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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke to a crowd of over 2,000 people at this year's JFNA GA. The keyword: security.

Netanyahu At The GA: ‘Security’

Security. This was the only message that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu delivered to a crowd of more than 2,000 people on Sunday, Nov. 10 at the opening plenary of the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke to a crowd of over 2,000 people at this year's JFNA GA. The keyword: security.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke to a crowd of over 2,000 people at this year’s JFNA GA. The keyword: security.

“The most important thing is to assure the security and the future of the Jewish state, the one and only Jewish state of Israel,” said Netanyahu as he launched into a more than 30-minute speech.

The PM started with Iran. He told the audience of Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders that an Iran without nuclear weapons is essential not only for Israel, but for the entire world – the U.S., Europe, the Arabs, the Chinese and the Russians.

“But for us,” said Netanyahu, “it is a matter of our existence.”

Netanyahu lashed out at the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany) for agreeing to lighten sanctions on Iran when it came to the table pleading, ready to negotiate because the sanctions are having impact. He said the P5+1 placed demands on Iran to cease and desist the building of capabilities to produce atomic bombs that have brought Iran to its knees, why now would we want to come to a deal without Iran dismantling anything.

“Why Iran has come for a deal is obvious. It is because the sanctions are biting, are crippling that regime. They came to the table because they have to,” he said, expressing exasperation that the group would agree to lghten sanctions when “not one centrifuge is dismantled – not one.”

He said Iran can in a matter of a few weeks take the capabilities it has and produce a nuclear weapon.

“Iran does not roll back its nuclear making capacity at all, but P5+1 are rolling back sanctions? That is a bad deal, it is a dangerous deal. … That affects our survival,” said Netanyahu. “I will not be silenced – never. … When the Jewish people were silenced on matters relating to our survival you know what happened.”

Then he told the audience that Iran was not only targeting his country, but most certainly the U.S., too.

“Who is Iran targeting when it builds the ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles)? They already have rockets and missiles to reach us. They need those [ICBMs] to reach North America. And they can be nuclear tipped. That is the plan –  coming to a theater near you. Do you want that? Well, do something about it,” he charged.

He said Israel is in charge of defending itself and that is what it will do.

And not only when it comes to Iran.

The PM next turned to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and said, again, that first and foremost was the safety, security and longevity of the Jewish state.

“We need to end this conflict once and for all and to end it there is a simple principle. That principle is two nation states, two states for two peoples. Not one state for one people, for the Palestinians. And then another state for two peoples. No, two states for two peoples,” said the PM.

He told the crowd that if the Palestinians expect Israel to recognize a Palestinian state, they must recognize a Jewish state for the Jewish people. He said, “That is what peace is about.”

Netanyahu walked attendees through Israel’s painful and bloody past, through the 1921 attack on the Jewish immigration office in Jaffa, through the horrible beheading of babies in 1929 with the Hebron massacre and on through the systematic attacks by the Arabs on the Jewish community between 1936 and 1939. During World War II, he reminded, it was Haj Amin al-Husseini who partnered with Adolf Hitler and called for a final solution. He then said that in 1947 the Jews accepted a two-state solution while the Arabs refused and when the Jews established their state, they were attacked on all fronts, attacks which lasted until the 1967 war.

“For 46 years there were systemic attacks on the very nature of the Jewish state. Not on settlements,” he said. “There were not any settlement. …. Not about a Palestinian state, they rejected it. … It was about the Jewish state. They have to recognize the Jewish state. … What is their struggle for? Palestine. What is Palestine? It is Kiryat Shemona to Eilat, it is from the river to the sea.”

And so, bringing the talk back to the issue of security, Netanyahu then said that even if the Palestinians agreed to recognize Israel, “there is no durable peace that is not based on security. … A peace agreement that is not based on absolutely robust security for Israel by Israel will not stand test of time. We need a peace based on security. That is the other fundamental piece. We need security to defend the peace — and security to defend Israel in case peace unravels. And in our region, peace has a tendency to unravel.”

