NEW YORK (JTA) — The Jewish federation system is set to kick off its annual General Assembly in New Orleans with an eye toward figuring out how to reach those not typically associated with Jewish federations.
As always, the annual gathering for the network of 157 Jewish federations and 400 affiliated fund-raising outposts, which raises about $3 billion per year, will feature dozens of sessions dedicated to helping federations better tell their stories and raise money. This year’s lineup includes a heavy dose of workshops focused on dealing with the recession, balancing domestic and international needs, and new modalities of partnerships and fund-raising vehicles.
The conference also will feature such headline-grabbing speakers as Vice President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni, the leader of Israel’s largest opposition party, Kadima.
But the Jewish Federations of North America, which organizes the GA, also is pitching this year’s conference as one dedicated to outreach to younger generations.
Approximately 600 college students affiliated with Hillel from 96 campuses have received subsidies to attend the conference, and much of GA programming is designed to resonate with the younger attendees, including sessions on social media and volunteerism, a Jewish Federations spokesman said.
The organizations also worked with the Jewish blog Jewlicious.com to invite a number of bloggers to cover the GA in a project it is calling Bloggers Alley.
“The outreach to younger people is part of a broader look to the future and where do we go from here,” Jewish Federations spokesman Joe Berkofsky said.
The federation network raises just under $1 billion per year for global and domestic Jewish needs through its annual campaign and another $2 billion for endowments and special campaigns.
More than 3,000 federation officials and volunteers are expected in New Orleans for the Nov. 7-9 meeting, which kicks off Friday with a charity golf tournament. Netanyahu’s speech is expected to be among the GA highlights.
"The entire Jewish Federation movement is thrilled to have Prime Minister Netanyahu joining us," said Jerry Silverman, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. "The prime minister will be joining an array of inspiring world leaders who will help make this a powerful and memorable GA."
The GA was scheduled to be held in Orlando, Fla., but Jewish Federations officials abruptly switched to New Orleans earlier this year after realizing, they said, that Orlando did not have sufficient space for the gathering.
One major benefit of the change in venue is that it will allow federations to showcase the work of their network with the $28 million it raised for New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In addition, organizers have structured the conference around a day of community service in New Orleans, marking the first time a GA has included a mass volunteer project.
The project represents something of uncharted territory for the federations in that they are working with several non-federation organizations, including Repair the World, Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps, American Jewish World Service and Jewish Funds for Justice, to provide service opportunities for up to 1,500 GA attendees.
“It is part of a broader initiative to focus on Jewish service and to engage younger Jews and more people in ‘tikkun olam’ [repair of the world] and Jewish philanthropy,” Berkofsky told JTA. “It lets them get involved in a form of Jewish philanthropy, a pathway and experience into Jewish life. For some people, Jewish service is their means of Jewish expression.”
Lion of Judah, the division of the federation system dedicated to encouraging women to make gifts of $5,000 or more in their own names, will hold its conference Nov. 8-10 in conjunction with the GA. Some 1,100 women are expected. That conference also will feature a community-service project, as organizers raised $20,000 before the conference to buy 5,000 books that they will distribute to 1,000 poor children in New Orleans.
Unlike the GA, the biennial Lion of Judah conference is a fund-raising event. When the International Lion of Judah Conference took place in Jerusalem in 2008, the recession was just starting and the women raised $18 million. This year they hope to beat that number, Jewish Federations officials said.
To follow live the happenings at the GA, check out Fundermentalist.com, JTA’s blog on philanthropy.