The Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly
November 12, 2013
At the JFNA Board of Trustees meeting, the Rochester Federation is announced as recipient of the Sapir Award for campaign achievement for our 2012 annual campaign.
Rochester delegation (Rick and Sherry Goldstein, Howard and Leslie Crane, Carolyn Nussbaum) heads off on text study and site visits.
I visited Amigour (www.amigour.com), a Jewish Agency housing project for the poor. We visited a repurposed aliyah center that now has apartments for the elderly, primarily aging Holocaust survivors originally from the former Soviet Union. We heard the stories of several of the clients, who have incomes, including their Russian pensions, of around $700 a month. Market value for similar apartments in the neighborhood is around $1,000 a month. Amigour residents pay around $60 a month, thanks, in part, to support from our unrestricted allocation for overseas needs.
About a dozen elderly Russians entered the room, dressed in tuxedos and ball gowns, faces painted with theatrical makeup and genuine smiles. They performed half a dozen classic Yiddish songs, complete with choreography. The group is one of several choirs organized in the various Amigour buildings.
Imagine (although I saw it) a dozen survivors, 80 and over, singing songs from their youth, despite those songs being illegal in their country for over 70 years. Singing with a passion and energy and flair that brought tears to their eyes …. and mine. They closed their performance dancing a hora with 5 MASA participants who accompanied us on the tour.
A dozen survivors of WWII in Russia dancing in the basement of a senior housing facility in Israel with 5 American twenty-somethings. Unbelievable, but true, and it happened because of what we do.
Close to a thousand people gather outside the Jerusalem municipality to celebrate Israel and to close the GA. We hear from Mayor Nir Barkat; multi-portfolio Minister Naftali Bennett; and Natan Sharansky, hero of the Jewish people (and Jewish Agency Chair of the Executive) – each talks about a new paradigm of partnership between the State of Israel and the Jews of the world.
The entire group marches through the crowded streets of Jerusalem to the Kotel. Rush hour drivers unamused, but seem supportive.
We gather at the new egalitarian platform for worship by men and women together, at the Southern Wall. The space is too small, too low, not yet lit. Imperfect for sure, but a first step for diversity and recognition of the variety of ways to be Jewish at this holy site.
A cool breeze blows.
The call to Islamic prayer is heard from a mosque.
A male and a female rabbi chant the ancient mincha prayers.
The sun is going down … the sky darkens.
The chanting continues.
The last rays of the sun catch the stones of the wall and they begin to glow with an almost holy light … just as the chanting ends.
After words from leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements, and from Natan Sharansky, we sing Hatikvah, all together, with a gentle power I have never heard before.
What a day, that captures so much of who we are as a people, a community, a Federation.
We do amazing things.
Layla tov from Yerushalayim