'Thinking Forward' at the JFNA General Assembly
By Abby Seitz
Israel Education Center Intern
As an Israel Education Center intern, most of my interactions on the job occur on campus. I spend a lot of time building relationships with administrators, meeting with professors and engaging students from all backgrounds. While I enjoy my time on campus, I was excited to travel to the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in Washington, D.C. as a Hillel International GA Scholar. It was a privilege to spend three days utterly immersed in Jewish conversation with Jewish leaders and community members from all over.
I was inspired from the moment I stepped inside the hotel when I saw colorful pop-art decorating every pillar and wall. The GA’s theme was “Think Forward.” Throughout the conference, I was encouraged to “Think Forward” about dozens of topics that are pertinent to the greater Jewish community. I was asked, what’s the future of Jewish philanthropy? Jewish life on campus? Jewish conversations and dialogue about Israel? Jewish education? Jewish outreach to millennials? Jewish journalism?
Throughout all three days, I was challenged to think about how my peers and I are all responsible for the Jewish future.
The sessions I attended varied -- some were sponsored by Hillel for students, some were huge plenaries for all attendees, and some were unique breakout sessions on specific topics. In a breakfast hosted by Hillel, Hillel CEO Eric Fingerhut asked us how Hillel could serve us and our fellow students on campus better. He engaged in conversation with us and thoughtfully responded to every question presented by student leaders, assuring us that Hillel is currently working on several campaigns that will promote further communication between students and Hillel International.
Through the GA plenaries, I was able to hear from some of the most prominent and influential leaders of global Jewry, including Natan Sharansky and Benjamin Netanyahu. Leaders from Federations all over the continent also presented their wisdom and experiences.
At other conferences, my favorite aspect has been a vivid speaker or an inspirational breakout session. However, at the JFNA General Assembly, my favorite aspect by far was experiencing the strength and unity of the Jewish community, especially through the smaller communities that all bring something different to the greater Jewish people.
I empathized with other Hillel student leaders who face challenges reaching their peers on small campuses. I engaged in a tough conversation about Israel with a roommate who had a different perspective. I learned about the infinite opportunities available in the Jewish communal world from a UJA Federation - New York associate. I reunited with an old friend from my recent Taglit-Birthright Israel Shorashim trip. I spoke with several JUF leaders about the work we do in our local community.
The GA’s immersive and inspirational environment made me realize that my work as an Israel Education Center intern is work that goes beyond my campus. By educating and engaging my peers, I am contributing to the Jewish community as one of tens of thousands of other Jewish leaders who are committed to ensuring a strong, sustainable and evolving Jewish future.