Hello, my loyal readers, from the center of the Jewish world! That’s right, it’s everyone’s favorite annual event….the Beersheva Dog Show! To those of you who didn’t just get Rickrolled, it’s the UJC GA 2008 (General Assembly). (And for the Hebrew-speakers out there, rik-RAL-ti otchem. You’re damn right I just conjugated it. We’re only one paragraph in and the fun’s already begun. Did I mention it’s the GA 2008?!?) This is a good, meaty post, just like you like it, people, coming straight from the War Zone. Let’s do it.
Thanks to my favorite boys and girls at Nefesh B’Nefesh, I was one of the lucky ones selected to spend my Sunday shmoozing and representing the immigrant population at the biggest gathering of Jewish leaders this side of the Jordan River. The GA is the annual event of United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization of the Federations, which raises oodles of cash for all sorts of Jewish institutions in America and Israel through its Super Sunday solicitation, missions, etc. To celebrate Israel’s 60th, it’s taking place not far from my new digs.
Before the event officially kicked off Sunday night, the day leading up to it was labeled “NextGen” and devoted to the young demographic of Jewish leaders which I apparently still fall into. With all the talk about the next generation, I fully expected the event to be co-sponsored by Pepsi.
From the moment I arrived, it was clear what I had gotten myself into: quite possibly the biggest Jewish networking event ever (eat your heart out, AIPAC policy conference.) The day kicked off at Yad Vashem where several hundred of us listened to some opening remarks and ran into an incredible number of familiar faces. By 9 AM, I had already run into an ex-girlfriend/roommate, a camper I hadn’t seen in 15 years, someone who reads my blog who I’d never met, and a ton of others. Living here for two years gave me quite the perspective: is there a more American, or American Jewish professional, activity than power shmoozing at one of these conferences? The Amazing Race should create a version where your goal is to exchange as many business cards as possible in a 24 hour period. “Ready? GO!”
I also became conscious that I was one of the few wearing jeans. Guess what? I’m Israeli. Yiyeh b’sedeeeeeeeeeeer!!!!!
A few random thoughts:
- One of the first speakers welcomes us and tells us that later on, we’ll be reconvening at…(here it comes)….”Binyanei Hu’ama.” Don’t worry, dude, we’ve all been there. He gets it right later on (Binyanei Ha’uma.)
- Edgar Bronfman tells us that at age 36, David Ben-Gurion was the head of the Labor Party. Herzl was 36 when he came to Palestine. Anybody else feel like an underachiever? Suddenly, winning at Sudoku doesn’t feel quite as important anymore. I officially have two years to do something. He says let’s not talk about intermarriage as an enemy but as a reality. He continues, saying that the biggest threats to the Jewish community are ignorance and apathy, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” I have one thing to say to that. WHATEVER.
- I met a nice couple sitting next to me from Louisville, Kentucky. The husband was making his first trip in over 20 years and the wife, her first ever, thanks to winning a Federation leadership award. Nice people, and graduates of my alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. What a city. We alumni always hit it off.
- If not overheard, then mind-read about 100 times throughout the day: “Hey, aren’t we Facebook friends?” Welcome to life in 2008.
- I love when Israelis say words like “Federatzia.” That will never not be funny. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go discuss some simulatziot and situatziot. (My co-worker and I have a new game called “milah o’ lo milah?” (word or not word?) If you guessed that those were all words, you’d be right. Let’s try another: interpretatzia. I totally just made that up, yet there’s a 62.5% chance that it’s a word. I love Hebrew.)
- Ok, seriously, can someone please remind me again which Bronfman is which? Edgar, Charles, Samuel….they’re our version of the Baldwins, only with fewer misdemeanors.
- I’m taking notes and cracking jokes at Yad Freaking Vashem. I’m going to hell. No, I’m not, I’m servicing my readers. Yes, I am….NO, I’M NOT! It was right around this point where the ushers passed out silly string and noisemakers. Just kidding. Hey, is anyone still reading?
- A couple of women have pins on that said “Ask me about a Federation career.” They never tell you what to ask though. I’m going to ask, “If you had to be stuck on a deserted island with one Federation career, which would it be and why?”
