Its inaugural Community Action Day was a prime example of the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County’s multi-layered approach to uniting the diverse community that it serves.
The event, held March 11 at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, featured an ambitious agenda that included community workshops, entertainment, and a phonathon that drew financial support from diverse segments of the Jewish community of Monmouth County. More than $200,000 was raised by phone volunteers working shifts at the daylong gathering.
Some 300 people participated throughout the day, which also featured an interactive PJ Library family concert with New Jersey’s Mama Doni Band.
A community briefing on the threat of a nuclear Iran featured U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ Dist. 6); Gil Lainer, consul for public diplomacy of the Consulate General of Israel; and noted terrorism expert Prof. Leonard Cole of Rutgers University.
More than 50 community leaders attended a security preparedness training session, along with key officials from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, the Department of Homeland Security, and more than a dozen local police chiefs. The participants “learned about the latest threats facing our community along with key takeaways on how to enhance the security of our local institutions,” said federation executive director Keith Krivitzky.
“The focus of the session was to highlight the level of cooperation between federation, local Jewish agencies and institutions, and law enforcement,” said Ian White, federation’s director of marketing and communications.
The attendance of so many high-level security and law enforcement experts demonstrates the serious commitment by local officials to the safety and security of the Jewish community, said federation president Joseph Hollander.
Some 75 volunteers came out to make calls to the community to secure donor pledges. According to White, prominent members of the Sephardi community lent a hand, as did representatives of the Deal Sephardic Network. “The event saw a lot of new blood,” said White. “We reached a much broader audience, and that was the point of the day.”
Hollander; Ariella Raviv, federation’s manager of community impact; and Deborah Rettig, phoning initiatives chair, also played key roles in coordinating the day’s events.
‘Change in society’
Federation’s community relations committee took an active role in CAD, particularly in organizing the panel on Iran, which was the culmination of the day.
“One of the most pressing issues on our agenda is Iran and nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, and how a nuclear Iran affects the U.S. and Israel,” said committee chair Toby Shylit Mack.
A nuclear Iran would destabilize the Middle East by creating a nuclear “free-for-all in a region already plagued by civil wars and unrest,” she said. “I would like to see our federation be a continual resource for information about vital legislation and the means with which to respond to and communicate with our legislators.”
At the panel, Pallone pledged his support for the strict enforcement of sanctions against Iran.
“I think it’s very important for the American-Jewish community to continue to educate other Americans as well as your congressmen and senators about this threat,” Pallone told the audience. “There’s a tendency in Congress to not pay a lot of attention to this because they are focused on the economy. But time is clearly running out.”
Lainer presented a realistic view of the threats Israel faces from its neighbors, and its right to defend itself despite worldwide scrutiny.
“Israelis would rather be apologetic than dead. We are tested more than others when it comes to that choice,” he said. “When I look to the future I have to be optimistic. We have survived and flourished despite so many obstacles. It is clear we are here to stay.”
Cole also defended Israel’s right to protect itself. “Israel is a democratic state. They’re the ones at risk, which is why it is so puzzling to me that so many people outside of Israel are telling Israel what to do,” he said. “If Israel wants to put itself at risk to protect itself and others, it is their right.”
Freehold resident Michael Shernicoff, a retired government employee, was drawn to the Iran discussion out of concern for the state of the world, he said. “I was involved in homeland security and am very attuned to the dangers overseas and its impact on the U.S.,” he said. “I don’t think most Americans can relate to the difficulties Israel lives with. No other country in the world would tolerate a steady barrage of missiles falling into a country the size of New Jersey.”
Daniel Levi of Ocean Township, a junior at Rutgers University, said he was riveted by the discussion on Middle Eastern politics. “I think everyone should be aware of these issues, especially young people, who can create change in society,” Levi said. “Israel and its security are extremely important to me.”
Engaging and informing college students is critical, said Tzvi Raviv, director of Israel engagement at Rutgers Hillel. “There have been anti-Israel protests on campus, but nothing against Iran or Syria. For some reason people hold Israel to a different standard.” “Community Action Day demonstrated how much American Jews really care about Israel, as well as their own local community,” said Raviv. “As an Israeli, it was really nice for me to see.”