We arrived at Skyservice in Dorval at 6:15 a.m. It was still dark outside and the air had that late fall bite to it, but the Montrealers gathering at the airport for our 7 a.m. departure to Washington, D.C., were in fine form.
Maybe it was the lovely breakfast buffet awaiting us (federation professionals always sweat the details) that made us smile. Or maybe it was the anticipation of two jam-packed days of communal learning together with 2,000 members of the tribe. I think it was the energy generated by more than 15 young adults in our delegation that made the atmosphere feel so charged with possibility.
The General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America – affectionately known as the GA – is the premier event of the Jewish communal calendar year. I can still remember my father’s excitement in 1967, when the GA was hosted by Cleveland. He was being recognized as a “young leader” alongside other award-winners from across the continent.
The GA has gone through many different iterations over the decades. Yet, it remains a singular opportunity to connect, learn, engage, exchange and make common cause with fellow Jews who share a love of the Jewish People and a desire to ensure a bright future for us all.
As a federation executive, my biggest challenge at the GA is finding the right balance between formal sessions and informal meetings. Deciding which sessions to attend feels a bit like facing a breakfast buffet in Israel: so many delicious choices, and not enough room on the plate (or in my stomach) for all of them.
This year was an embarrassment of riches, as three of the 50 North American innovations selected for presentation were from Federation CJA: our Generations Fund CAPS and Camping programs, and InMontreal, a digital tapestry of our community. My solution: homework assignments for our delegation, to cover the presentations and discussions of particular interest to Montreal.
Interspersed between formal GA sessions were the dozens of private conversations with colleagues in the field of Jewish communal service – always an invaluable source of learning for professionals. Paradoxically, in a universe where we can connect digitally and virtually with people anyplace and anytime, there is simply nothing to replace the rich and enriching exchanges of face-to-face dialogue.
There were a few magical moments for me at this GA. Rachel Botsman, author of What’s Mine is Yours, opened my eyes to the unlimited potential of digital platforms to connect us more deeply to one another, and reaffirmed my belief that we are always stronger together than we could ever be apart.
And thought-provoking journalist A.J. Jacobs, who spent a year quite literally living the Bible, left me feeling grateful for all my blessings, large and small, and more forgiving of the imperfections and frustrations – the narishkeit – of daily life.
Perhaps most moving for me was the closing plenary on Remembrance Day (Veterans’ Day south of the border). Seeing Federation CJA president Susan Laxer take the stage to introduce a tribute to the Canadian and American armed forces, listening to the extraordinary testimonials of five Jewish chaplains who minister to Jewish and non-Jewish servicemen and women of our two great countries, and then singing O Canada together with our own Sara Diamond brought tears to my eyes.
For me, this year’s GA was an eloquent expression of the power of community. It was a coming together of committed professionals, volunteers, donors and lay leaders to grow as individuals and as part of a larger Jewish community. Our delegation – over 50 strong – included women and men, young adults and seasoned veterans, secular and observant, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, English- and French-speaking – a representative sample of the diversity that makes Montreal such a unique Jewish community.
And finally, by learning and sharing together, we discovered that collectively, we can accomplish great things for the many Jewish communities – Montreal, Canada, North America, Israel, the entire Jewish People – that we inhabit and that we love. n