3,000 Worldwide Delegates Converge for General Assembly in New Orleans

More than 3,000 Jews from communities across North America and places as far away as Prague and Pretoria streamed into this Mississippi Delta city Tuesday and Wednesday, for the largest annual gathering of Jewish leaders on the continent.

Federation leaders and philanthropists, rabbis and rabble rousers, students and scholars, Zionists and feminists — all arrived in the Cajun capital to participate in the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, the closest thing North America gets to a Jewish continental congress.

By the end of five days of plenaries, forums, symposiums and workshops, they will have discussed issues as diverse as black-Jewish relations, challenges facing the Soviet Jewry movement, how to provide better services for Jews with disabilities, economic development in Israel and the implications of changes in the Jewish family structure.

But despite the panoply of programs to attend, resolutions to debate and budget requests to consider, the real business here, delegates say, is transacted in hotel lobbies and corridors, saunas and stairwells.

In what may be the CJF equivalent of the congressional cloakroom, delegates spend a good amount of time here milling about and bumping into friends, acquaintances and professional colleagues.

PRESSING THEIR CAUSE

While the bulk of the conferees are leaders in Jewish federations from Albuquerque, N.M., to Youngstown, Ohio, there are also hundreds of representatives of North American Jewish organizations, Israeli associations and universities, Jewish newspapers, and communities in Latin America, Africa and Europe.

While the hotel lobbies are a hubbub of shmoozing and arguing reminiscent of an Arab bazaar, just a few paces away Jewish professionals intent on a career move are quietly interviewing with other federations and agencies.

There is no better marketplace of Jewish talent anywhere outside Israel. And if delegates do not have resumes and business cards to trade, it is ideas they are exchanging.

With the American and Israeli elections still fresh in everyone’s mind, politics is a popular topic of conversation.

Waiting in line to register, one could pick up banter about Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s efforts to form a government, President-elect George Bush’s nominees for Cabinet and top staff positions, and the Palestine National Council’s declaration of independent statehood.

There is tremendous concern here about the prospect that Israel will amend its Law of Return to deny automatic citizenship to Jews converted by Reform or Conservative rabbis.

The subject does not appear on the General Assembly program formally until late Saturday afternoon, but it is bound to be raised in any one of a number of sessions dealing with Israel.

A late resolution on the subject was being drafted this week, and CJF sources said it was expected to be introduced at a plenary session Thursday morning, a day before all other resolutions will be considered.

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