Thousands to Gather in Jerusalem for “Signature Event of North American Jewry”

Nov. 5, 2013

For U.S.-based and Israel-based English-language press:
Max Samis, Rabinowitz Communications  +1-202-265-3000 office; +1-202-681-2528 mobile
Dani Wassner, JFNA, Israel and Overseas  +972-2-620-2068 office; +972-52-613-0799 mobile
Steve Rabinowitz, Rabinowitz Communications  +1-202-494-7655 US; 052-357-2903 Israel (as of 7 Nov.)
Joe Berkofsky, JFNA  +1-201-669-6683 US; +1- 052-600-0242 Israel (7 Nov.)
For Israel-based Hebrew-language press:
Lior Weintraub  052-800-0314

Thousands to Gather in Jerusalem for “Signature Event of North American Jewry”

Jewish Federations of North America to Host 2013 General Assembly in Jerusalem Nov. 10-12

Jerusalem – Thousands of Jewish community leaders from across the globe are preparing to convene in Israel for the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, Nov. 10-12 in Jerusalem. With 140 speakers – half of them women – from the political, philanthropic, business, religious and cultural worlds, the GA will gather over 3000 participants from 93 different communities across North America, Israel and Europe – including the heads of the Jewish communities of France, Hungary, Greece, Lithuania, Poland, Belgium, Italy and the Czech Republic – to join the “Global Jewish Shuk: a marketplace of dialogue and debate.”

In setting the GA in Jerusalem, the Jewish Federations see an opportunity to spark a dialogue between Israeli and North American Jews. They believe that the concerns facing the Israeli and North American communities today are universal, and the GA will provide a chance to fully delve into these issues. The conference will focus on two futures: the future of Israel and its relationship with the Diaspora, and the challenges facing North American Jewry today, which the recent Pew Research Study put into sharp relief. The intent of this year’s GA is to explore each of these issues in depth.

A wide range of speakers will be joining the GA to address participants, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, who will be taking questions from participants and via social media.  Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett, opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and a host of members of Knesset, including Stav Shaffir (its youngest member) will also speak, many for the first time to such a large Diaspora audience.

They will be joined by business and community leaders including Eliezer Shkedi, El Al CEO and former IAF Commander-in-Chief; Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of SodaStream International; and Emma Butin, the award-winning founder of Kyron Systems and an author who has been published worldwide.

In addition to the major plenaries, participants will also be able to attend over 22 different ineteractive sessions and meet over 60 exhibitors. With this year’s GA in Jerusalem, the Jewish Federations will explore a range of issues facing Israel and North American Jewry. Sessions will contend with social challenges in Israel, the evolving Israel-Diaspora relationship, and the future of American Jewry.

Among the various sessions, Jewish Agency for Israel chairman Natan Sharansky will sit down with Anat Hoffman, founding member of the Women of the Wall organization, Ronit Peskin, co-founder and volunteer director of the Women for the Wall organization, and MK Aliza Lavie for an in-depth discussion of issues surrounding use of the Kotel, moderated by JFNA President and CEO Jerry Silverman.  Hoffman and Peskin have never before appeared in public together.

Other sessions will focus on critical issues facing the State of Israel. “Many Shades of Black” will discuss the religious community in Israel, while “What’s Love Got to Do with It? Who Decides Who Can Marry (or Divorce) in the Jewish State?” will discuss civil marriage in Israel.

Following the recently released Pew Research Center’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans” survey, JFNA’s Jerry Silverman and Chair Michael Siegal wrote an op-ed proposing a new set of ideas to move the Jewish community in a positive direction. These ideas will be discussed at the GA, including:

  • A proposal to make Jewish early childhood education free and available to every Jewish child, in what Silverman and Siegal referred to as a “Jewish Head Start”;
  • The expansion of the Jewish summer camp experience, with the percentage of Jewish children attending camp increasing from 10 to 30 percent;
  • Increased outreach to the over 350,000 alumni of the Birthright Israel program, asking them what they want, using technology and connecting with them where they are.
  • The creation of “Jewish development zones” – investing in areas with high Jewish populations but with the lowest proportion of Jewish engagement, to develop programs and experiences intended to connect Jews in a communal structure.

The GA will conclude with a walk to the Western Wall. JFNA believes that there should be a place for every Jew at the Kotel. In what is being called a “dramatic celebration of Jewish unity and of Jerusalem’s centrality to the Jewish people,” participants will end the conference by walking together from Safra Square to the Wall.

This GA is also being billed as a “wired GA,” with a number of bloggers working to keep followers across the world hard wired to Jerusalem. Plenaries and breakout sessions will be live-streamed and a team will be working to constantly update followers via Twitter and the specially-designed GA smartphone app. Sessions will also focus on new technology-focused sectors such as crowdsourcing philanthropy and will feature a series of “FED Talks,” a twist on the popular TED Talks.

Advancing the “Wired GA” will be the plenary session featuring President Shimon Peres, who will answer questions submitted by audience members and through an app on his personal Facebook page. The app was specially designed for the GA and participants around the world have been able to submit questions. During Peres’s session and throughout the GA, participants will be able to join the online conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #JFNAGA.

The JFNA represents 153 Federations and over 300 network communities (smaller communities without Federations) across North America that collectively raise and distribute more than $3 billion annually for social welfare, social services and educational needs at home, in Israel and in 70 nations worldwide. This collective effort makes the JFNA one of the world’s largest charitable organizations. Through JFNA, local Federations have sent over $4.5 billion to Israel over the past 15 years (1998 to 2012).

Federations also have provided emergency funds in crises. In response to the 2003 Second Intifada, Federations raised more than $360 million for victims of terror services and more. In 2006, in response to the Second Lebanon War, Federations again raised over $360 million in emergency aid for social services and economic relief in the north of Israel. Federations also raised over $10 million for emergency aid such as trauma relief in southern Israel amid Operation Pillar of Defense and Operation Cast Lead.

In general, Federations support social service projects in Israel, chiefly through programs of the Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution Committee, as well as ORT. These programs usually help new olim or address issues of the most vulnerable members of Israeli society, including the elderly, the disabled and the economically challenged.

WHAT: 2013 General Assembly

WHEN: Nov. 10-12, 2013

WHERE: Jerusalem, Israel

REGISTER: Registration for the GA is free to approved media. Online registration is now closed, but members of the media can register on-site, beginning at noon, Sunday, Nov. 10.  While not necessary, please email any JFNA media contacts now if planning to attend.

NOTE: Due to significant security arrangements to accommodate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presence, all participants must carry a valid passport or Israeli ID card. A North American driver’s license is NOT sufficient to gain entrance to the convention center.  Please avoid bringing bags or personal items to the convention center on opening night.  Plan to arrive at the convention center by 5pm for the opening reception and to leave enough time to go through security.  The location of the GA on Sunday and Monday is Jerusalem’s International Convention Center (ICC), known locally as “Binayanei Ha’Uma.”  Tuesday will be outside and walking – including to the Kotel; please dress appropriately for the weather, walking and surroundings.  To learn more about the 2013 GA, click here.

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