Hopefulness at the General Assembly

As a rabbi of an innovative global organization, it is important for me not just to be in my office but to also be on the road learning from others. That means I try to attend a handful of conferences each yearand today I’m a first-time attendee at the Jewish Federation of North America’s General Assembly, known in shorthand as “the GA.” It’s a conference for volunteer and professional leaders of Jewish Federations and those with an interest in Jewish philanthropy.Future Compass

At events like this, my hopes are that I will make connections to new friends and colleagues, that I will learn some new tools, that I will leave with just as many questions as answers, and that I will have a sense of optimism about what is possible in the Jewish community.

When I was flipping through the list of sessions, I realized there are two ways to view them, one more positive than the other.

There’s a long-standing tradition that Jewish telegrams were easy to recognize because they would say simply, “letter to follow. Begin worrying.” And, it is easy to read through a list of session topics at a conference like this, and to begin panicking: How will we fundraise? What will Israel’s future look like? How will we engage teens/young adults/aging adults/interfaith families/fill-in-the-blank? What will we do about rising anti-Semitism in Europe? How do we balance collectivism and individualism? Is Jewish education working or not?

Some people answer those questions with doom-and-gloom answers. But I don’t think that’s what this conference is about (otherwise I wouldn’t be here!). Conferences like this work when those in the room confront the realities of Jewish life and then figure out how to embrace opportunities for what could be rather than bemoan what is.

While there is some truth that worrying is part of the Jewish historical experience, it is also the case that celebration has long been an affirmation of a positive Jewish identity. We are a people of happiness and joy, laughter and humor. We are a people of hope.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, a speaker at this conference, once said that “Judaism is humanity’s faith in the future tense; the Jewish voice is the voice of inextinguishable hope.”

Being at a conference with thousands of people who care about Jewish life and want to celebrate it – this gives me much hope. My telegram (now a tweet) from my time at the GA will say: email to follow, no need to worrywe are a people of hope.

To watch my Rosh Hashanah sermon on which this blog post is loosely based, please click here.

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