Martin Kraar, executive vice president of the CJF — the association of 189 local federations — said the gathering is a time to celebrate federations' successes. At the same time, it is likely to be a time of mourning for slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was scheduled to address the gathering.
It is also a time to anticipate change, Kraar said.
Revitalizing the regular annual joint fund-raising campaigns of the United Jewish Appeal and federations, which have been flat for the past few years, clearly is a top agenda item.
Community leaders, Kraar said, must "reinforce the centrality of our annual campaign," which he called the "linchpin" for community-building.
Raising money more effectively is, in part, what is driving a proposed plan to merge the central Jewish fund-raising structures, including the CJF, the UJA and the United Israel Appeal, which funnels money raised by the annual campaign to the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Finding a formula that would ensure that programs in Israel get a fair share of funding in the event of such a consolidation has been a key challenge for the proposal's authors, especially in light of Israel's increased economic strength.
As it is, the Jewish Agency is grappling with a budget disaster. This week its Board of Governors was in Jerusalem deciding which programs to cut, and how to manage mounting debts resulting in part from declining allocations by the diaspora fund-raising campaigns.
Agency Chairman Avraham Burg plans to make a strong pitch at the GA for strengthening the Israel-diaspora partnership through increased federation contributions to the Jewish Agency.
For Kraar, redefining the Israel-diaspora relationship is among the most critical challenges for the federation world.
"Israel very much needs our resources in order to do the job of rescuing and resettling Jews," he said. "We have a historic mandate."
At the same time, he said, "we have to pay attention to federal budget cuts."