Next, and also connected to Israel’s peace and security, Netanyahu spoke about shalom bayit between Israel and Diaspora Jews. He claimed it his responsibility as PM of Israel to keep the peace of the Jewish people. And he said it was he who asked Natan Sharansky to head a Kotel task force and that he is confident we are on the cusp of making a final solution come to fruition.

He cited an announcement made earlier this week at the Jewish Agency for Israel conference about new plans (see “Exclusive Briefing: JAFI’s Misha Galperin On New Program To Ignite Stronger Diaspora-Israeli Connection>>“) to further connect young Diaspora Jews with Israel and noted that he has agreed to invest Israeli money in the endeavor.

“We are committed to it,” said Netanyahu. “We know the challenge of Jewish unity. There are the forces of assimilation and intermarriage [in the States]. … We have sponsored this initiative to work together, to think through [these things] together, and to put forward programs to solidify … a Jewish identity that is so central to our future.”

Netanyahu continued: “When I think of challenges we have overcome over the last 4,000 years – challenges to our physical survival, challenges to our spiritual survival and cohesion — I know we have that inner strength to guarantee the Jewish future. … To defend and secure the Jewish people and the one and only Jewish state.”

 View Earlier Posts:
Exclusive Briefing: JAFI’s Misha Galperin On New Program To Ignite Stronger Diaspora-Israeli Connection>>
GA 2013: Opening Plenary at 7:15 P.M.>>

Read what’s happening with the group traveling from Washington, D.C.>>

Misha Galperin discussed a new project that will focus on Jewish identity and connection to Israel.

Exclusive Briefing: JAFI’s Misha Galperin On New Program To Ignite Stronger Diaspora-Israeli Connection

With change there is always opportunity, said Debs Weinberg of Baltimore at a morning session run by the Jewish Agency for Israel. And Weinberg’s message was one that will become increasingly more relevant as JAFI, working with the government of Israel and nonprofits from across the world, works to better engage young (between the ages of 13 and 35) Jews with Israel and to enhance their Jewish identities.

Misha Galperin discussed a new project that will focus on Jewish identity and connection to Israel.

Misha Galperin discussed a new project that will focus on Jewish identity and connection to Israel.

Dr. Misha Galperin, president and CEO of Jewish Agency International Development, told a group of about 15 people in an exclusive briefing on Sunday morning that over the course of the JAFI conference, which is currently taking place in Israel, a group of more than 100 thought leaders met to more formalize plans for a collaborative initiative that will bring Diaspora Jews to Israel and invest in Israel education on campuses outside of the Jewish state.

Galperin explained that this program was nearly a decade in the making, as it was current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who signed the legislation in the ‘90s that launched invested by the government of Israel in Birthright.

“This was the first time in history that Israeli tax payers’ money was put into a pot that funded free trips for American kids, which many thought here [in Israel] was a criminal thing to do; it was supposed to the other way around,” said Galperin.

Since then, a number of other development occurred, like the formation of MASA Israel, which was co-founded and is jointly managed by the government and the Jewish Agency.

“At this point, about $120 million a year are allocated by the government of Israel for various prorams that have to with the Jewish Diaspora and Jewish communities [outside of Israel,” said Galperin.

When Natan Sharansky left his seat in the Knesset to become head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, he started exploring what might be next – after or in conjunction with Birthright and MASA.

About one year ago, the PM empowered a team to explore that question in conjunction with leaders in the Diaspora. A late April 2013 meeting help by the PM with Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett solidified that there would need to be something done.

“The prime minister said this is important for the Jewish people – that it is in the strategic interest of the Jewish people,” noted Galperin.

Several meetings, focus groups and a white paper later, led to the Nov. 6 to 7 meetings of world thought leaders in Jerusalem’s Binyanei Ha’Uma and the revelation that the government will invest likely double what it is investing now to ramp up programming for young Diaspora Jews. That money – though an exact amount could not be named – would be expected to be matched by overseas nonprofit organizations/philanthropists and by participants’ fees.

“I was personally very anxious about what would happen and how this would work,” said Galperin. “This is a very different planning model. For the government of Israel, it is revolutionary. The government has never done this before – engaged in a collaborative planning process with Diaspora and on-governmental organizations.”

