Jerusalem — Charles Bronfman, the increasingly high-profile Canadian Jewish philanthropist who chaired last week’s General Assembly of the UJA Federations of North America here, is the leading candidate to chair the new superagency, made up of the United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations and the United Israel Appeal, sources at the GA said.The merger is expected to take place early next year, and though Bronfman has his own highly active family foundation, the word in the halls at the GA was that he will agree to give the new entity the kind of high-recognition, mega-giver leadership that many feel it will need to be successful.A chairman and chief executive are scheduled to be chosen in the next six to eight weeks.
The surprisingly high turnout of both North American and Israeli delegates at the GA, estimated at between 5,000 and 6,000, bolstered the idea of holding the annual event in Israel every three to five years. Last week’s 67th GA was the first held outside of North America. But Conrad Giles, the president of the CJF, told the crowd at the last session that “this is the first of many [GAs] that will be held in Jerusalem.”nEvery GA has a slogan, or theme. This year’s featured a bright red heart, done by artist Jim Dine, and the phrase “Many People, Many Roads, One Heart.”
There was no official reaction to this reporter’s suggestion that the 1999 event, scheduled for Atlanta, use the tag “Last Year In Jerusalem.”nDov Lautman, the Israeli industrialist who served as Israel chair of the GA, was so upset by a front-page story in Haaretz’s English edition, quoting him as saying that American Jews should spent most of their communal funds at home, that he demanded and received rebuttal time at the conference’s closing session.“The Haaretz headline was the opposite of what I thought,” he asserted, explaining that while he believes some American Jewish funds should be spent on teaching youngsters about Israel and having them visit, he also feels that “American Jews should participate in our cultural, economic and political life. Only a strong diaspora will make a strong Israel,” he declared.The original Haaretz headline read: “Israeli UJA chief Dov Lautman tells U.S. Jews: ‘Keep your money at home.’ ”Adding to the notion that event was mostly important to North American Jews, the GA, while receiving extensive daily coverage in the Jerusalem Post, attracted little ink in Israel’s biggest daily newspapers, Yediot Achronot and Maariv.nOne speaker at the GA, illustrating the level of Hebrew ignorance among North American Jews, said someone asked him, “how do you say tikkun olam in Hebrew?”The phrase is Hebrew for repairing the world.nWhile the GA received high marks from many participants for its one full day of field trips, some on the political and religious right were critical of the fact that none of the 38 buses planned to go beyond the Green Line. As it turned out, the group dealing with Modern Orthodoxy and Religious Zionism spent about an hour at a site in the West Bank. But organizers noted that UJA Federation funds are concentrated within the Green Line and that’s why no trips were scheduled beyond.
Stephen Solender, executive vice president of the UJA-Federation of New York, was among those who took exception to Yaakov Neeman’s statement to the GA that the issues of religious pluralism, and the rights of Conservative and Reform Jews, “are no longer at the top of the agenda of the Jewish world.” Neeman, Israel’s finance minister, chaired a commission seeking to achieve a solution to the issue of religious freedoms.“It’s a wait-and-see period now,” said Solender, whose New York delegation numbered close to 100. “But he [Ne’eman] shouldn’t be deluded by the quiet.”nYona Yahav, a Labor member of the Knesset, told members of UJA-Federation of New York he is discouraging his 26-year-old son from going to the United States to get his doctorate.“I’m afraid he is not going to come back and will marry out,” Yahav, an Orthodox Jew, said during a reception for Knesset members.Asked if he was serious, Yahav insisted he was because “my son is Jewish by origin, not Jewish by conscience. Here we have a closed society and I do not have to worry he will marry out.” Yahav, who married a war widow and adopted her son when he was four, said he had clearly “failed” in his desire to have his son “stand in front of the bima and know how to pray.” Deborah Schwartz of New City was left puzzled by the discussion. “He prefers for his son to be a passive Jew in Israel,” she said. “Yet he said he knows that Jewish values, education and culture are important in America. And going to America would give him the chance to see different forms of Judaism” that may be more appealing than the Orthodoxy he finds in Israel.
In keeping with a GA that was more symbolic than substantive, the final session at Jerusalem’s Convention Center was heralded as a rare and historic meeting of the Knesset, held outside of the Knesset building. It featured a dais filled with about 10 Knesset members and several dozen American Jewish and Israeli organizational leaders, chaired by Knesset Speaker Dan Tichon. The highlight was the reading, in Hebrew and English, of a carefully worded covenant between the Jews of Israel and North America, committed to “strengthening the links between us by creating personal relationships and active involvements that will serve to draw us closer to one another.”Tichon, in his remarks, noted that 80 percent of Diaspora Jews have never visited Israel. “We have a hotel called Eretz Yisrael,” he said, “but the rooms we are keeping for you remain empty.”Staff writer Stewart Ain contributed to this report.