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Rescue efforts to bring stranded members of the jewish community out of new Orleans. 50 jewish people were saved by the east baton rouge sherrif’s department SWAT team.


The remnants of congregation Beth Israel, the synagogue that was completely destroyed because of the flood.

 

Adam Bronstone

MY RETURN TO NEW ORLEANS FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF JEWISH FEDERATIONS

Five Hecklers disrupt Netanyahu's speech

By Adam Bronstone , February 2, 2011

Attending the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in New Orleans was, for me, very personal. As many readers will know, I worked in New Orleans for five years at the Jewish Federation – before, during and after Hurricane Katrina hit the city. Pre-katrina new Orleans had about 10,000  Jews and now it has about 8500 jews

 

Much of my story has been documented,(see  http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/26933/as-new-orleans-jews-flee-storm-neighboring-communities-open-doors ) and I have returned to the city a number of times since leaving less than five years ago. Thus, going to New Orleans was a personal journey as much as it was a professional one, where I was able to see many of my friends, colleagues and associates, and also show the city to the chair of the Federation’s Young Leadership Division, and his wife.  He had been in the city a couple of years ago for a conference, but never got to ‘see’ the city, tour key areas and hear from locals about what took place. The one-day trip around the area was eye-opening.

The GA is always an interesting ‘thing’, having been to one before. Some 4,000 people from across North America and Israel attend this event, and because they come from many different paths – professions, lay leaders and people who are somewhere in-between – and from different interests – there is a seminar for everyone! From special needs to a series of Israel-related topics, as well as US politics, a Sunday morning YLD forum that lasted for three hours and the Jewish education conference that was held simultaneously, there was even more than usual going on. This, plus the fact that we were in three hotels, made for interesting moving between hotels, across streets and in and out of seminar rooms. Another great aspect of the GA was the service project afternoon. There were numerous projects people could sign-up for, including hands-on building projects in the community, a series of workshops dealing with service initiatives and hands-on projects in the hotel (backing bags of various goods for people in-need) if one was not able to do the heavy lifting that some of the outdoor projects required.

Finally, there were the plenary sessions with keynotes speakers. This year, the keynotes were truly key people, with the first being Vice President Biden, the second being Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the final of the three was Tzipi Livni, the leader of the Kadima political party. There were other interesting parts to the plenaries, including a speech by David Simon, the creator of the television shows The Wire and Treme (set in New Orleans just before and then six months after Katrina), a look back at New Orleans and Katrina after five years, and of Operation Exodus from Ethiopia. Those highlights, as well as what is going on with the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee, made for full events.

Of course, the Vice President and Prime Minister were the shows, and interesting things should be noted. First and foremost, the GA has a different make-up of attendees than AIPAC, for example. While pro-Israel, I would profess that the audience is more middle of the road in their politics than that of the AIPAC attendees. Given that, one would think that Biden would have  had a longer leash, but I am not sure that was the case. The Vice President is a long-time friend of the Jewish community, and to that there is no doubt, but given a sense of a lack of a gut instinct towards Israel by the President, when the VP said that there is no ‘daylight’ between Israel and the United States, the lack of applause, for me, was notable, as if that simply was something that most people in the room did NOT believe.

And the Prime Minister, for someone who has never heard him speak publicly, was pretty outstanding. Regardless of your stance on Netanyahu, it is always something to be in the presence of a head of state. When I heard President Bush (‘W’) speak in New Orleans pre-Katrina, it was quite the event to be able to attend, even if I did not agree with anything he said! When the President speaks in your presence, it is something. The Prime Minister, as we all know, is articulate, well-spoken and commands the stage. He was impressive and strong, and the and handled the ‘hecklers’ with a great deal of ease, while waiting them out and cracking a few jokes!

And it was terrible to see how the Jewish press handled the hecklers, all five of them. It was presented as if the Federation system does not include young adults, and the hecklers, being mid-20s, were examples of this. Nothing, nothing and nothing could be further from the truth. From the five young adult-oriented sessions that I attended and the three-hour Sunday morning forum, young adult issues were clearly present. These hecklers were and people associated with the NOLA Palestine Solidarity group, which is part of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). The ISM’s claim to great fame is the late Rachel Corrie, who stood in front of a bulldozer as it was tearing down the home of a late suicide bomber. We can argue all we want about collective punishment and its deterrent value, but the ISM is consistent in shielding terrorists and refusing to engage in open forum discussion with anyone with whom it disagrees.

While working in NOLA for five years, I made an open ‘anytime, anywhere and any how’ pledge that I would debate the Middle East with the NOLAPS group, and  was refused every time. In print, these people referred to me as a ‘terrorist’, a badge of honor I continue to wear, given where it came from. While many Jews support the notion of the end to the settlements in the West Bank (most Israeli Jews feel the same way), the intention of this group was to disrupt and make a media spectacle of themselves. There was not a shred of empathy or sympathy for this group, led by a person who has met with Hamas, and makes no apology for doing so.

And as much as the Prime Minister was impressive and the hecklers were not, Natan Sharansky was a standout in the five minutes he spoke.The guy dressed as  like Moses , who managed to elude the Secret Service and talk about the need for the third Temple to exist (he also had a large shepherd-like staff with him so how he got by security  for the Vice President is beyond me!), was pretty funny!

Of course, the GA is dominated by attendees from across the United States, so some of the topics do not resonate with Canadians. But how to have great Jewish education; to help those with special needs in a Jewish environment; to advocate and lobby for Israel; to design service projects with meaning for the volunteers and use for the clients, are topics that are important for all of us. To New Orleans and help and see how the city has managed to recover from the worst disaster in modern American times, was, personally, special for me, and important for everyone else.

Next year the GA will be in Denver (in November, good luck with that one) and one day longer (thankfully..so we do not have to choose between two great seminars and miss one of them)…if you are active in Jewish life and the Federation, one should go to one GA – for the seminars, the plenaries, the exhibit hall where you can buy all the latest judaica, books and free information about Israel (there was one of the IDF tents that was used in Haiti), the free receptions every night from every Jewish organization that was ever established, and the schmoozing. Jews love to schmooze, and if nothing else, the GA is about connecting, re-connecting and schmoozing! It is well-worth

 
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