Israel’s prime minister headlines any Jewish event he attends in the United States.
Meanwhile, with somewhat less fanfare, the three-day meeting will focus on the needs of Jewish communities and the fundraising to meet those needs.
Netanyahu will speak on the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 10, the day after his first meeting with President Barak Obama since the completion of the Iran nuclear weapons agreement. It’s also his first address to a large Jewish gathering since he drew wide criticism for overplaying the grand mufti of Jerusalem’s role in the Holocaust during a speech to the World Zionist Congress on Oct. 20.
(Labor Party Chairman Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition in the Israeli Knesset, will speak on the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 9.)
The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta was one of at least 50 Federations across the United States, in addition to the JFNA itself, that issued statements opposing or expressing reservations about the Iran deal.
While funding projects in Israel is part of the Federations’ mission, such pronouncements on foreign policy issues have proved controversial.
Some 5,000 people are expected to attend the General Assembly, an annual gathering of 151 local Federations and a network of 300 smaller Jewish communities.
“The General Assembly is a moment in time to come together as a movement and share the experience and understand the power of the work,” said Rebecca Dinar, JFNA’s managing director of strategic marketing and communications. “It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, brick-by-brick. The GA allows us to step back and look at how we all play a role in a movement that is shaping and building and empowering the Jewish community.”
The GA’s roster of speakers includes three also appearing this month at the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center: TV journalist David Gregory, the Book Festival’s opening night speaker; diplomat Dennis Ross, who is speaking free at The Temple on Nov. 9, the day after his GA appearance; and Jennifer Teege, the biracial granddaughter of the German camp commander portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in “Schindler’s List.”
The Atlanta Federation is sending 34 people — a combination of staff, executive committee and board members, and other lay leaders — to the General Assembly, which opens Sunday, Nov. 8. The plenary sessions will be streamed live online for those who don’t make the trip.
“The GA is the only meeting where all Federations convene, where we can learn from each other and see just how big an impact we make together. It is a great opportunity to learn about big trends and get new ideas to bring back to our communities,” said Andrea Deck, the Atlanta Federation’s senior associate for community planning and impact. “This year Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is at the table for Holocaust survivor initiatives, supporting those with disabilities, the role of endowment in fundraising, and we are thrilled to be bringing the inaugural cohort of fellows of the Joyce and Ramie Tritt Family Federation Leadership Institute, where we will introduce them to the national Federation system.”
The Atlanta Federation “transforms Jewish values into tangible deeds,” reads the mission statement on its tax form. “We care for the vulnerable, reduce the imperiled and strengthen the Jewish community in Atlanta, in Israel, and around the world.”
It is an expensive mission. JFNA’s member Federations raise some $900 million a year (not including emergency campaigns or those targeting a specific issue). In 2014, JFNA disbursed about $2 billion (a combination of monies raised by member federations, minus expenses; the interest earned on JFNA’s endowment; and “donor advised” funds designated to specific purposes).
By necessity, much of the discussion at the General Assembly will be about “building philanthropic muscle” to raise those funds.
Michael Balaban, the chief development officer of the Atlanta Federation, will address a GA session on how local Federations can use planned giving and endowments as part of their fundraising strategy.
Other sessions will cover best practices used by various Federations to serve their constituent communities.
One Atlanta offering will come from Sheryl Arno and Ina Enoch, the chairwomen of the JFGA Jewish Disabilities Task Force. They will discuss the work done by the Jewish Abilities Alliance in a session titled “Access Granted: Creating Inclusive Communities.”
Caring for the aging population of Holocaust survivors also is on the GA agenda. An estimated one-quarter of the 130,000 survivors in the United States live below the government-established poverty line.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded JFNA $2.5 million (a grant that requires matching fundraising) to support organizations that aid Holocaust survivors. The discussion of this aid will be of particular interest to Cherie Aviv, who will attend as a member of the executive committees of both JFGA and Jewish Family & Career Services, which offers a variety of such services.
The Atlanta Federation distributes millions of dollars annually to a myriad of organizations, ranging from schools and religious movements to social service projects and Israel-related concerns.
A partial list of recipients and the amounts of money provided by the Atlanta Federation can be found on the JFGA website.
The Atlanta Federation scores well in ratings done by Charity Navigator, a watchdog group. One component of the ranking is that slightly more than 90 percent of JFGA’s total expenses are for programs and services. In the fiscal year ending June 2013 (the most recent data available), JFGA took in more than $33.6 million in contributions, gifts and grants, and program spending exceeded $28.5 million.
Looming over the Atlanta Federation is a change of leadership. Michael Horowitz, who was paid more than $304,000 for the fiscal year ending in June 2013, has announced his resignation after five years as president and CEO. The process of selecting a successor is expected to last into 2016.