Students and leaders of Jewish communities around the country gathered in Baltimore on Nov. 11 for the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.
The annual General Assembly (GA) is the largest gathering for American Jewish communal fundraising federations. At the event, the most important issues in Jewish communities around the country are discussed.
There were guest speakers and workshops related to topics of philanthropy, leadership, Jewish identity and support of Israel.
Philanthropy was a topic of great importance to three time GA attendee Sarah Kraut.
Since attending a Hillel alternative spring break trip her freshman year, Kraut, now a senior journalism major, has been involved in Maryland Hillel’s partnership with Repair the World.
“I think that [the GA] is a valuable experience for anyone because the worst thing that could happen is that you will come out knowing more about the Jewish landscape than you did before,” Kraut said.
Kraut attended the GA with a group of delegates sent by Maryland Hillel.
The Hillel Foundation for Jewish Campus Life offers scholarships to urge students to attend conferences like the GA.
Maryland Hillel is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, according to its website, so Kraut said student attendance has been strong at the past three GAs she has attended.
Guest speaker David Gergen, a political analyst for CNN, gave the opening speech, titled “Changing the World,” about the post-election Jewish landscape for Israel.
Today, Israel has reached a cease-fire with Hamas after a week-long series of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Other speakers at the GA included Governor Martin O’Malley, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism.
Kraut said her favorite moment at the GA was a small group chat she had with the president of American Jewish World Service Ruth Messinger.
Messinger is the former Manhattan borough president and ran for mayor of New York City in 1997 as the first woman to receive the Democratic Party nomination for that office.
Junior business and communications major Lexie Kahn also attended the GA and is a member of the Jewish Leadership Council.
“Jewish life doesn’t end after college; it’s something that continues on for the rest of your life, and just seeing how people take that one step further and make it a component of their daily life is really inspiring,” Kahn said.
Kahn said she would love to attend next year’s GA, which will take place in Israel.
The GA offers students the opportunity to network with the wider Jewish community. The variety of Jewish professionals in attendance allowed students to get a deeper look into experts’ experiences.
Showing how the youth of a Jewish community can be involved, Kahn said, was something that meant a lot to the speakers at the GA. According to Kahn, some speakers believe the youth are not active enough.
One student who is arguably active enough is Joseph Ehrenkrantz, a junior English and government and politics major.
He is a member of Am Ha’Aretz, a Jewish sustainability club, Hamsa, a Jewish LGBT club and Hillel’s Campus Entrepreneurship Initiative.
Having never been to a GA before, Ehrenkrantz was surprised when his expectations weren’t met.
“I think that if the event is going to be successful in the future then there would have to be more communication between the students and the professionals there,” Ehrenkrantz said.
While he enjoyed speakers like Jacobs, who spoke about the modern Jew, Ehrenkrantz said the student’s voice was not very well represented. He said that some students felt they were more of an audience member than a participant in the GA.
Ehrenkrantz added that Gergen’s opening speech, which focused on events in history such as the civil rights movement, lost his attention.
“I think the students could vocalize the conditions of the present and emphasize that there is a lot to be done now, not just nostalgic memory of what was done yesterday,” Ehrenkrantz said.