October 19, 2006
L.A. gets ready to be the center of Jewish universe
75th Annual General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"What it does affirm is that for major donors, the Israel agenda is very hot, and it drives fundraising and involvement," he said. "We have relied on essentially a vicarious sense of Jewish peoplehood to fuel fundraising, and it's come at the expense of a domestic vision or even a global vision of Jewish life."
But Gary Tobin, president of the San Francisco-based Institute of Jewish and Community Research, thinks organizers made the right choice by seizing the momentum of where communal concern is now.
"There have been GAs that have been far more devoted to domestic issues. I think with the recent war and the war on terrorism in this country, all of those things are on people's minds a great deal, and it doesn't surprise me that the focus of the conference shifted," said Tobin, who has attended 20 years worth of GAs. "One might also argue that it's a healthy sign, that if that is what is on people's minds, they were actually able to adjust the program."
Tobin and Abramowitz agree that the GA is an important venue for ideas to percolate and for leaders to log face-time to understand what is going on nationwide. That will happen both in official sessions and in informal schmooze time in the corridors of the Convention Center and the Westin Bonaventure, where most delegates are staying.
"I think anytime you get thousands of Jews together with some sense of unity and purpose, there is always magic in the room," Abramowitz said.
"People who are there reinforce each other's values and commitments and remind each other about why they are involved in this enterprise," Tobin said. "People take back information to their communities, and you can see an idea presented by a federation at the GA being used by other federations across the country five years later."
This year, it will also give the country a chance to understand what West Coast Jewry is about. While most of the Jewish power infrastructure is centered on the East Coast, about 20 percent of the Jewish population lives on the West Coast. L.A is the second largest Jewish community in the country, after New York. The San Francisco Bay Area has surpassed Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago in Jewish population.
"Managing a federation in St. Louis is a whole different beast than managing a federation in Los Angeles, so I think it will force the conversations to be more circumspect and analytical. You can't talk in platitudes about what it means to be a federation when you are sitting in Los Angeles," Tobin said.
"It's important for people to understand that anything that happens in California first in terms of Jewish life is going to happen to them at some point in the future, whether it's the higher rate of intermarriage or geographic dispersion on the one hand, or a renaissance in creativity in terms of arts and culture in Jewish life on the other," Tobin said.
Fishel said he has been working hard to make sure Los Angeles is represented in sessions, in the culture of the conference and in the exhibits that line the halls of the convention center.
The L.A. Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation are hosting an evening at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, open to delegates only, where the L.A. Philharmonic will play selections from the Milken Archive of Jewish Music, which is also cohosting. Theodore Bikel, Leonard Nimoy and Cantor Alberto Mizrachi will present a Yiddish Theater Revue.
But it might be hard for delegates to truly get a sense of the local Jewish community with the convention downtown, where Jews might work but generally don't live or play. Fishel is hoping people leave their downtown hotels to take in some of the local Jewish color.
He is also working on pulling some of the top name speakers to side events on the Westside or in the Valley, so locals who aren't participating can benefit from the concentration of leaders in our city.
Still, Fishel is encouraging people to sign up as delegates to benefit from the entire conference.
And this year, all delegates will have a say in passing resolutions and framing action items at the convention's closing meeting. In the past, that meeting was open only to members of the UJC Board of Trustees and its Delegates Assembly, a standing body of 435 members representing federations, small communities, national and Israeli agencies and the religious denominations.
This year, the final assembly will be open to all conference participants.
"We will have spent two and half days focusing on the issues, developing an awareness of the issues," Kotzin said. "So how about using this day to say now what do we do about these issues? This is the time to talk about programs for action, to forge a blueprint of what we are going to do as a community to address these issues and forge an agenda."
And even while only a small percentage of L.A. Jews will actually attend, hosting the conference can energize a city. "It really pumps up the community, in terms of attendance and volunteering," said Kotzin, who was at the Chicago Federation when that city hosted in 2000. "There is a sense of pride people in wanting to show off your own community."
For more information, visit www.jewishla.org or www.ujc.org.
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