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November 20, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 20, 2009 PAGE 5A By Gary Rosenblatt New York Jewish Week The most dramatic mo- ment I've ever experienced at a GA (General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America) took place in 1977, in Dallas, on a Shabbat afternoon, when Golda Meir walked onto the stage for what many of the several thousand in the audience suspected might well be her last appearance in the U.S. And it was. She died in Jerusalem less than a year later. That afternoon the for- mer Israeli prime minister, a combination of national leader and mother figure to Jews around the world, was greeted with a loud, long and passionately spontaneous rendition of "Am Yisrael Chai" from the crowd, and she responded with impromptu remem- brances of her remarkable political career. She spoke of her child- hood in Milwaukee, her emigration to Israel, and how she was called on to come to the U.S. in early 1948 to raise funds for arms from Europe for the impending war for state- hood. Hoping to collect $8 million, she managed to raise $50 million, prompt- ing David Ben-Gurion to later describe her as "the Jewish woman who got the money which made the state possible." Her remarks, and the Jove in the room for this elderly, bent, raspy-voiced woman who embodied Zionist fortitude and your grandmother's wisdom, are etched in my memory, and no doubt the same holds true for anyone who was there. On the eve of appear- ances by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel at this year's GA last week in Washington (President Barack Obama canceled his scheduled visit to at- tend a memorial ceremony at Fort Hood, Texas, the site of the army base kill- ings two weeks ago), I am thinking back on some of the highlights, and low points, of the past 35 years since I began attending what many considered the premier Jewish communal event on the calendar. For many years, the GA was a kind of parliament of the organized Jewish community. Sponsored by the umbrella group of the North American Fed- eration movement (then known as CJF, the Council of Jewish Federations), it also attracted and featured leading professionals and lay leaders from a wide vari- ety of Jewish organizations and institutions, including those from overseas, and set the communal agenda for the coming year. There was depth and breath to the program, dealing with spiritual and educational matters as well as national and international issues of concern. Over time the five-day GA program has shrunk to two days, and what used to be anticipated as an exciting, must-attend event-came to be viewed by many as obligatory and less than inspiring. In part that's because the GA focus narrowed in recent years. with its increased empha- sis on the nuts and bolts of successful fundraising within federations. The once-inspiring event had become a trade show. And in part the lack of energy surrounding the GA reflected the inner struggles of the UJC (Unit- ed Jewish Communities), reconstituted a decade ago and hobbled by internal problems of bureaucracy, finances, morale and a perceived lack of vision and purpose. Constituent federations complained that they were paying too much in dues and getting too little for it. With the recent ar- rival of an accomplished and personable new chief executive, Jerry Silver- man, who helped put the Foundation for Jewish Camp on the map for major foundation funding, and with (another) new name for the organization--The Jewish Federations of North America there is a sense that the federations' umbrella group may be turning the corner. Morale is up in-house, and landing the prime minister for the GA is something of a coup. But Netanyahu's talk is sure to eclipse the now even more crowded agenda of forums and panels, which each year give insight into the zeitgeist of the community. I attended my first GA in 1974. in Chicago, and was baffled to hear some of the leading voices of the day, like Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Leonard Fein. passionately call for the termination of the Institute for Jewish Life. the highly touted new project launched by the federation movement and intended to usher in an era of Jewish renewal, thanks to a planned $100 million in funding. All of this as a result of student demon- strations calling for more funds for Jewish education at the 1969 GA in Boston. (Can you imagine that advocating for Jewish edu- cation was controversial back then?) But in reality, the In- stitute never received anywhere near the funding or support imagined, and some of its most fervent supporters, calling it a sham, urged at the '74 GA that the Institute be put to rest since it had not turned out as planned. (So intrigued by all this, I later wrote a long analysis of how a major project created to renew Jewish life soon became little more than a footnote.) One insight into the GA experience is to see how, over a period of years, an issue can percolate and become a priority. For ex- ample, in the 1970s there was no formal discussion at a GA about the plight of Ethiopian Jews; it was just too marginal a concern. It first was raised by activists, who invited GA delegates to a meeting at a nearby hotel. The next year there was a small panel at the GA on Ethiopian Jewish rescue, and only a year or two after that did it make it to the plenary level. In 1984, at the GA in Montreal. Aryeh Dulzin, chief executive of the Jew- ish Agency, jeopardized a new and delicate secret effort to rescue Ethiopian Jews by telling the thou- sands of GA delegates of the plan, at least indirectly. The rescue was halted for a time several months later because it became public. Did Dulzin think he could confide in so many Jews and have the plan remain private? In the late 1970s. the GA became a pivotal place to debate whether Jews fleeing the Soviet Union should be directed primar- ily to Israel, to strengthen the state through aliyah, or to promote the right of emigrants to decide for themselves where they should live, with many opting for the U.S. In 1988 the "Who Is A Jew?" issue grew heated in Israel and became the focal point of that year's GA. An emergency mission of American Jewish lead- ers flew directly from the GA to Tel Aviv to oppose a pending Knesset law and voice their concern about non-Orthodox Jews being treated as second-class citizens in the Jewish state. Other vivid GA memories for me include finding no kosher meals at the GA in than frozen airline cuisine (all meals are kosher now); entering