Engineering a ‘21st-century’ vision for federation
Stuart Abraham enjoys getting involved at the start of new ventures.
As an electrical engineer who spent much of his career at various offices of Bell Labs, he was part of a team in the early 1980s that developed portions of the Internet, interactive TV cable systems, and one of the earliest versions of e-mail systems.
“The fun part was my address: ‘firstname.lastname@example.org,’” he said.
Similarly, his commitment to the Jewish community began when he moved to Manalapan in the late 1960s. He joined Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen “even before it had a building,” then eventually became chair of the Conservative synagogue.
His growing involvement with its congregation led Abraham to the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County as it was being organized.
“I was peripherally involved, but I’ve been there since the start,” he said.
His involvement now is far more than peripheral.
On June 24 he will be installed as the federation’s new president during its annual meeting at Temple Beth Ahm.
It will be the second time Abraham will hold the reins of the federation’s lay leadership. He served previously from 2004 to 2006. But his comeback will last only for a year. Joseph Hollander of Holmdel, who was set to take over, deferred taking office until 2011 so that he can fulfill a prior commitment to serve as chair of the Hillel board at his alma mater, Brown University (see related article).
In the meantime, Abraham said, he intends “to lead the federation into the realities of the 21st century in anticipation of Joe coming in for the next two years.”
Abraham’s predecessor, Elise Feldman, presided over a major budget balancing effort in 2009, when campaign receipts dropped from $2.4 million to $1.8 million.
Despite the shortfall, the federation managed to allocate some $1 million for programming by local agencies and overseas projects. “We can’t stay that way,” she acknowledged. “You can’t be at reduced staff and forge forward. It doesn’t work like that. Going forward, the campaign has to continue to thrive.”
“Even though the campaign was down significantly, we were able to distribute the same amount of funds by dramatically reducing staff and floor space,” he said. “We still have a long way to go and last year was at the bottom. We are hopeful we will at least be at that level going forward. But obviously, we need to be better as we move along.”
One key item on Abraham’s agenda is to recruit more and younger volunteers and change a particular mindset he perceived during his first term in office.
“I felt the sense of the Jewish community caring for Jews around the world was starting to erode,” he said. “Everybody wanted to be more specific in setting their own priorities instead of the community coming together and asking, ‘What are the most important things we should do with our dollars?’”
Together with past presidents, Abraham is working “to redesign how we organize and where the emphasis is….” He said procedure has been restructured “so that policy decisions will be made by the full board, no longer just by its executive committee. The people on the board want to have some ability to influence the federation.”
Now retired from the business world, Abraham teaches technology and international business in the MBA program at Monmouth University in West Long Branch. In the summer he operates an ocean-going 45-foot charter sailboat, and he used a sailing metaphor to describe the federation’s work in progress.
“We are tacking the boat and taking a new course, but we have a long way to go to get up to speed in the new direction.”