Although my first General Assembly of The Jewish Federations of North America took place five years ago, I still remember it vividly. At the time I was attending the University of Maryland, but I was studying abroad for my junior year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I was sent by the Hillel House from both the universities to represent them at the GA.
I had been to one AIPAC policy conference during my sophomore year, but the GA was completely different. A group of us students arrived at Binyanei Hauma, the Jerusalem International Convention Center. We signed in, got our name tags, gifts – we got the royal treatment!
The next three days was like heaven: going from plenary sessions, where I heard from Israel’s leaders, then to sessions to hear from global leaders, all interspersed by songs, dances, art and even a “shuk” of Jewish organizations. I loved being exposed to such a wide range of experiences. Beyond the programs, I could not forget the GA schmoozing – the networking and socializing. I got to meet so many people of all ages, and learned so much about a broad array of issues – philanthropy, the Jewish non-profit world, global geopolitics and culture — and so much more.
I will never forget going onstage during one of the plenary sessions, in front of 4,000 people. An Israeli magician was doing a trick with rings. He had us raise our hands if we were married. My friends dared me to raise mine, and I did. Out of everyone in the audience, he called me up. I collected five very nice engagement rings as per his request. He then had me close my eyes. Let me preface this: I don’t believe in magic. I closed my eyes and the rings somehow intertwined. To this day, I have no idea how he attached them and then separated them.
For the rest of the conference, I was an instant celebrity. People stopped me and complemented my acting. “I wasn’t acting,” I said. “I have no idea how he did that.” To this day, when people find out Iattended the 2008 GA, they ask if I saw the “ring girl”
The GA was fun, but I also learned so much, trying to understand what makes Israel tick. How do people work together? How does this country function despite its many differences? I have been grappling with these questions ever since. I attended a GA in Washington, D.C. during my senior year in college, then made aliyah. For the past three years, I have been living in Jerusalem. I hope to join the GA again this year in Jerusalem, to help Israel and to relive some of that GA magic.