The Conspiracy

“It Wasn’t a Conference For Us, But We Were There.”

At the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans, one in four delegates was a student. Over 600 students came in total—a high for the conference—and 44 of those were from the Hillel Jewish University Center (JUC) of Pittsburgh. Though attendance was clearly high on the student front, students were frustrated that the conference did not speak to their interests or concerns.

“It wasn’t a conference for us, but we were there,” said sophomore Mia Jacobs, incoming president of the University of Pittsburgh Student Board at Hillel, regarding the General Assembly (GA). Pittsburgh students felt that the sessions did not include them. Pittsburgh senior Samantha Vinokor, president of the Pittsburgh Israel Public Affairs Committee, “would have really liked to see more student involvement.”

Students Brooke Heyman, Kara Kimmel, and Jordy Cohen. Photo credit: Brooke Heyman.

“We heard a lot about how we’re the future and there are so many students here, but then we were left to our own devices for a lot of it,” she said.

Some students chose to use their time at the GA to disrupt Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech during Monday’s plenary session. Five activists from Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) were escorted out of the session.

While there were a few events exclusive to students, such as a question-and-answer session with Wayne Firestone, president of Hillel International, Vinokor would have liked to see a student sit on a panel that addressed student-related issues, or even “something as simple as picking students to introduce speakers, to let us feel more involved.”

According to junior Michael Zimmerman, “It didn’t seem that the follow-through was well thought-out. There weren’t as many things specifically aimed to interact with students or to really get us involved as there could have been.”

Jacobs attended a panel—along with about 65 other students—called “The Innovation Imperative: New Ways to Build Jewish Community to Engage the ‘Next Generation.'” Although this was a forum where student involvement would have been more than appropriate, Jacobs felt frustrated “because the way that the Federation and the Jewish professional world was approaching the problem of engagement of the younger generation is that it was a problem. And they don’t know how to handle it. Who knows better about engaging Jewish college students than the Jewish college students who are there, who are the leaders at Hillel?”

Student delegates from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Photo credit: Alicia Harris.

Pittsburgh students enjoyed the more interactive parts of the conference, including the Day of Service—organized by Jewish social action group Repair the World. Delegates worked side by side in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans to repair damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina—clearing empty lots, weeding and cleaning out abandoned homes. Both Jacobs and Pittsburgh junior Brooke Heyman intend to come back to help the area more.

“I can’t feel so strongly and just come home and say, that was great,” Heyman said. She wants to take other students down to New Orleans as well. Jacobs added that “We have to do something,” and has begun plans for an alternative winter break trip to New Orleans.

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9 Older Responses to ““It Wasn’t a Conference For Us, But We Were There.””

  1. David
    November 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    At the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans, one in four delegates was a student. Over 600 students came in total—a high for the conference—and 44 of those were from the Hillel Jewish University Center (JUC) of Pittsburgh. Though attendance was clearly high on the student front, students were frustrated that the conference spoke to their interests or concerns.

    A clear mistake – you should proof read!!!

  2. Ben
    November 22, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    (David makes a great point, by the way)

    The GA was not geared toward students in nearly any regard. Any sessions that focused on the future of the Jewish Community were not at all interested in those who were at the conference who will be the future leaders of the Jewish Community. There were times when it was almost embarrassing to see how some of the ‘professionals’ were treating students, and locals for that matter, with such disrespect. How are we to feel like we are apart of this effort to look toward the future if we are disregarded so easily now? Frustration doesn’t begin to describe the tone set by the general audience at the GA.

    Over all, it was poorly organized and was not designed to have students be a resource to many of the discussions. While some students were not positive representatives while at the GA, most were there to learn, help, and show that we know we are the future and we want to be engaged in the community. Yet, most of us (especially those of us who are graduate students on the brink of professional lives) were treated in the same way that many communities treat our demographic anyway. It is just sad to see such a resource be wasted.

    I was there to get involved with the next steps for our worldwide Jewish Community, not be treated disrespectfully simply because my name tag stated “student”. It’s a shame we treat each other this way.

  3. Lee Wunsch
    November 23, 2010 at 8:18 am #

    I was an “adult” (Federation CEO) attending the GA and couldn’t agree more. A key missing ingredient was not just the absence of students on panels, etc. but meaningful dialogue with those of us charged with opening up the tent, bringing in the next generation, etc. Sitting in a session listening to panelists drone on about the “problems” but without opportunity to have a serious discussion with the very population we’re trying to engage is a missed opportunity.

  4. Telu
    November 25, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    Sadly, I am not surprised. Over twenty years ago, I went to a GA where students where invited and then kept away from the “real adults” who “mattered.” When we shared feedback about the negative message of shutting out the next generation who were right in front of them, we were promised that things would change in the future. I wish that they had.

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