Starting July 1, there will be a new face and organization representing the N.J. Jewish community’s lobbying efforts in the state’s legislature and in other communal affairs.
On that date, the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, headed by executive director Jacob Toporek, will be dissolved and replaced by the newly established Jewish Federations of New Jersey (JFNJ) as the advocacy group in Trenton and elsewhere to represent the 500,000 Jewish residents of the Garden State.
“What we are trying to do is modernize our efforts in this area, develop a new statewide collaborative partnership that will enable us to support one another through combined resources and allocations and achieve optimal results and effectiveness for the [N.J.] Jewish community on a statewide level,” said Jason Shames, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, who is overseeing the logistics of the transition. “We feel we’ll be better able to capitalize on emerging needs and opportunities that will support and fortify the statewide Jewish community with this type of approach.”
Shames said he realizes the switch to a more encompassing approach is not an easy transition and there are some opposed to the move.
“I know change like this can be tough for some, but this is something we need to do,” he said. “We are all on the same team, and all just want the best for our community.”
Much of the opposition comes from the decision to cut ties with Jacob Toporek, who has served as executive director of the State Association for 12 years. Toporek said he was not consulted about the change.
“I was never really told anything,” he said. “All I know is I am done June 30 and will continue my work up until then.”
Toporek expressed his disappointment with the federation leaders’ decision.
“I enjoy what I am doing,” Toporek said. “I have excellent relationships with legislators and the governor and know our communities well.”
Shames said the decision should not be seen as a lack of confidence in Toporek.
“Every federation involved in the State Association feels Jacob Toporek has done a marvelous job for us over the last several years,” he said. “What we are doing is no way a reflection on what Jac has accomplished. We appreciate all his efforts and success.”
Some of the “old guard” have voiced their disagreement, according to Shames, which he said he understands because of “how respected Jac is.” One is Gordon Haas of Elizabeth, a past president of the State Association.
“I just hope they’re not making a mistake,” said Haas. “I know this has been discussed for some time. I fought it for two years. Jac has accomplished an incredible amount for us.”
Robin Wishnie, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Somerset, Hunterdon, & Warren Counties, also applauded Toporek.
“Jac will always be credited for what he has accomplished,” Wishnie said. “I think the changes we are making will be good for all of us as a whole.”
The change does not appear to be related to monetary concerns. The State Association received approximately $200,000 in annual funding from partnering federations, and the JFNJ will receive the same amount. The Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, which did not contribute to the outgoing Association, has chosen not to participate in funding for JFNJ, either.
The annual funding commitment for participating JFNJ federations, for three years, as provided to NJJN, breaks down as follows:
- Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ: $120,000
- Jewish Federation of Northern NJ: $50,000
- Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ: $20,000
- Jewish Federation of Southern NJ: $20,000
- Jewish Federation of Somerset, Hunterdon, & Warren Counties: $3,000
The JFNJ’s mission statement differs from that of the outgoing Association in some aspects, stating it “is a collaborative and joint effort of the Jewish Federation communities in the state of New Jersey to advance the collective agendas of the statewide Federation,” rather than the Association’s “umbrella organization of Jewish Federation communities in the state of New Jersey.”
The JFNJ’s mission statement also explains that it is not singularly government-focused as the outgoing Association was, calling itself the “coordinated voice” of the New Jersey Jewish community, rather than the “representative voice” in Trenton and elsewhere, as stated in the Association’s mission statement.
Both statements center on fostering relationships with the government of Israel.
“This does not signal a move away from building relationships with New Jersey legislators in Trenton, where Toporek excelled,” said Shames. “Certainly, we’ll have a strong presence in Trenton to both enhance and establish the needed relationships in Trenton.
“We know how important that is, and we are getting close to hiring someone who knows how it all works. We expect this new statewide partnership, through shared resources, will allow for an enhanced platform with elected officials.”
In its first year, the JFNJ will focus on five areas, according to a press release:
- Government partnerships and relations in areas such as revenue/grant opportunities, tax credits, affordable housing, and other service areas
- Fighting anti-Semitism and BDS
- Israel advocacy and promoting ties between New Jersey and the Jewish state
- Statewide collaboration and shared services in the areas of marketing and other resource development to member federations
- Security coordination with access to all law-enforcement agencies and dissemination of information throughout communities.
“We can be flexible here and adjust to the needs of each individual federation,” said Shames. “This can be done with funding as needed.
We can adapt.”