As I enter the final months of my three-year term as president of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, I want to highlight just a few of the association’s accomplishments.
These accomplishments — advocating for Israel, securing vital social services, and maintaining a robust nonprofit and faith-based sector — were the result of advocacy, networking, education, and government affairs functions in Trenton and Washington carried out on behalf of the family of Jewish federations and their affiliated and beneficiary agencies.
The ultimate beneficiary, however, is each member of the Jewish community.
We are playing a pivotal role in ensuring that proposed federal and state guidelines do not place a greater burden on the capacity of our direct service providers, our nonprofit safety net agencies, so they are not hampered by bureaucratic red tape, but rather buoyed by capacity-building policies.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the association assisted community agencies in providing direct assistance to their clients. Serving as liaison between the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, the State Association was — and continues to be — the conduit for New Jersey’s emergency management alerts. The State Association worked to identify funding and guidance resources available from the state, national and state nonprofits, and other assistance organizations. Using its community network of partners in the Jewish and multifaith community, the State Association aggressively advocated for a quick response from Congress in delivering aid to the state’s victims of Sandy’s wrath.
Working with the federation community, the Stop Iran Now Task Force of the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest NJ, and various faith-based groups, we helped enact Iran sanctions prohibiting New Jersey government from entering into a contract with entities doing business with Iran’s energy sector.
The State Association, in conjunction with our federation community relations network and leading interest groups, played a significant role on behalf of Jewish nursing homes. In the fiscal year 2013 state budget, our advocacy resulted in the restoration of over $60 million in Medicaid reimbursement for nursing home patients, money that had been cut in previous budgets.
Reaching out to other faith-based groups, the Association also helped restore technology services funding to non-public schools, where there had been no funding for the previous three years.
In conjunction with the state’s federations, the State Association supported student efforts at Rutgers University and other college campuses to counter anti-Israel activity and led the way to the creation by Rutgers of a standing Advisory Committee on Jewish Student Life.
To unify and strengthen the community’s voice on policy, programs, and funding for those with special needs, the State Association administered and created a new “Jewish Community Working Group on Special Needs.”
Three leaders of the federation community joined Gov. Chris Christie on his trip to Israel, for which the State Association had secured a commitment from the then-candidate for governor before the general election. The trip symbolizes our growing relationship with the governor’s office.
Israel advocacy remains a top agenda priority of the State Association. As a response to Israel’s “Pillar of Defense,” the State Association secured statements from our two U.S. senators and all members of the New Jersey congressional delegation in support of Israel’s right to defend itself.
When synagogues were targeted and burned in Bergen County, the State Association coordinated the response in various federation communities through programming support, liaising with government officials, and reinforcing relationships with the State Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
The viability of our nonprofits and charities is another priority of the State Association. The Jewish and nonprofit communities convinced the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs to forgo submitting a formal rule change that would have required burdensome reporting requirements in the area of designated giving.
The Association also was instrumental in securing a commitment from the governor’s Red Tape Review Commission for a monthly meeting on rules, policies, and statutes that hinder nonprofits from doing business in the state.
The years of service and leadership positions I have held have made me deeply aware of the dynamic that is the Jewish community. I have experienced first-hand the unique energy of engagement, both from community members and activists who give freely of their time, talents, resources, and efforts to improve the lives of others. I have felt the compassion from these caring people for the concerns of those with whom we share our life experiences.
Our community’s willingness to be engaged allows us to move our agenda forward, and has raised the profile of the State Association in the eyes of state government officials, faith-based leaders, and interest advocacy groups. It is the dynamic through which together we will continue to move from strength to strength.
I am confident, too, that with the strong professional leadership and dedication of our executive director Jacob Toporek, our efforts, together with our wonderful community members and leaders, will collectively build brighter futures for all who seek our help.