Tuesday, August 11, 2020 -
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At GA, energy!

Bill Ritter, former Colorado governor, participated in a panel on water, energy and agriculture.The energy! You can’t bottle it. You can’t even define it. But the energy at the ‘GA’ was bursting.

And ubiquitous.

Everybody felt it. And said so.

Maybe in Jerusalem 3,000 Jews in one place is not a big deal. Ditto for New York.

But in Denver?

Enter the Sheraton Hotel downtown last Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, and it was taken over. By passionate Jews.

Right here in Denver: the cynosure of the Jewish people. At least for three days.

It started officially Sunday afternoon.

But already Sunday morning the place was buzzing.

College kids. Seniors. Volunteers. Fundraisers. Journalists. Diplomats.

Everybody with a big fat nametag, so big that you could glance at the name and not feel embarrassed.

Not to mention . . . Denver.

I’ve been to a lot of GAs.

Yes, the US of A has a lot of nice cities.

But Denver? There’s only one. And everybody commented on it.

As in: “I’m coming back to Denver.” Or: “You’re from Denver? Lucky you.”

It was amazing how many people you asked, “so, did you go to the mountains,” and the answer was, “yes!”

THERE were so many valuable or provocative panels, all of which met simultaneously with many other panels, that no one person could take in the entire GA.

It was many GAs at once.

Read further IJN coverage of the GA

Each person got his own slice. I got my slices.

A terrific panel on how to advocate for Israel.

Again, what was terrific was not, mainly, the panelists, though they were excellent.

It was the room. The other people.

The people packed in, from around the world, most of whom headed local or national efforts for Israel.

A room of experts. Of people who cared. You were not alone.

This was the feeling: the Jewish people is blessed with, at a minimum, a core group who live and die for Jewish destiny.

Another terrific panel on getting young people engaged.

“Do the Write Thing,” it’s called. Aspiring journalists and leaders of the Jewish people.

This panel was prefaced by a cogent, substantive, relevant talk by a legend, Natan Sharansky.

The most famous refusenik.

(Who gained his freedom 25 years ago.)

Speaking of whom . . .

AS in speaking of the up-to-now, untold humor story at the GA. Like this:

I got into the elevator to go to “Do the Write Thing,” where I was scheduled to speak on the panel.

But I wanted to come early, to hear Sharansky, who was going to address these students before the panel.

As it turned out, Sharansky and I got in the elevator.

There was no one else.

When we exited, we were greeted by a volunteer security guard.

“Sir. Sir!”

The security guard was exercised by Sharansky.

“Where’s your [ID] badge?”

No answer from Sharansky, who had no badge.

“Sir! You are not allowed on this floor without a badge.”

I decided to drop behind Sharansky and witness how this stalwart survivor of the KGB and the Soviet Gulag was going to handle this.

I mean, Sharansky brought down the USSR.

What now?

“Sir! [yelling now]. You are not allowed . . . ”

Recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, bestselling author, major human rights activist of the 20th century, head of the Jewish Agency for Israel — unrecognized by the local security guard.

Since I was in back of Sharansky, I didn’t see whether he didn’t blink an eyelash, or whether his response was even less than that, but he strode right past the guard into the room he was scheduled to speak in.


IT wasn’t just the panels. It was the meetings in the hallways. The receptions [see Andrea Jacobs’ story on the Ha’aretz reception].

The meetings with old friends.

The business contacts.

It was the awards ceremonies.

The surprises:

• How Natalie, from an assimilated home, who attended a small liberal arts college with few Jewish students, who “never had a Jewish boyfriend” — is going on aliyah next week. Why? Birthright.

• How the security at the loading doc at the Sheraton Hotel a day before the GA, was, to say the least, porous.

• How the board of the Covenant Foundation, which gives three $36,000 awards to outstanding Jewish educators, and five $15,000 award to emerging Jewish educators, is headed not by a businsesman, but by a practicing historian.

• How Peter Beinart, a critic of Zionism, can say that Palestinians on the West Bank have been under “Israeli sovereignty” since 1967 and therefore must be as much a part of the conversation on Zionism as Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora.

• How Danielle Bergstein was actually working at the federation building (300 S. Dahlia) last Tuesday — wasn’t the entire federation staff overwhelmed at the GA? Actually, a few were holding down the fort.

• How Shimon Fogel, CEO of Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, defined the implications of Quebec for Israel advocacy — “it’s not that there’s another language; it’s that Quebec is Eurocentric; its information on Israel comes from Europe and that frames the debate in Canada.”

• How Jewish geography is alive and well: I met someone I did not know, the son of someone I did know, the late Milt Firestone, editor of the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle; now, said son worked in Safed, Israel, so I asked whether he knew the head of the Livnot ule-Hibanot program in Safed, Mr. Botzer, and he did; so I asked, did he know whether Botzer’s father-in-law, Asher Hirsch, whom I knew when we lived in Atlanta in 1978, was still living? Yes, he knew; no, alas, he is not still living.

• How the rabbinic scholar-in-residence, Rabbi Eli Kaunfer, called on the GA to embrace the Torah — not your usual language at a GA!

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor | hillel@ijn.com

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