation, led by co-chairs Gale S. and David Bindelglass of Franklin Lakes. The event was headlined by speeches from Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who both spoke of the strong U.S.-Israel relationship, but the conference centered on cultivating the next generation of Jewish leaders, and the local participants felt the push to get the younger leaders involved.

“The real focus of this year’s GA was on youth, the next generation,” said Alan Scharfstein, president of UJA-NNJ, who noted that more than 700 college students attended the conference through Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. “It was the youngest GA that I can certainly remember.”

“It just gave a new amount of added energy to the GA,” said David Gad-Harf, UJA-NNJ’s associate executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Leonard Cole, a Ridgewood resident who is a past chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and a local proponent of Birthright Israel, praised the GA’s efforts to reach out to the younger leaders.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a strong push toward engagement of this younger generation,” he said.

The new push can also be seen through the lens of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which recently completed a strategic plan to shift its focus from promoting aliyah to enhancing Jewish identity in the diaspora.

“Certainly aliyah is an important part of the Jewish Agency’s mission,” Cole said, “though they understand that the greater danger to the Jewish people is assimilation and easier opportunities for Jews to leave the fold. Now it’s going to be a focus of the Jewish Agency to strengthen and enhance the Jewish identity of Jews everywhere.”

Natan Sharansky, chair of JAFI and a former Soviet dissident who spent years in Soviet prison, addressed the UJA-NNJ contingent during a private meeting, for the second year in a row.

“All of us recognized the honor and sense of privilege to be sitting in a room with this transcendent figure,” Cole said.

“It was moving,” Gad-Harf said, “how Sharansky articulated a vision of the future of the Jewish Agency and the role it will be playing to create a deeper sense of Jewish identity for young Jews and how that is essential to the future of the Jewish people.”

During his plenary speech, Netanyahu spoke strongly about the need for a “credible military threat” against Iran in order for any negotiations about its nuclear ambitions to bear fruit.

“He was very focused and very outspoken on the dangers of Iran and trying to make sure that the world takes Iran as seriously as Israel does in terms of the threat it creates, not only for Israel but for stability in the region and beyond,” Scharfstein said.

Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, had three goals, which Netanyahu touched upon, said Stuart Himmelfarb, chief marketing officer and director of its Berrie Fellows Leadership Program: To understand perils, to take advantage of all opportunities, and to forge unity within the Jewish people and the Jewish community.

“Netanyahu really addressed all three of those,” Himmelfarb said. “He spoke about the perils posed by Iran and the need for a coordinated response.”

When Netanyahu turned to the topic of the peace process with the Palestinians, he said that Israel recognizes the right of the Palestinian people to a Palestinian state and the Palestinians need to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a Jewish state, Himmelfarb reported.

Several Israeli policies concerning conversions, the loyalty oath, and religious equality have ruffled feathers in the diaspora lately.

“He made it clear that every Jew is welcome in Israel,” Himmelfarb said, adding that he thought Netanyahu was alluding to the Rotem bill in the Knesset that would redefine how Israel accepts conversions to Judaism. “He was just signaling his continued support for avoiding these kinds of divisive issues.”

Netanyahu has been a polarizing figure in Israel and the diaspora, but even those who disagree with his political stance praised his speech.

“Whether you agree or disagree with his views, I don’t think there’s a head of state on the planet today who can command the podium the way he does,” Gale Bindelglass said.

Netanyahu’s speech was not without controversy, as five protesters stood up at different points during the speech, shouting that Israel’s own actions contribute to the country’s potential delegitimization.

“It’s unfortunate people put the emphasis on five hecklers in a room with thousands of people,” said Scharfstein. “He was truly eloquent in making Israel’s case, both for Iran and the other subject that was very heavily discussed at the GA: the attempt to delegitimize Israel.”

The protesters did not accomplish anything, Himmelfarb said.

“It was really just a disruption that had no purpose,” he said. “I don’t think it helped in any way get any new items on the agenda.”

Biden, who addressed the GA separately from Netanyahu, spoke about the strong bond between the United States and Israel and his own relationship with the Jewish state dating back to the 1970s.

“I really thought Biden went out of his way to say the right things with energy and emotion and reassure the audience that the Obama administration got it,” Himmelfarb said.

What Biden said was not as important as the message he sent just with his presence at the GA, Gad-Harf said.
“His presence and the word of support that he presented to us were very meaningful.”

