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by Rhonda Spivak


The  small Jewish community of Calgary sent 10 students to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federation of North America in Washington, D.C., earlier this month – by far the largest student delegation per capita in all of  Jewish North America.

From left, Muriel Fogel, and Adam Zendel, both students who grew up in Calgary, take some time during the General Assembly of Jewish Federation to socialize with their peers.

About 150 of the 3,000 delegates at the GA were students. In comparison with Calgary, Toronto sent two students, Montreal sent one and other Canadian cities didn’t send any.

Jerry Silverman, the new CEO and president of the North American federation umbrella group, said he hopes to have 1,000 students attend next year’s event.

Dede Feinberg, a GA co-chair, noted that the event had fewer students than usual because fewer subsidies were available due to the tough economic climate.

In an interview with Winnipeg Jewish Review, Lance Davis, executive director of the Calgary Jewish Community Council (CJCC), said his community is “very fortunate that we have a donor [Ted Riback] who endowed a fund for young leadership and we were able to use $3,000 from that fund to subsidize students from Hillel to attend the conference.

“All it took was subsidizing each student $300 to get 10 of them interested in coming to the GA and paying the rest of the way themselves. The GA registration fee was only $150 per student.”

CJCC president Gerry Barron told The CJN that “if all it takes is to subsidize $300 per student to get them motivated, inspired and involved, that it’s the best $300 we could ever have spent.”

Barron added that Jewish leaders are excited about student participation and think that it’s “important for our community to have the students exposed to the GA. They’re telling us that they are glad they made the decision to come.”

Adam Zendel, a student native to Calgary, said he decided to attend  “because I was interested in seeing the [United States] Holocaust Memorial Museum, and because I read that the [U.S. President Barak Obama] was going to speak at the GA, and it looked like a good program.” Although Obama had to back out of his speaking engagement at the GA at the last minute, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel addressed the gathering in his place.

Other students, some of whom are grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, also said that Washington’s Holocaust museum, combined with the list of speakers at the GA, motivated them to participate.

Muriel Fogel, a nursing student, said that she came to the GA “because I love Washington and I wanted to learn more about Israel, and hear the speakers.” Another student, Julia Tzam, said she really came to hear Obama speak, but “I’m fine with him sending Rahm Emmanuel instead, since [Obama] had to go to Fort Hood” and attend the memorial for soldiers killed in the mass shooting at the Texas army base.

Tzam, who founded a Palestinian-Israeli Dialogue Club a number of years ago at the University of Calgary that is no longer operating, was interested in hearing speakers at the GA discuss current political events.

Nachum Abraham, a Calgary student who is also Israeli, said, “I want to understand the issues facing Israel and thought the GA would be a good place to learn about this.”

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.