As she prepares to leave after 18 years as a leader of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, Gerrie Bamira was praised by those who worked with her as a visionary with a clear mission.
“Gerrie has this gentle but persuasive way about her when dealing with the community,” said Barbara Littman of Highland Park. “She does it very graciously, but makes it clear she wants us to come together to create the kind of community she envisions for us, a community where we work well with each other and say yes to the cause. She has been able to inspire us to do that all these years.”
Littman is one of three cochairs — along with Lee Livingston and Marlene Herman — of a champagne gala being held on Wednesday, June 11, honoring Bamira, who will leave her position June 30. Federation associate executive director Susan Antman will succeed her.
“I think this organization, its leaders, and its supporters have demonstrated that they come together to take care of the Jewish community — whether here, in Israel, or around the world,” said Bamira as she looked back on a “wonderful, fabulous professional journey.”
Bamira lived in Israel for 10 years — with her husband, Yossy, and children, Shiri and Daniel — before returning to the United States in 1986 and beginning her federation career as a staff associate at the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County. She quickly moved up the ladder there to become director of its community relations council and then campaign/associate director.
In 1996, the Oakhurst resident was hired by Middlesex federation as associate director of endowments and planned giving; four years later, she was appointed executive director, replacing Michael Shapiro.
“When we had to replace our director, we thought Gerrie was the best choice because she had done very well and had significantly increased endowments,” said Kenneth Gordon, who was federation president at the time.
Now a Boca Raton, Fla., resident, Gordon said Bamira developed close ties with him and many others involved with their work. They keep in touch and see each other twice yearly.
“She’s really been a very good executive director,” said Gordon. “She’s reached out and found people federation didn’t even know about and developed some longstanding relationships with people that have resulted in several million dollars in contributions and endowments.”
A stable future
During her tenure as executive director, Middlesex’s endowments rose from $800,000 to $11.2 million, with many millions more in the pipeline. Its reserve funds — which Bamira said were “at zero” when she took the reins — now stand at $3 million.
Her ability to engage and keep long-term relationships has been instrumental in building a cohesive community and a strong future, said Livingston, a former federation president.
“Her devotion to the entire Jewish community, not only to federation, has been inspirational,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege of traveling with her on federation missions to Cuba, Israel, Uzbekistan, Istanbul, and Berlin. Her compassion not only for the Jews in Middlesex, but for the entire Jewish community worldwide, is something people really don’t know about.”
As an example, Livingston cited Bamira’s request for an appropriate parting honor. She asked that, in lieu of personal gifts, donors establish an endowment in her honor at the Jerusalem Shelter for Battered Women. Understanding, particularly now, that making changes in life can be challenging, Bamira said she has asked that the fund provide a gift for clients leaving the shelter that will assist them in their transition to a new life — ranging from a haircut at a salon to a new briefcase for someone entering the workforce.
Livingston said that as the Middlesex federation moves forward with plans to merge with the Monmouth federation — a move Bamira strongly supports — her legacy has allowed them to do so from a position of strength.
“She’s been able to involve more people in making this federation a more meaningful player within the Jewish community and bring us to a place where this merger is really a positive for both communities,” he said.
Bamira said that during her tenure “there were challenges, and we met those challenges. As a result we’re in a very strong financial position. The policies we put in place with federation leadership have assured a stable financial future.”
Additionally, under her leadership, federation created an infrastructure allowing it to respond quickly in times of crisis, including during the period when SCUD missiles and terrorist rockets were landing in Israel, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when natural disasters from tsunamis to earthquakes hit, or, more recently, during the crisis in Ukraine.
Bamira said it is her concern for the most vulnerable that is her driving force. She instituted programs for the growing special-needs population and advocated and lobbied for additional dollars to provide more services for and awareness of fragile Holocaust survivors. And, with Middlesex County’s large population of the elderly, she was an advocate on their behalf to secure more government programs and services to meet their needs.
Under Bamira’s leadership, ties to Israel — and its people — were strengthened and deepened through missions, speakers, and programming celebrating the Jewish state. Teen grants and support of Birthright Israel helped create and reinforce those ties among youth.
Federation also focused on the changing demographics of the community, including the heavy concentration of seniors. In 2008 it commissioned a demographic study from which it developed a strategic plan and mission statement that shifted its funding strategy for programs within the agencies and community at large.
“We are completing the final year of the implementation,” said Bamira. “We put the knowledge we learned into action based on our strategic plan. We now look at total dollars in and out and distribute them where most needed.”
At the same time, under Bamira’s guidance, federation introduced programming targeting young people, including its JTeam teen philanthropy program and the PJ Library free book program, serving some 650 preschool children.
“Everything that has been accomplished,” said Bamira, “can be attributed to the strong partnership between me, our past and current leaders, our wonderful volunteers, and our more than 5,000 donors — and, of course, the amazing people who work at the federation, dedicating their lives to the vital work of sustaining our community.”