What separated this year’s GA from others, according to Gad-Harf, were the 1,500 attendees doing community service around the city on Monday.

“It was one of the main reasons they brought the GA to New Orleans,” he said, “to both remember and celebrate the role that the Jewish community played in helping to restore New Orleans after Katrina, and to underscore the importance of community service as part of Jewish communal life.”

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

More on: Local delegates laud this year’s GA

 
 
 

As America’s 77 million baby boomers retire, they will place an unprecedented burden on the Jewish community’s infrastructure.

They will need more services, and many will want to become involved in a community that isn’t making room for them.

The federation system in particular needs to meet the challenge — now, as the oldest boomers turn 65 next year — or face losing the wealthiest and most highly educated generation in American Jewish history.

Those are two salient results of a study presented Monday at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America titled “Baby Boomers, Public Service and Minority Communities: A Case Study of the Jewish Community in the United States.”

 
 

Communal ties lacking for young Jewish professionals, study shows

NEW ORLEANS, La. – A new survey shows that younger Jewish professionals are less committed to the Jewish collective than their elders.

The results of the survey of about 2,500 self-identified Jewish community professionals were released this week in New Orleans at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Most Jewish communal professionals grew up with two Jewish parents, had strong Jewish educational backgrounds, and spent time in Israel, noted sociologist Steven M. Cohen, who did the pro bono research for the project. He called those factors “strong predictors” of later Jewish engagement.

 
 

Lions roar in New Orleans

As the General Assembly got underway on Monday, so did the annual International Lion of Judah Conference, the federation system’s women’s philanthropic organization, with more than 1,100 “lions” from around the world.

With a theme of “We are, we can, we do,” the conference provided a rewarding opportunity for community service, said lion Gale S. Bindelglass of Franklin Lakes, who also co-chaired the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey GA delegation.

 
 

NEW ORLEANS, La. – After three days of schmoozing, sessions, and feel-good speeches, the 3,000 or so Jewish federation officials who came to the annual General Assembly may have left New Orleans feeling invigorated.

The view expressed by many top officials was that after two years of a tough recession, the worst is over.

The federations collectively raised about $900 million through their annual campaigns in 2009 and, with two months to go in 2010, they have raised $750 million — within about 4 percent of where they were last year at this time, according to the treasurer of the Jewish Federations of North America, Michael Gelman.

 
 

Jay Feinberg wins Jewish Community Hero contest

Jay Feinberg, founder of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, has been tapped as the Jewish Community Hero.

The announcement was made Tuesday in New Orleans at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, which sponsored the online competition.

A panel of judges selected Feinberg, 42, of Boca Raton, Fla., from among five finalists for the $25,000 Jewish Federations grant awarded to the winner. More than 300,000 people cast online votes to determine the 20 semifinalists; the panel whittled the list to five before choosing Feinberg.

 
 

Volunteers fly south ahead of GA

“People who go down to New Orleans and stay in the tourist area will think that the city has come back and is looking terrific,” Goodman said. “And it is, it’s really exciting to see how much of the downtown has come back. A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to travel into the neighborhoods we go into, to see the work that still needs to get done.”

The Klene-Up Krewe split into two groups in St. Bernard. Some worked on rebuilding homes for people who could not afford to rebuild after Katrina or have been cheated by contractors, while others went to work clearing plots of land the St. Bernard Project received in the Ninth Ward to build new homes.

 
 
 
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Sending socks to the IDF

Teaneck rabbi to bring much-needed supplies to soldiers in Israel

Rabbi Tomer Ronen, rosh yeshiva of Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus, and his wife, Deganit, are the proud parents of a son in the IDF.

Their son, a 20-year-old who went all the way through SAR in Riverdale and then went to Israel, where he studied at a yeshiva for a year and then joined the IDF exactly a year ago, is in a parachute unit. “For the last three weeks, they were training and training and training,” Rabbi Ronen said. Last Thursday, “he called and said, ‘Abba, Ima, we are out. We are giving away our cell phones.’ So we knew that it was happening that night.”

So now the Ronens are both proud and worried parents; worried enough, in fact, to decide that they could no longer sit at home in Teaneck and worry. “To be the parents of a lone soldier is hard,” Rabbi Ronen said. “To be the parent of a lone soldier and know that he is going in — that is even harder.”