the conference center in Los Angeles in 1982 to hear Menachem Begin speak, only to learn that the prime minister's wife, Aliza. died earlier in the day in Israel and he was on his way home; observingwith dismay how the crowd at an opening plenary left in droves at the GA in Philadelphia in 2002 because too many speakers had gone on way too long, leaving keynoter Natan Sharansky to address an almost empty room; and the pride in joining thousands of other GA participants on a solidarity march through Jerusalem during the GA in Jerusalem in 2003, as the intifada raged. What memories from this year's GA in Washing- ton will endure? It has the makings of a great one, with an appear- ance by a master orator, at a time of real tension between Washington and Jerusalem. But it may be a small moment at a session or a conversation in a hall- way that will linger in one's mind, change one's point of view or touch one's heart. That's the power of a GA that its new leaders hope will restore its status as the most important Jewish conference held each year. Gary Rosenblatt is the editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission. Read the Jewish Week on- line at www.jewishweek. San Francisco in 1978 other com. By Ira Forman WASHINGTON (JTA)--I am one lucky man, some might say blessed, as earlier this year I had a heart attack and survived--physically and financially. I am fortunate to have a comprehensive health insur- ance plan. Yet even an Ameri- can with good insurance cannot go through a serious medical calamity without getting at least a glimpse of what lies over the precipice of financial and medical disaster. At a fund-raiser last March for my children's Jewish day school, I found myself on the floor of a men's room gasping for air as a result of blockage to one of the arteries to my heart. The emergency response personnel wanted to take me to the nearest hospital, but I By Danny Danon JERUSALEM (JTA)--In the year since President Obama visited Jerusalem as Candidate Obama, much has changed. Running for president, he of course leveraged his presence here to mobilize his supporters in America. Obama's visit undoubtedly helped demonstrate his in- ternational savvy and further endeared him to the American voter. He spoke from the heart with his legendary eloquence was fortunate to have my wife, and advocate, by my side. She objected and demanded they take me to the hospital with a better cardiology department andwhere my medical records were readily available. The personnel reluctantly agreed and 70 minutes after I arrived at the hospital I had three stents implanted. Ten days later I had success- ful bypass surgery and was on the road to recovery, thanks to the highly competent health professionals who diligently worked on my case. Two weeks at the hospital resulted in a bill that was well into the six-figure range. After my discharge, t began receiving very large bills for my surgeries and hospital charges every few days--bills of $20,000 or $30,000 at a time. The notices on the bottom of of the dangers posed by terror from GazaandIsrael's right to defend itself at all cost. When Candidate Obama, then a U.S. senator, kissed the stones of our revered Western Wall and shed tears at the sobering Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, we were confident thatwere he elected, Israel again would have a true and trusted friend in the Oval Office. Israelis therefore looked on with the same pride and admiration shared by untold millions of Americans as the invoices indicated that my insurance carrier had refused to pay because the policy had been terminated and I was expected to pay the bill. Thankfully my policy was still in effect and I was able to rectify the situation. However, not everyone is able to win a fight with the bureaucracies of insurance companies while also recovering from a life- threatening malady. Millions of Americans are not so lucky. They may receive inadequate care or have their insurance company deny their claims. Considering the trouble [ had with my health insurance claims, I can only imagine what happens with the millions of people who are uninsured or underinsured, or do not have the patience to persevere in a dispute with their insurance company. President Obamawas inaugu- rated and assumed leadership of the world's most powerful nation. Israel, like many in the global community of na- tions, was eager to witness the positive change heralded by his administration. On both the domestic and foreign policy agendas, the president's pledge for a new direction gave hope that a new era was upon us. Regrettably it quickly be- came clear that our good will and hopes were likely misplaced. Rather than look- More and more Americans are denied high-quality, af- fordable health care, and the insurance companies continue to refuse coverage when it is most needed. Un- fortunately, with every day that passes, the problem gets worse and thousands more Americans lose their health insurance. Even for thosewith insurance, there is still no cap on what insurance companies can force patients to pay in out-of-pocket expenses, which leads many families into bankruptcy. The expense of America's health insurance is astronomi- cal. According to an article that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier in this decade, administrative costs alone in the United States totaled $294 billion and ac- counted for 31 percent of total ing to accommodate and truly understand Israel's conflict with the Palestinians, we began feeling new pressures within mere weeks of the Obama presidency. Regularly overlooking or ignoring the realities of a decades-old war with ourArab neighbors, the main issue for President Obama seemed to become the growth of our settlements. Rather than address the real sources of distrust, the Obama admin- Obama on page 23A U. S. health care spending. By contrast, in Canada admin- istrative expenses amounted only to 16.7 percent of health care spending. If we do nothing now, health expenditures in the U. S. could grow from $2.5 tril- lion this year to more than $7 trillion in 2025. Our current system is not only a disgrace, it is a burden on our economy. However, despite the astro- 4 nomical amounts of money dedicated to health care in the United States, the life expectancy for individuals living in America is 75 years for amale and 80 for a female. According to the U.N.'s World Health Organization, the figures are lower than Cuba, Israel, Japan and more than 30 other countries. Yet what Health on page 23A THE .AMI 'T Thee NON-BELIEVER