New UJC to unveil game plan at Atlanta gathering

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NEW YORK — Mandy Patinkin ends his Yiddish version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" with an exhortation: "Play Ball!"

By the time the popular performer takes the stage at the United Jewish Communities' General Assembly next week, the game plan for the new organization will finally be out of the dugout.

This year's G.A. — as the General Assembly is commonly known — will be the first official event for the United Jewish Communities, which was formed this spring out of the United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations and the United Israel Appeal.

The organization aims to represent the domestic and international agendas of the 200 Jewish communities in North America.

This year's four-day event, which officially begins Wednesday, marks the first meetings of the committees and boards that will govern the UJC. About 3,200 delegates and 2,000 volunteers are expected to attend.

"We will begin the decision-making process at the G.A.," UJC President Stephen Solender said. "But of equal importance, we're going to begin the education process at the G.A."

During the next three to nine months, he said, the UJC will have to adopt its first budget, approve overseas disbursements and take up initial recommendations from the four "pillar" committees charged with formulating the organization's mission.

"Our objective is to prepare the federations so that over the next period of months they can make some very important decisions that are going to define the immediate future of the UJC," said Solender, who took office this fall after six months as acting president.

Part of that preparation will come out of high-level briefings by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak; Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel's minister for diaspora affairs; Dennis Ross, the U.S. government's special Middle East coordinator; George Schultz, the former U.S. secretary of state; Alice Shalvi, one of the foremost Israeli feminists; and other Jewish thinkers, teachers and writers.

Vice President Al Gore, who had been invited to address the opening plenum, will not attend the convention.

G.A. participants, including approximately 300 Israelis, are also expected to learn from each other in round-table discussions and in open forums focused on the four areas designated as pillars: Jewish renaissance and renewal, Israel and overseas concerns, human services and social policy, and financial resource development.

"Everyone in the room will be able to discuss the topic, to put their ideas on the table, " said Ivan Schaeffer, a Washington businessman and a G.A. co-chair.

Since April, the UJC, acting under an interim governance structure, has been soliciting recommendations from federations for seats on the 550-plus-member Delegate Assembly and the pillar committees.

The thousands of federation responses were reviewed by the UJC's top lay leaders — Charles Bronfman, chairman of the board, and Joel Tauber, chairman of the executive committee — and a nominating committee, which made the appointments.

The final appointments are meant to reflect the federations' actual constituencies, with an eye to creating a balance in terms of gender, age, geography and federation size.