Federation honors its past presidents
They oversaw an organization that has raised more than $100 million since its formation 28 years ago.
Thanks to their volunteer leadership, the local Jewish community was able to help Israeli terror victims, assist in freeing Soviet Jewry, come to the aid of those affected by natural disasters, and provide for local people in need.
On June 6, 13 past presidents were honored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County at a program in New Brunswick.
More than 200 people attended the cocktail reception at the Heldrich Hotel before crossing the street for a tribute program at the George Street Playhouse.
The event, which raised more than $106,000, featured as emcee Highland Park native Jim Axelrod, a national correspondent and reporter for CBS News. He anchors the Saturday edition of the CBS Evening News.
“In Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, it is stated that having a lev tov, or a good heart, is the best character trait a person can have,” said Axelrod, who became bar mitzva at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick. “Our federation has been blessed to have 13 individuals, who with their good hearts, visionary leadership, and extraordinary dedication have led this Jewish community in growth, learning, and vibrancy over these past 28 years.”
The honorees, wearing commemorative medallions around their necks, were then feted with a performance by the Jewish a cappella group Six13, which delighted the audience with an original song incorporating the past presidents’ names (on-line at jewishmiddlesex.org).
“People really lingered after the program, so I take that as a sign of success,” said chair Phyllis Freed of Laurence Harbor. “People were really connecting and brought their children and grandchildren with them. These are 13 people whose vision and dedication really made this federation what it is.”
The event was an opportunity to recall the history of the federation and each of the presidents’ milestones. After the merger of the Jewish Federation of Northern Middlesex County and Jewish Federation of the Raritan Valley into one body, it fell to the late Alvin Rockoff, who served 1985-87, to unify the new community. He also helped raised substantial funds for Operation Moses, which rescued Ethiopian Jewry.
He was followed by Larry Zicklin, 1987-89, who organized 18 buses and two chartered train cars carrying 1,000 Middlesex residents to the Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jewry on the National Mall in Washington. He also led a formal educational response to the first Intifada.
James Stahl, 1989-91, spearheaded rescue and relief for Ethiopian Jews who came with Operation Solomon. Hundreds of Jews from the former Soviet Union were resettled in Middlesex during the term of Susan Mandell, 1991-93, the first woman president. Ron Grayzel, 1993-95, spurred federation funding for joint Israeli-Jordanian environmental and humanitarian initiatives following the signing of the 1994 peace treaty between those two nations.
Marlene Herman, 1995-97, helped organize a memorial service with the Rabbinic Council of Middlesex County for assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Under Roy Tanzman, 1997-99, the federation brought its largest mission to Israel to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Under Kenneth A. Gordon, 1999-2001, federation began allotting funds for Birthright Israel, which to date has brought more than 250,000 Jewish young adults to Israel. After 9/11, Phoebe Wofchuck, 2001-03, helped federation establish its first emergency fund in the United States, providing counseling and coping strategies and sending its chaplain as a part of an emergency response team. The federation also donated an ambulance to Israel to assist suicide bombing victims.
L Richard Wolff, 2003-05, established a relief fund to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Southeast Asia that killed 230,000 and was instrumental in establishing endowments for future generations.
Just eight months later, Hurricane Katrina hit and federation president Philip S. Cantor, 2005-07, coordinated the community response. Lee Livingston, 2007-10, launched an emergency campaign to help the Israeli town of Sderot after it came under relentless rocket attacks from Gaza. Arlene Frumkin, 2010-12, organized a response to Israel’s largest forest fire.
“We moved away to Florida 10 years ago so it’s great to see all these people again,” said Gordon. “It was a little like a family reunion.”