The Jewish federations of Greater Middlesex and Monmouth counties expect to complete their planned merger by January; the aim, said leaders, is to meld the strong points of both organizations to increase fund-raising and better serve community needs.
In a town hall meeting held at the South River offices of the Middlesex federation July 22, about 100 turned out to ask questions and hear about the plans.
The meeting was led by Middlesex merger committee cochair Lee Livingston, who said while organizers “don’t have all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed,” merger plans are moving along smoothly. A similar town hall meeting will take place Tuesday, July 29, at Monmouth’s offices in Holmdel.
A final board vote on the merger is planned for October, with a membership vote in Middlesex — under its bylaws anyone who gives a donation can cast a vote — that month, and a “full integration” starting next year, according to information supplied at the meeting.
Leaders of both federations, he said, were eager to settle final details out of consideration for their “wonderful” staffs.
“They deserve to know where we are and where they stand — not if they are going to be, but where they are going to be,” Livingston said. “There will be realignment.”
Beyond the combined staff, a bigger federation will allow programs to better meet community needs and make a greater impact locally and internationally, said leaders at the meeting, and will allow the community to have a larger voice in the federation system.
The Jewish Federations of North America is the umbrella organization for 153 Jewish federations and over 300 network communities. In New Jersey, the State Association of Jewish Federations now represents 11 organizations.
While their missions align, the main difference, Livingston said, is that the Greater Middlesex federation “is older, more conservative, and in a stronger financial position than Monmouth.”
Monmouth’s strengths, he said, “are that they are younger, not as conservative, and they have a larger Jewish population.” In Middlesex, he said, there is generational continuity; many activists are involved with the federation because their parents passed down the tradition.
Middlesex also brings to the merger table a strong legacy and endowment program and good data procedures and support networks. Monmouth, for its part, has a growing campaign, successful community engagement and marketing campaigns, and a good relationship with local partners, including its beneficiary agencies and synagogues.
“It’s no secret we have $10 million in endowments,” said Livingston. “As part of our agreement all [undedicated] endowments will remain in Middlesex for three years.”
Monmouth has about half the endowments of Middlesex.
One of the benefits of the merger will be the larger professional staff engaged in community outreach and fund-raising, said Middlesex executive director Susan Antman. The combined federation will support 55 organizations, locally, in Israel, and overseas.
She said she is anticipating the advantages from one of Monmouth federation’s particular strengths: its marketing. “We can’t attract people if they don’t know what we do. Doing outreach and engagement together will benefit both communities because it will give us opportunities to look at all sectors of our combined communities and see who is underserved and whom we can serve better.”
Livingston pointed out the way people approach federation has changed over the years.
“We used to rely on volunteers, but volunteers don’t want to do outreach or ask for money,” he explained. “More and more we’re relying on professional staff.”
He noted that “younger people today, in my opinion, don’t have the same sense of community we had…. We need to do things a different way.”
Monmouth executive director Keith Krivitzky said his organization has had success in attracting volunteers to specific projects rather than to long-term volunteer positions.
He also said the merger will help with efforts to attract that next generation to federation. “The challenge is not attracting young people to leadership positions,” said Krivitzky; “it is attracting young people, period.”
Programs that “leverage the impact” of teens and show them that federation can be both exciting and fun “is a great place to start,” he said.
Among the challenges both federations have faced — common to smaller federations — is recruiting leadership and sustaining educational offerings.
“The problem is not that there are not enough people to support federation,” said Krivitzky. “The problem is we haven’t connected with them.”
Livingston said the merger process has been eased by the open minds of leaders on both sides.
“I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t think this was a good idea,” said Livingston, who recalled that 29 years earlier there were concerns when Jewish Federation of Northern Middlesex County and Jewish Federation of the Raritan Valley merged to become the current Greater Middlesex federation.
“When we first started this current process, Middlesex would sit on this side of the table and Monmouth would sit on that side,” he said. “Now we sit interchangeably.”