- We watch a video which mentions the International School for Holocaust Studies. Move over, Florida State, that sounds like quite the party campus. Who would want to go there and what’s their safety school, Pogrom University?
- We disperse to start our various day trips to sites around Jerusalem. Recommence the shmoozing on 3…2…1! What would be the most attention-grabbing introduction possible? “Hi, I’m Tom Davis, Messianic Judaism Movement. Damn glad to meet ya!”
We learn that in Hadassah Hospital, Arabs and Jews are treated and cared for equally, with no one being asked where they’re from or what they believe. A patient is a patient. And the pediatric ward is pretty amazing, where they’ve created an environment designed to make kids feel as comfortable as possible with toys and colors decorating the lobby and walls. Apparently every floor has a different animal so the kids remember where are. Kind of like that “Seinfeld” when Jerry suggested that the floors in the parking garage should have different names like “Your mother’s a whore.” I’m guessing we won’t be seeing Farfur and his merry friends. (I’m not gonna lie, I love a good Farfur reference.) Walking through the hospital, I run into a guy I haven’t seen since college, easily ten-plus years ago. His UT hat gave him away, he’s on some kind of mission, and guess what? He reads the blog. Too funny. I love the GA.
Off to Binyanei Ha’uma for breakout sessions. Mine is about Israel Today. Interesting stuff. I run into a guy I hosted while working at the Israeli Consulate in Atlanta almost six years ago through Israel at Heart. This is getting ridiculous! But we’re just getting started apparently. Everything is leading up to the big evening, the kick-off event for the GA, where Prime Minister Olmert is to speak.
Talk about security. The normal metal detector and X-ray machines, plus some other measures. It took quite a while to pass through which gave me time to run into my old boss, the former Consul General in Atlanta. Hilarious. B’ima sheli, who’s NOT at this thing? I think I just saw Cain walk by. (And if you think I’m not excited about my #1 Google ranking for “b’ima sheli“, then you don’t know me as well as you thought you did.)
Once we get through, there are falafel-load of sponsored booths set up which leads to more good shmoozing and more ridiculous Jewish geography run-ins.
It’s all about the hair.
We heard three national anthems and I’m telling you, after living in Israel for two years, it’s a little weird to hear the upbeat “Star-Spangled Banner” after singing the emotional “Hatikva”. Here is what everyone in the audience was silently thinking to themselves.
Olmert speaks about Israel being the one home of the Jews (hear that, Upper West Side?) He mentions MASA to loud cheers, then Birthright, Otzma, and KolDor. Hey, what about NBN? That was the biggest snub since Hilary Swank forgot to thank her husband after winning an Oscar. His message was nothing earth-shattering but important nevertheless, that a strong Israel is important for the future of the Jewish people.
And what would a big gala event be without super-cute kids? We were treated to an adorable song and dance number by a group of young, Ethiopian girls, a violin performance by two young Russians, and these twin boys on clarinet, although that might just have been my vertigo kicking in.
And that pretty much drew us to a close. The day was an absolute blast for me, seeing a million and one people I knew from now and WAY back when. It really did feel like the best Matza Balls* I attended where there was an inverse relationship between the number of people you speak to and the number of seconds you’re capable of paying attention to them before you’re off to the next person you know. When I tried explaining it to my Israeli co-workers, I felt like they weren’t really getting it. Perhaps part of it was going back to a past life as a member of the American Jewish community where being a community professional means being a member of a family where, while you may change jobs or cities, you can never get too far away. And it can be a really fun and amazing family to be a part of. Between growing up in Young Judaea, being active in Hillel in school, and working in the Jewish world in the States and in Israel (not to mention socializing in Jewish circles), I certainly have met a lot of people, and great ones at that who are equally passionate about Israel and being Jewish. And maybe I just missed shmoozing with others who are like me. Bottom line, I don’t know how the rest of the week will turn out or what people will take from it, but for one day only, I had a great time reconnecting with people.
And what’s a big Jew party without these important ladies? Here I am with “Charlie’s Angels”, otherwise known as Hadassah. “Good morning, Angels!” Can you say “protectsia“, boys and girls? I knew you could.