November 10, 2011 / 13 Cheshvan 5772
Three days in November: The GA in Mile-High city was a refreshing glimpse at the future of Jewish leadership. Young participation has made the event intensely relevant again, with the Jewish Twitterati sending live updates from both serious sessions and social hot spots. The Jewish Agency has undergone a renewal as well, bringing Israel to Jews at a whole new level of resolution. A striking photographic retrospective of Ethiopian Aliyah reminded us what we can do when we stand united, and Café Connect - an open-house area for meetings and a much appreciated wi-fi hotspot – let that uniting happen. The area was decorated with gorgeous posters of “windows” to the world of Israel and Jewish Agency programs – allowing one to be in Denver and Jerusalem at the same time. What could be better?
Having fun at the GA Masa Alumni greet Barry Spielman, the Jewish Agency’s Director of Communications in North America, at the airport in Denver
The Agency’s “Wake up and Dream” campaign, featured in the organization’s new general brochure and on signs hung on the hotel room doors of participants [“Please Do Not Disturb: (Dreaming of the Jewish Future)”], left the crowd pleasantly surprised to meet the new Jewish Agency. What’s the Agency’s big idea? Dreaming together, as a People, is what takes us forward; the soporific effect over the years - borne of general success and safety - needs to be countered by reviving an active, passionate peoplehood, via Israel.
How to do that? Not just the veneer – but also the content – was invigorating. The sessions hosted by the Jewish Agency were significant and well-attended. These included sessions featuring an interactive play by Agency educators Makom, called “The Big Blue Tent and Jewish Dissent,” and the overseas plenary session in which Natan Sharansky, along with three beneficiaries of Jewish Agency Masa programs, captivated the audience. The buzz on the floor was that this was one of the best overseas plenary sessions ever held.
Natan Sharansky and the Do it Write Participants
The meeting between Natan Sharansky and the Masa alumni was quite a spectacle. It was a moving sight to see Natan sit on the floor with these young future leaders, and have an informal dialogue over lunch of their experiences and how they see their futures as active leaders in the Jewish community. Later, in the Overseas Plenary session, three Masa alumni captivated the audience with their stories of how their Israeli experiences changed their lives, and Natan gave a very well received and thought provoking talk on how to ensure the Jewish future. He declared that this can only be done by enlisting an army of young Jewish leaders, a 100,000 cohort of young change agents, who have been impacted by Israel experience programs, to reverse the assimilation and disengagement trends throughout the Jewish world.
Natan Sharanksy, Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive
Beyond the plenary sessions, the Jewish Agency held its own sessions that included:
- Partnership2Gether: Creating Unique Entry Points to Jewish Life, Locally & Globally
- Turning Israel Program Alumni into Advocates & Activists, with Masa
- Culture@Coffee: From Tel Aviv to Wall Street—the Israeli Angle on Social Justice Protests, with Makom
- Lurking under the Surface: Community-Wide Conversations on Israel, with Makom and JFNA
- Changing the Conversation on Campus: A Discussion with Jewish Agency Israel Fellows to Hillel (held jointly with Hillel)
- Completing the Journey: The Remarkable Story of Ethiopia’s Jews, briefing and update – as well as a running photo gallery exhibit over the course of the conference. (The exhibit’s title: It Takes a Village—From Gondar to Jerusalem: The Remarkable Journey of Ethiopia’s Jews)
- Saving Jews, Ensuring our Future: a closed briefing on the status of Aliyah of rescue
Masa Alumni greet Natan Sharansky at the airport in Denver
As noted above, the young participants at the GA were a main attraction; there were some 35 Masa alumni from across North America who took part in the GA. Many greeted arriving guests at the airport on Sunday with blue shirts labeled: “Certified Israel Expert,” later conducting meetings throughout the conference describing their Israel experiences to other delegates, at the Jewish Agency’s Café Connect.
The alums met for lunch with Natan Sharansky, who sat on the floor with them and engaged in a unique dialogue about their Israel experiences and their futures as Jewish leaders. (Read more about that meeting here: http://www.jewlicious.com/2011/11/natan-sharansky-sits-with-masa-israel-interns-tweets-ensue/)
The Jewish Agency also partnered with the WZO in the parallel-running conference for young Jewish journalists called “Do the Write Thing.” Natan spoke with the large group over lunch about the dialectic reality of being both a Jewish activist invested in the right of Jews to immigrate to Israel… and a human rights activist for all mankind.
Of course, private meetings were held between Federation and Agency execs throughout the GA, and there were media interviews as well, including interviews with Agency Director General Alan Hoffmann and Communications Director Barry Spielman on Jewish Life TV. We hope to have the links soon.
If the GA is any indication, the Jewish People is in for a revival, and the Jewish Agency, as it has for 80 years, is set to lead.
For more photos, visit our Flickr photostream