What can Galperin say on the record now?

“This effort is moving ahead,” he said, noting that between now and April when the government would have to present a resolution and ensure funding for the initiative is allocated in the fiscal budget, “exactly what we are doing, in what sequence, how it is going to be evaluated and all that, has to be worked out.”

The outcome could have a fundamental impact on the destiny of the Jewish people – not so much in terms of the types of programming but in terms of how the programming is being worked out — this new method of Jewish collaboration.

Galperin said there will likely be a series of pilot projects in the first year, but details could not be available at this time. What he could say was that while initial talks were focused on growing Diaspora Jews’ connection with Israel, and while that is still a part of it, “now we are talking about Jewish identity.”

View previous GA 2012 posts:
GA 2013: Opening Plenary at 7:15 P.M.>>
‘We Want To Hear From You’>>

Read what’s happening with the group traveling from Washington, D.C.>>

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‘We Want To Hear From You’

GA co-chair Susie Gelman says the general assembly will reinvigorate federation leadership. (Jewish Federations of North America)

GA co-chair Susie Gelman says the general assembly will reinvigorate federation leadership. (Jewish Federations of North America)

Ten years ago, when Michael and Susie Gelman chaired the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North American in Israel, the focus was on security and solidarity. Susie Gelman remembers that it was during the second Intifada, a time of terror attacks, and many American Jews were staying away from Israel. The GA brought them back.

“We had an amazing turnout. Thousands of people came,” she said. “The highlight was a nighttime walk from Binyanei HaUma through Machane Yehuda to Kikar Tzion in downtown Jerusalem. We were all carrying signs and singing songs as we marched. The shopkeepers were applauding, handing out candy and hugging us. They were so grateful to see the shuk full of life once more. It was an unforgettable moment for all who experienced it. “

Fast forward to 2013, and the Gelmans are once again the chairs of the GA — in Israel. However, the conference, which takes place in the Jewish state every five years, will look different than it did in 2003. Scheduled to take place between Nov. 10 and Nov. 12, in a year when Israel is immersed in quiet peace talks with the Palestinians, the GA will focus on dialogue and debate, on sessions surrounding the challenges and successes of a more mature Israel.

“The agenda was developed in the context of Israel no longer being a developing country,” said Michael Gelman, “but a mature democracy and with all of the challenges and successes that entails.”

There will be a session examining the aftermath of the 2011 Israeli social justice protests, a series of ongoing demonstrations in Israel involving hundreds of thousands of protesters from a variety of socioeconomic and religious backgrounds opposing the continuing rise in the cost of living (particularly housing) and the deterioration of public services such as health and education. Another one, moderated by Susie Gelman, will focus on civil marriage in Israel, which does not currently exist. Due to the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate’s authority over all matters of personal status, including marriage and divorce, 20 percent of Israelis opt to get married overseas. Other talks will feature Israeli politics, philanthropy, spirituality, women’s issues and economic issues.

But the list of dozens of plenaries and sessions, skewed heavily to a dialogue about the Jewish state, begs the question: This is the JFNA GA, so why are we talking more about Israel than our own domestic affairs?

JFNA chair of the board Michael D. Siegal said he, the GA chairs and the robust committee that has been planning this program for upward of one year, felt it was important to seize the opportunity to access Israeli thought leaders and share in a debate about the future of Diaspora-Israel relations, about what tikkun olam means in Israel and in America.

“We want to hear from you [the Israelis] about your issues and problems and understand how we can best help and how you can lead us. We can use your wonderful narrative to strengthen our community at home,” explained Siegal.

A recent Pew Survey will factor into the conversation, of course, with talks on Jewish innovation, relevancy and renewal. In a first-ever format for the GA, there will be Fed Talks, a play on the popular Ted Talks, as well as a Pitch Your Idea session, where select individuals will have two minutes to share the essence of their programming ideas; it’s almost like speed dating for Jewish communal professionals.

“With these different modalities, we are trying to give the GA a freshness that perhaps it has not had previously,” said Susie Gelman.

