Seven Monmouth County congregation presidents from a cross-section of Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox shuls have come together with the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County to launch the first phase of the new Federation-Synagogue Relations Committee.
Initiated by federation, which sent letters of invitation to more than 20 Monmouth County congregational presidents, the committee has adopted as its main agenda efforts to unite the various components of the Jewish community. The ultimate aim, said Jeff Donner of Jackson, who will chair the committee, is to improve the bond between the synagogues and the federation. The committee’s first two meetings were held at Marlboro Jewish Center and Congregation Torat El in Oakhurst.
Participating presidents to date are Lisa Weiss of Temple Beth Ahm, Aberdeen (Conservative); Mitch Lustgarten, Congregation Sons of Israel, Manalapan (Traditional); David Green, Marlboro Jewish Center (Conservative); Marc Epstein, Congregation Brothers of Israel, Elberon (Orthodox); Alan Stern, Congregation Torat El, Oakhurst (Conservative); Stuart Katz, Congregation Kol Am, Freehold (Reform); and Brion Feinberg, Temple Rodeph Torah, Marlboro (Reform).
“Our action plan is to continue to dialogue in a very directed way to determine what our commonly held priorities are in the Jewish community,” said Donner, former president of Temple Beth El in Oakhurst, which merged with Beth Torah in Ocean to form Torat El. “I view this as a new and dynamic process that has not taken place before. The leadership is coming together in its desire for the Jewish community to be more effective.”
Better communication and collaboration with the synagogues will increase awareness of federation’s role in the community, said its president, Stuart Abraham. “I think there’s a lack of understanding of what federation does,” he told NJJN. “The idea of us raising funds to support programs within the community is not fully appreciated.
“This is definitely an opportunity for federation and the synagogues to work together productively and for federation to explore opportunities to increase its support for the community,” said Abraham.
‘Power in numbers’
The committee’s eventual goal is to welcome participation by all interested segments of the Jewish community, including Chabad and the Sephardi community in Deal, said Donner. “We need to further develop our objectives and reevaluate our priorities. We want to welcome all interested segments of our community, because we need each segment.”
The committee gives synagogues a chance to engage in frank discussions with the federation about their biggest challenges and important priorities, said Rabbi Nasanayl Braun of Brothers of Israel, who serves on the federation’s strategic planning committee, which created the new group.
“I think it’s important for our shul in particular because it seems we are the voice of Orthodoxy with relations with federation,” Braun told NJJN. “I think it’s critical that there be an Orthodox voice in federation and in the community at large.”
One of the strongest messages Brothers of Israel conveyed to the committee is the need to focus on support for Jewish day schools and synagogues, said its president. “Our members believe in the primary importance of synagogue and school, which is the glue that holds the Jewish world together,” Epstein, a Middletown resident, told NJJN. “We believe that congregations and schools are the institutions that will produce the next generation of contributors to federation. We encourage federation to undertake new initiatives to strengthen the congregations and schools in our county.”
For Stern of Torat El, the new committee gives the opportunity to celebrate “kol Yisrael haverim” (All Jewish people are friends). “Whether you are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist, we are all Jewish brethren pursuing God in a similar tradition but through different manners,” said Stern, a West Long Branch resident. “I believe federation has the potential to be a bridge between us. The more we talk, understand, and work with each other, the more we will be able to give and get from each other.”
Some of the participating presidents spoke about the role federation can play in strengthening the collective social action of the Jewish community.
“The old adage that there’s power in numbers is demonstrated here,” said Weiss of Beth Ahm, a Middletown resident. “We will have more clout if we stand as a united front, especially in regard to our connection to Israel. It also enables better communication among our shuls and encourages the exchange of ideas that can benefit all of us.”
“The cornerstones of the Jewish community are the federation and the synagogues,” said the federation’s interim executive director, Bert Goldberg. “We need to make sure we improve the bond and work in concert for the betterment of Monmouth County’s Jewish community.”
For more information about the Federation/Synagogue Relations Committee, contact Goldberg at 732-866-4300.