Federations launch talks on merger

Federations launch talks on merger

The Jewish Federation  of Greater Middlesex County and Jewish Federation of Monmouth County have announced they are considering a merger, targeted for the fall of 2014. The move, say leaders of both umbrella philanthropies, will bring a sense of cohesiveness and maximize the resources of central New Jersey’s Jewish community.

The announcement came Oct. 31 in a joint statement from Middlesex president Seth Gross and Monmouth president Sheryl Grutman.

“We are two very similar federations,” said Grutman in the statement. “While we recognize this is a major undertaking for both our communities, our objective is to leverage each organization’s strengths and better address the important needs of the Jewish people, providing stronger solutions for challenges within our community, and most importantly, taking better advantage of opportunities to increase Jewish resources and build Jewish identity within a combined service area.”

In the statement, Gross said the merger would provide “more opportunity to encourage greater Jewish connectivity, enhance motivation and excitement, expand community programming and entry points, tackle large cross-community problems such as Jewish education and engagement, and grow the campaign.”

Gross also said the aim of the merger would also be to provide greater support to new and existing local Jewish organizations through collaboration, strategic coordination, and better leveraging of financial and other resources. Combining the two federations would also lead to increased influence in state advocacy efforts and within the federation world.

However, the planning is in its early stages and many decisions have to be made, including issues of personnel, location of offices, and syncing campaigns. Middlesex ends its campaign on June 30, Monmouth on Dec. 31.

Middlesex, with 52,000 Jews in its catchment area, closed out the year with $2.1 million dollar campaign. Monmouth, with approximately 70,000 Jews, has a campaign of $1.8 million.

Ken Philmus, chair of Monmouth’s merger committee, said the upcoming change in Middlesex’s leadership — its executive director, Gerrie Bamira, has decided to leave the post  June 30 after 18 years — had little to do with the decision.

Lee Livingston of East Brunswick, who cochairs the Middlesex merger committee with Mitch Frumkin of Kendall Park, told NJJN that the two federations have been talking on and off about merging for seven years, but it’s always been put on the “back burner.”

“The current leadership in both communities became very interested and were encouraged by donors in both communities,“ said Livingston, a former federation president.

He said each side would now do their “due diligence” and move step by step to ensure that both communities would be comfortable with the outcome.

“We’re going into this on a positive note,“ said Livingston. “The overriding issue is that we feel we will be better able to serve the Jewish community. Everything else is secondary to that. Because of the strong leadership provided by Gerrie Bamira, we are in a strong and solid position to go forward with this merger.”

Philmus cited the similarities between the communities, including their geographic proximity.

“When we start talking about the Middlesex or Monmouth boundaries, the line is really artificial,” he told NJJN. “We found that people have moved from the shore area to the Route 9 area. In Middlesex they’ve moved down from the north Edison area closer to Route 18. When you drive down 18, you can’t tell where Middlesex ends and Monmouth begins. I live in Matawan, a half-mile from the Middlesex border.”

Beyond that, Livingston said, they have similar campaigns and supporters with shared goals and approaches.

Philmus, federation vice president of community engagement and an executive board member, said in the coming months the federations would talk to others who have completed successful mergers, including the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, which is the result of last year’s coming together of the MetroWest and Central New Jersey federations.

Philmus praised Monmouth’s executive director, Keith Krivitzky, who took over leadership last year, for bringing a new business model to the federation and said both federations want to expand on that.

Pointing out that the way people give and their expectations have changed over generations to one of more involvement, engagement, and transparency, Philmus said, “It’s not about operational efficiency. That would be great if it’s a by-product. But we’re not doing this to save money. We’re looking to accomplish things we might not have been able to otherwise. We can do more if we do it together.”

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