My First GA

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.

About the Author
Ilana hails from the capitol of the Jewish Exile of Teaneck, New Jersey; She moved to Israel after graduating from the University of Maryland; Shortly after arriving in Israel, Ilana served in the COGAT unit in the army.; Currently, she works for the Jewish National Fund.