 

Turning grief into action

Stephen Flatow talks about his long quest for justice for Alisa — and the fine assessed against BNP Paribas

As more and more bleak news from Israel continues to chill hearts here, the parents of all four murdered boys — the three Jews and the one Arab — will have to learn how to live without them.

It is a pain that they will feel forever, but they will learn to manage somehow, each in his or her own way.

In this country, Stephen Flatow models a way to take grief, fashion it into a lance, and wield it powerfully in his quest for justice. Ever since his daughter, Alisa — a Brandeis student who graduated from the Frisch School in Paramus and was spending her junior year abroad in Israel — was killed by terrorists, blown up, along with everyone else on board, as she rode a bus to an Israeli beach, Mr. Flatow has fought to make her murderers, and the terrorist state that supported them, pay for her death.

 

Growing up in Palestine

Fort Lee woman recounts some of her journey from Poland to Israel

By the time she was 10 years old, in 1933, Molly Kis of Fort Lee had gone to school in three countries — Poland, Germany, and Palestine.

By the time she was 15, she had joined the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary force that fought the British in Palestine and later morphed into the Israel Defense Forces. And by the time she was 25, she saw the British take down their flag over Haifa and then the newborn Jewish state unfurl its own.

Now, she looks back over a life filled with adventure, and recounts some of the twists in her long, deeply lived path.

It is always helpful to be born into a wealthy family, as Regina Spitz was. (Along with her many moves came many accompanying changes of name. Regina Spitz was the one Molly Kis was born with.) Her mother’s family, the Nadels, had a flourishing business selling building materials in a Polish town called Przemyse. Her father’s family, the Spitzes, “were part of a long line of modern Orthodox intellectuals,” Ms. Kis said, and her father, too, was a scholar.

 

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Jews in the Garment Center

Local documentary maker looks at Jewish garmentos, anarchists, musicians, and other unusual Americans

What exactly is a garmento?

Is it a cringe-making label or a badge of honor?

Does the stereotypical garmento embody traditional Jewish values? Or does he (or far less often she) defy or deny them?

Why did so many Jews go into the rag trade anyway?

And Sam, really, why did you make the pants so long?

Steven Fischler of Teaneck and his business partner, Joel Sucher of Hartsdale, N.Y., examine these questions — well, at least some of them — and similar ones in a documentary, “Dressing America: Tales From the Garment Center.” Created in 2009, it will be broadcast a number of times on Channel 13 and on WLIW, beginning on September 2, to mark Fashion Week in New York City.

 

Paddling the Mediterranean

Local man navigates many-legged kayak trip from Spain to Cyprus

That may seem a pretentious term for someone who has done his seafaring not on a big ship, but in an 18-foot sea kayak. But it is fitting for an adventurer who has covered about 2,500 nautical miles, weathering strong winds and battling currents, and who has touched shore in seven Mediterranean countries, all under paddle power.

His journey was to take him from Barcelona, Spain, to Israel, but he ended the trip just short of his goal, in Cyprus, still covering a formidable distance.

“It was a personal odyssey,” Mr. Neimand said. “I traveled far outside the box. I saw wonders and lived legends. It was just amazing.”

While Mr. Neimand was soothing his sore muscles in Ma’ale Admim, Israel, where he lives, sighs of relief and pride were heard back in Teaneck, where Mr. Neimand’s parents, Jane and Jerry, admitted to having had the jitters over their son’s multiyear venture.

 

Unity from tragedy

Local group goes to Israel to show support, share grief and love

It was not a normal trip to Israel, this hastily organized, 80-person two-bus weeklong journey.

The travelers, mainly from Bergen County and almost exclusively from the New York metropolitan area, overwhelmingly veterans of many voyages to the Jewish state, did not go as tourists. Their goal, instead, was to provide comfort and support to Israelis, who are battered both by the rockets Hamas fires at them and by the disdain much of the rest of the world showers on them.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood led the trip. “Our congregation has gone in the past, under pretty much the same circumstances — the intifada, the Gulf War, Operation Cast Lead,” Rabbi Goldin said. “I will never forget being handed gas masks as we walked off the plane during the Gulf War. My image of that trip was walking through Yad VaShem holding a gas mask.”

Still, he said, the feeling this time was different. “The vulnerability seemed even greater.”

 
 
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