The GA: Howard Dean Bombs

For the next couple of days, I’m in Nashville at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly — the annual mega-conference for Federation executives, lay leaders, and other Jewish professionals.

The GA officially began yesterday with a plenary session that was less scripted — and stranger — than the previous ones I’ve been to. Some reports and observations:

– The event started with the singing of the American, Canadian, and Israeli national anthem. You know that dual loyalty question? Well, when it comes to singing, at least, Jews at the GA definitely don’t have it.

They’ve got a single loyalty.

The only national anthem sung by the audience along with the performer on stage: the Israeli Hatikvah.

Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee introduced U of T basketball coach (and Jew!) Bruce Pearl who, before overstaying his welcome on stage, provoked some serious laughter and tossed out a few off-color remarks.

Pearl introduced himself with: “My name is Mordechai Dov…I am humbled to be here. I am honored to be here. And I have no idea why I’m here.” His jokes included a remark about playing Temple on Friday night. (Get it. Like going to Temple — i.e. like shul — on Shabbat.)

His most hilariously inappropriate line: Talking about facilitating teamwork between kids from “the ‘Hood” of Detroit and towns in Kentucky “where they wear the hood.” (Get it. Like the KKK.)

– Then Howard Dean bombed. Seriously. He was awful. It was like no one briefed him on where he was. His speech was similar to any he would give to his constituents at the Democratic National Committee. But this is a mainstream, relatively wealthy group of Jews who are very concerned about Israel. Half the room could have been Republican.

Dean talked about ending partisanship — and then spoke about what “our candidates look like.”

And what do they look like? America!!! (Which, I guess according to Dean, includes one woman and one black man in a sea of white men.)

What do the Republican candidates look like? According to Dean: America in the 1950s. No one booed him off stage, but that line got some grumbling.

– The final speakers at the plenary: Israeli Minister of Social Welfare Services Isaac Herzog and GA scholar-in-residence and Yeshiva University professor Rabbi JJ Schachter.

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