Noga Maliniak expects to be busier than ever now that the merger of the Central NJ and MetroWest Jewish federations is in place.
As executive shliha — or Israel emissary — at the Israel Program Center in Whippany, she supervises the now-expanded delegation of Israelis working in the community as counselors, outreach professionals, and goodwill ambassadors.
She also helps coordinate “people-to-people” visits between New Jerseyans and Israelis on both sides of the Atlantic.
“We are expanding our programs and focusing more and more on living bridge projects for teenagers and adults,” Maliniak said in a June 28 interview. “It will increase my workload but I am very excited about it.”
Thanks to the Mack Ness Fund — a bequest that Central used to promote economic development in the Negev — and the combined federations’ preexisting projects in Arad-Tamar and Merchavim, the new federation should become “a major player in the region,” she said.
One vehicle is the Onward Israel Negev Fellowship, run in collaboration with the Jewish Agency for Israel. Thirteen young adults spent four weeks in the Negev with Israelis who share their interests in scientific, medical, and governmental careers.
The participants were scheduled to have returned Wednesday. Four were connected with the Arad-Tamar region in a program operated by Central NJ and federations in South Jersey and Delaware. The others have roots in the MetroWest community.
“This was a pilot year, and so far we are very pleased,” Maliniak said.
So, too, are some of the young participants, according to a Facebook page dedicated to the fellowship.
Greg Yucht of Morristown wrote about his June 19 meeting with the mayor and spokesperson for the town of Arad. He “got to see the Israeli political perspective from an American’s point of view so it was interesting to see the differences in the local government’s make up and infrastructure,” he wrote.
Ilana Steinberg of Springfield wrote of “the barren, arid, yet beautiful desert.” She wondered “why and how people create a life and settle with a family in what seems to be such harsh living conditions….It’s a constant battle to come up with new and enticing initiatives in order to inspire young adults to move to the Negev.”
That’s exactly the goal of federation efforts in the area, said Maliniak. “Since we are putting a lot of resources in education programs in the Negev and work with kids in distress, we want the young people when they finish military service to come back to the Negev,” she said.
Lori Klinghoffer, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, recently toured programs sponsored by Jewish Federations of North America’s Negev Funding Coalition.
“We are looking forward to being active partners in the work of developing the Negev for years to come,” she said in a JFNA press release.
A new delegation of five young emissaries called Rishonim — four are based in Whippany, the fifth in Elizabeth — will be arriving in the fall.
The four in Whippany are recent high school graduates who deferred their military service to spend a year in New Jersey.
Continuing a Central federation program, Rozi Ben Ami will spend a year as an emissary in Elizabeth performing outreach on college campuses that do not have an emissary at their local Hillel.
Ben Ami, who is Orthodox, completed her national service in Israel.
Another emissary — Lihi Rothschild at Rutgers Hillel — will complete a two-year term at the New Brunswick campus next year. Her tenure is being funded by a private donation arranged by Stanley Stone, former executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey and now executive director of Greater MetroWest.
The position of her supervisor, Tzvi Raviv, Rutgers Hillel’s director of Israel engagement, is financed by all of New Jersey’s Jewish federations.
“Our focus is ongoing people-to-people relationships,” said Maliniak. Her goal, she said, “is not at all” about providing a counterforce to pro-Palestinian activism. “It is about strengthening Jewish identity through their relationship with Israel.”