Federations to look ahead at Washington gathering

Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak at the G.A.
Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak at the G.A.

Some 3,000 people from the Jewish federation world are expected to gather in Washington this weekend for the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Coming after a month of violence in Israel and the West Bank, the G.A. will hear addresses from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

But the focus of the three-day event that opens Sunday is the future. In sessions at the Washington Hilton, participants will consider the future of Jewish federations — the central planning and fundraising organizations in most Jewish communities — as well as the future of Jewish education and philanthropy, and the outlook for anti-Semitism around the globe, said William Daroff, senior vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of the JFNA.

The organization represents 152 Jewish federations and 300 independent Jewish communities across North America.


In a salute to Canada, former Foreign Minister John Baird will address the assembly. He will be celebrated “for the Canadian role in the Jewish federation movement and for the pro-Israel role of the Canadian government,” Daroff said.

The G.A. will be a forum for Jewish communities to share ideas, innovations and best practices. In a series of TED talk-like presentations, dubbed “Fedovations,” speakers will tell of a fertility fund in Miami to offset the cost of in vitro fertilization with interest-free loans; quarterly communal Shabbat dinners for families in Colorado; and a truck that provides food to those who need it in Springfield, Ill.

“It is always exciting to have JFNA’s General Assembly right here in our backyard,” said Steven A. Rakitt, CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. “Greater Washington has such a robust and welcoming Jewish community, and we love to share our great city with volunteers and professional colleagues from around the country. Having the G.A. in D.C. gives members of our community a chance to hear from some of the best and brightest in the Jewish world today.”

Federation President Robert Zahler said he looks forward to the people — speakers and other attendees — “to learn what’s on people’s minds as well as the general discussion. And the plenary sessions are also exciting.”

He said that several members of the Federation staff and laypeople will be speakers at G.A. sessions.
In addition to Netanyahu and Herzog, big names scheduled to speak include actress Debra Messing, TV journalist David Gregory and former Middle East diplomat Dennis Ross.

Among the discussion sessions will be how to better include interfaith families, millennials, people with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the Jewish community.

A selection of 1930s-era love letters by Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, to his mistress in Vienna will be on display, according to Israel’s Kedem Auction House, which will put the entire collection up for sale in December.

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