Michael Siegal, chair of the board of the Jewish Federations of North America, says this year’s GA will focus on Diaspora-Israeli relations. (Jewish Federations of North America)

Michael Siegal, chair of the board of the Jewish Federations of North America, says this year’s GA will focus on Diaspora-Israeli relations. (Jewish Federations of North America)

The speakers will provide a “wow” factor, too. Attendees will hear from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Mayor Nir Barkat, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett, among dozens of others.

Siegal and Susie Gelman said it was challenging to balance the scheduling, but recruiting speakers was not hard. Said Gelman: “Politicians and other public figures in Israel understand the importance of participating in the GA … that this is the pre-eminent conference of Diaspora communal leadership. I don’t think anyone has to be convinced of coming to the GA.”

JFNA represents half of the world’s Jews, with 154 federations and 300 network communities throughout North America.

And what makes it especially promising is that not only are the names big, but they are diverse. They come from all perspective of Israeli political and social life, offering people a chance to be educated, informed and to come to their own conclusions through interactive dialogue.

The Greater Washington area is sending the largest contingency of participants this year. Baltimore is also sending a hearty group, including many who will be receiving awards from JFNA. Jakir Manela, for example, will receive the JCSA Young Professional Award. Katie Applefeld will get the Harry Greenstein Young Leadership Award.

Applefeld told the JT, “I am psyched and excited. … I am traveling with an incredible group from Baltimore, and there will be just incredible programming and a chance to see our overseas partners up close and in person. There is nothing like being with a group of committed leaders from around the country, celebrating the work of the federation, while in Israel.”

Washington also has two young leadership award recipients. Mike Plostock and Josh Stevens have won the Jerome J. Dick Young Leadership Award. The Greater Washington federation is also bringing home an honor in the form of the Sapir Award for Outstanding Annual Campaigns. This award is given to local federations that exemplify the highest standard in campaign achievement.

“We are honored to receive the prestigious Sapir Award for Annual Campaign Excellence from JFNA. It’s a testament to the dedication and hard work of outstanding volunteers and professionals, working in partnership to build a strong Jewish community at home and abroad,” said Steve Rakkit, executive director of the Greater Washington Federation.

Surrounding the GA are federation mini-missions. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington is offering its travelers three tracks as part of its Israel Your Way mission — business, arts and culture and a first-timers mission.

Robert Zahler is on the first-timers mission. Active in the federation for decades, Zahler has traveled around the world but never to Israel. For now, he told the JT, “I am very excited for it.”

What will be the result of two-and-a-half days immersed in thoughtful dialogue with 3,000 Jewish leaders? That’s different for everyone, said Siegal, but he hopes that the conference will help to convey the message of JFNA to the younger generation, that it will reinvigorate leaders to do more locally and will spawn a dialogue that continues throughout the 2014 campaign year.

“The most exciting thing for a Jew is to be in a room with 3,000 other Jews like you,” said Siegal. “I think it is really exciting to be with people who want to explore how to bring joy into Judaism.”

Added Susie Gelman: The GA will breathe some extra energy into federation leaders, so that we will return to our home communities, redouble our efforts and deepen the dialogue between Diaspora Jews and Israelis.”

The Baltimore Jewish Times will be covering the GA from Israel. To read daily updates, visit jewishtimes.com/GA2013.

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief
mjaffe@jewishtimes.com

Jewish Federations Participate in Peace Process Briefing at the White House

The Jewish Federations were invited to participate in a small gathering of top Jewish communal leaders at the White House on August 8. At the meeting, the group was briefed for approximately 90 minutes by Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Special Envoy Martin Indyk on the status of resumed Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. The Jewish Federations of North America Board of Trustees Chair Michael Siegal, who attended the meeting, issued the following statement:

“Secretary Kerry reaffirmed his and the President’s commitment, optimism and realistic approach to guiding the peace process forward. The meeting had a seriousness of purpose, and a hopeful tone that something of value can be accomplished. We recognize that the course ahead will be challenging, but there is an opportunity today that cannot be missed. Jewish Federations applaud Secretary Kerry, Ambassador Rice, and Ambassador Indyk for their hard work and wish them success.”