Following the Anti-Defamation League’s decision to combine its New Jersey and New York offices last June, Joshua Cohen, who was the ADL’s regional director for New Jersey, had a decision to make.
“The ADL asked me to stay, but I wanted to do something new,” said Cohen, who had worked with the organization since 2009 in both Philadelphia and New Jersey. He understood the decision to merge the offices, Cohen said, but realized that for him, “it was time to explore.”
After doing consulting work for about a year, Cohen was approached by Jason Shames, CEO and executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, to ask if he would consider a new position: director of government relations and external affairs with the newly formed Jewish Federations of New Jersey (JFNJ).
“I looked at the job description,” Cohen said, “and we agreed it was a fit.”
The JFNJ, as of July 1, will replace the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations. The new body will leverage strategic partnerships with nonprofit groups across New Jersey, coordinating the efforts of the five leading Jewish federations in the state: the Northern NJ federation, Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ, and Jewish Federation of Somerset, Hunterdon & Warren Counties.
What drew Shames and the other JFNJ leaders to Cohen was the similar work he did as a government relations executive at UJA-Federation of New York prior to his tenure with the ADL.
“With the UJA,” said Cohen, “I worked building and maintaining relationships with a variety of elected officials to further the work of the UJA and its network of over 100 agencies to benefit the Jewish community.
“I look forward to doing the same with New Jersey elected officials and others. I know I’ll be spending a lot of time in Trenton.’’
“JFNJ will focus on government relations, fighting anti-Semitism, Israel advocacy, state-wide collaboration, and security coordination,” said Shames, explaining the expanded role of the new organization, building on the association’s work. “New Jersey has 500,000 Jewish residents, and it’s important the federations take an active leadership role in protecting their interests.”
Cohen will develop partnerships with elected officials, special-interest groups, and law enforcement from an office location yet to be determined, although, he said, “I assume it will be at one of the federation facilities.” The State Association offices are within the JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains.
Robin Wishnie, executive director of the Somerset, Hunterdon & Warren Counties federation, said she and the other JFNJ organizers were “thrilled” when Cohen accepted the new position. “He has more than a decade of experience in advocating on behalf of New Jersey’s Jewish community, and he is a leader when it comes to matters of security and the impact of rising anti-Semitism,” she said.
Cohen made a point to commend outgoing association executive director Jacob Toporek. “Jac has just been outstanding in every way with his dealings on behalf of the Jewish community,” Cohen said. “He is a mensch, and I know we’ll have a strength-to-strength transition July 1.”
The New Jersey State Legislature’s current calendar runs through June 27. It will likely adjourn, after a state budget and other critical bills are voted upon, on or around that date. All state legislators are up for election this November, giving Cohen something of a clean slate to work with in the 2019-20 session.
“Elected officials may change, but the concerns involving the Jewish community largely stay pretty much the same,” said Cohen. “I will always address those concerns with everyone I have to. Working with and helping the Jewish community are what I want to be involved with at this time.”
He lauded the work of the federations, which, he said, “have touched more lives than any other Jewish organization. I am grateful for the opportunity to join this exciting endeavor that will enhance the quality of life for the Jewish community and beyond.”
Cohen is married with two children. The family resides in Union County.