Jewish Federations of North America kicked off the historic Israel At 75 General Assembly with calls for deeper engagement between Israel and the North American Jewish community.
This year’s General Assembly coincides with Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days and celebrates 75 years of partnership between North American Jewry and Israel and Jewish Federations’ decades-long investment in building and supporting a flourishing Jewish state.
At the events, which brought over 3,000 Jews from North America and Israel together, participants heard from Israeli leaders and had the opportunity to engage in dialogue on critical issues facing the two communities, including opportunities to strengthen ties between North American Jewry and Israel.
The General Assembly comes at a moment of political upheaval in Israel and the Jewish world. Last month, 30 Federation leaders took part in an extraordinary 24-hour visit to Israel to express their concerns with Israeli leaders on the proposed judicial reforms and to urge for immediate compromise.
Jewish Federations of North America President & CEO Eric Fingerhut told those gathered, "Our determination to welcome both government officials and respectful protests, is, I believe, the only way that we can find our way through a dark time and into a bright future. This is how we have approached the debate about the judiciary in its entirety. We have made clear our love and unconditional support for the State of Israel, but we have also expressed our real concerns about the specific legislation. We have spoken to all parties and all sides of the debate about the issues that directly impact the Jewish communities that we represent. We have consistently encouraged negotiations and compromise for the sake of the Jewish people. And we have supported the courageous leadership of President Herzog, which he demonstrated again here last evening."
The General Assembly featured speakers and political leaders representing a variety of viewpoints and parties, representing Jewish Federations’ commitment to respectful dialogue. In addition to leaders from the opposition and coalition, the event featured both discussions with proponents of judicial reform and leaders of groups protesting it.
At the opening ceremony organized by Jewish Federations of North America, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Hayesod, and the World Zionist Organization. Jewish Federations of North America Board Chair Julie Platt addressed the leaders of Israel along with the protestors. “To the leaders of Israel, including those attending tonight, we stand united in our support of dialogue and broad consensus based on mutual respect. To the protesters exercising their democratic rights, we see you, we hear you, and we are inspired by your love for Israel,” she said. “This debate did not stay in Israel but traveled throughout the global Jewish community. Regardless of the different positions and opinions we may have, what is clear is how passionate we all are about Israel and how central Israel is to our lives. Its struggles are our struggles, its success is our success, and its debates are our debates.”
Addressing the audience at the opening ceremony, President Isaac Herzog introduced a new initiative called Kol Ha’am or Voice of the People: The President’s Initiative for Worldwide Jewish Dialogue, which will act as a global council to bring diverse Jewish voices together and to foster the next generation of Jewish leaders. He said, “I am convinced that there is no greater existential threat to our people than the one that comes from within: Our own polarization and alienation from one another.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu was scheduled to speak at the opening ceremony but informed our leadership on Sunday that he would be unable to attend the event.
Addressing The General Assembly the following day, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said, "The Israel that we know and love is the one that was created by the incredible people who live here, by the energy, by the history, by the thriving communities and our amazing young people, by the deep connection to the Diaspora, to you.” He added, “Today, maybe more than ever, we need you to rally around us. To stand with us.”
Participants will observe the evening of Yom Hazikaron together with thousands of Jewish youth from around the globe at a ceremony hosted by Masa in Latrun. On Tuesday, participants will mark the solemn day in small groups, taking part in ceremonies to honor the fallen and a series of conversations led by Israeli educators. The conference will culminate with festive celebrations in honor of Israel’s 75th birthday.
While many participants were disappointed they were not able to hear directly from the Prime Minister and that a contingency of protestors disrupted one of the sessions, Federations were proud to conduct a meaningful conference that promoted dialogue and was supportive, welcoming, inclusive, substantive, and provided a powerful learning experience during a politically difficult time.
Held every year, The General Assembly is the most consequential gathering of the leadership of the North American Jewish community and brings together Jewish leaders of diverse backgrounds in a space that fosters productive dialogue and debate.