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Conversation with… Howard Borer

Howard Borer headshot B&WWorcester Federation head speaks about the GA in Israel
By Stacey Dresner

Howard Borer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central Mass. (JFCM), recently took a group of 13 from the Worcester area to Israel on an 8-day mission. After the eventful trip, Borer and JFCM President Natalie Rudolph attended the Jewish Federations of North America’s 86th annual General Assembly (GA), held Sunday, Nov. 10 – Tuesday, Nov. 12 in Jerusalem.
The theme of the GA this year was “The Global Jewish Shuk: A Marketplace of Dialogue & Debate.” Sessions ranged from those on fundraising and philanthropy to The Pew Study, the Diaspora, Women of the Wall, Intermarriage, Jewish identity, and how to deal with anti-Israel campaigns. More than 3,000 Federation leaders from communities around the U.S., Canada, and Israel attended. Upon his return, Borer spoke to the Jewish Ledger about the mission and the GA.

Q: You were in Israel on a mission to Israel before the GA?
A: It was an educational mission to learn more about the economic, social and political issues facing Israel today. It was a small community mission and open to anyone in the community who wanted to participate. But half of the group were first-timers.

Q: What was it like going with
A: That was great. It is always great going with first-timers, seeing Israel through their eyes, hearing the words “awesome,” “phenomenal,” “I can’t believe it,” is always a thrill for those of us who have been to Israel so many times. And of course for those people who hadn’t been to Israel in 25 or 30 years, it is a different country.

Q: What was the highlight
of the trip for you?
A: One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to Afula-Gilboa our Partnership2Gether community and being hosted by members of Kibbutz Beit Hashit. We were offered home hospitality for dinner, which culminated in a program in one of their community rooms which featured an a cappella group. We fund the Tarbut group in Israel [a community of young artists dedicated to serving underprivileged youths through arts, music and theater] and one of the things they have is an a cappella group that performed for us, members of the kibbutz and members of our steering committee in Israel. And of course what makes it even more personal is we have had contact with the people in the Tarbut group almost since its inception, so very strong, personal relationships have been developed with the leaders of that group and our community in particular because we were some of the first to visit with them and learn about what they were doing in Israel.

Q: After your mission, you attended the GA. It must be a great experience to attend the GA in Israel with all of
your colleagues.
A: I guess this is the third GA in Israel since they made the decision to hold the GA there every five years, so this is the third one I’ve been to in Israel. It is always very inspiring to be at the GA in Israel, to hear from speakers who are in living in Israel on all the issues facing Israel today, especially in light of the Pew Study which just came out. It was interesting to hear the reactions from Israelis who in their own way are dealing with issues of Jewish identity. Although they are dealing with issues of Jewish identity differently than we are, the fundamental similarity is, how do we define ourselves as Jews today, in Israel and North America? So that was interesting. Even though you don’t expect to hear anything new from some politicians in Israel – it is always very interesting to hear them, especially in person in their own country, which gives it a different spin. And it is always inspiring to hear Israeli speakers from all walks of life talk about how important the relationship is between our communities and Israel.

Q: Were there any speakers this year who particularly impressed you?
A: I went to a session where Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of England, spoke and he spoke very well and talked about the need to be more welcoming and open to all segments of the Jewish community, which I understand was probably a little more liberal than he has been in the past. I think people were a little pleasantly surprised to hear that, at least in his comments, he seemed to be more open and welcoming to people outside his particular Orthodox community.

Q: Why, as a Jewish professional
do you think it is so important to attend the GA year after year?
A: I think it is always nice to attend conferences with people who are doing the same things that you are. You get new ideas, you can be inspired by what other communities are doing, you are able to dialogue with other community leaders and share your experiences. I think all community leaders, because they work within their own small community, sometimes lose sight of the important work they are doing. By attending these conferences, it confirms and/or reconfirms why they are doing what they are doing, that they are really doing important work in helping to sustain and enhance Jewish life in their own communities and around the world.

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