By Ben Ackerman, Tel Aviv University
This past week, I attended the General Assembly for Jewish Federations of North America held in Jerusalem. When the counselor from the administrative office at Tel Aviv University first asked me to go as a Masa representative, I had no idea what she was asking me to go to. I just figured that whatever it was, it’d be a fun, free six days in Jerusalem. I agreed to go with no expectations or prior knowledge of anything and had so many questions that I was almost embarrassed to ask: What’s Masa ? What’s a Federation? What goes on at the GA? Is it just a giant room filled with Jews schmoozing? I showed up at the Jerusalem Gold Hotel on Thursday and soon discovered that I was the only person not just from my program, but from my university. I quickly learned the basics about Federations, how they traditionally have supported Jewish groups and organizations mostly just by funding them, and how their goal moving forward is to engage more young North American Jews in Jewish life. I found out that the GA is not just a place for Jews to mingle with old friends, but to engage in discussions about Jewish life, both in the Diaspora and Israel, and the issues we all face. I now know that Masa doesn’t just write checks, but is an umbrella organization with over 200 programs that is sending over 11,000 people to Israel this year alone.
I was one of 50 “Masanikim” in the Masa delegation at the GA. Everyone in the delegation came from very different programs, and in the few days before the GA that we met, it became clear how diverse this group really was. We all came from a variety of states (and countries), Jewish backgrounds, religious beliefs and priorities, and had different expectations and visions for the future of Judaism. Everyone had such poignant things to say, adding depth and dimension to every discussion and Q&A we had. I was so proud to see that this was the group of young Jews representing our generation’s voice at the GA.
I learned a great deal from the panels and talks I attended. I was riled up and motivated by learning how Israel is the only democracy that imposes marriage restriction laws on its citizens, and what impact that has on not just Israeli Jews but on the majority of Jews of the Diaspora. I was inspired by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks to ask the question “why” more, and by a panel of speakers on the integration Jews and Palestinians in schools who made it seem like coexistence and peace is possible. But it really was my peers from the Masa delegation that impacted me the most and gave me the most to think about. I don’t think I can find enough words to describe how greatly this group inspired me. Hearing everyone speak and offer such honest, personal perspectives made me look at myself and my own Jewish identity and wonder “what am I doing here?” In whatever little free time I had, I dug into my own Jewish journey, uncovered some hidden feelings and was able to fall back in love with being Jewish. I’m grateful for the experiences I had at the General Assembly with my Masa peers; if they are the voices of our generation, then I am very hopeful for the future of the Jewish people.