For Mark Merkovitz, the new interim executive director of the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, federation has been an integral part of his adult Jewish communal life.
After he graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in economics, management, and marketing, Merkovitz hit the road in his sales position for Koret of California. While working in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Minneapolis, he sought out Jewish connections.
“I used federation to open the door to that Jewish community I was in,” he told NJJN. “It was a great way to assimilate myself into the Jewish community.”
What he learned in those Midwestern Jewish communities was simple. “You can’t just be Jewish culturally,” he said. “You have to be involved in the Jewish community.”
Merkovitz grew up in the Detroit suburbs in a family very involved in their Conservative synagogue, and he was active in United Synagogue Youth as a teenager. Describing himself as “a communal Jew,” he is a regular attendee at Shabbat services at The Jewish Center in Princeton, where, he said his rabbi observed, “some of the time he talks to God, and some of the time he talks to his friends sitting next to him.”
In 1986, Merkovitz moved to New York to be national sales manager for Koret, and three years later, he married his wife, Wendy, and moved to Princeton. Six years ago, he changed careers to work locally, going into the financial services industry. The Merkovitzes have two sons, Max, who lives in Boston, and Sam, who is starting his senior year of high school.
When he moved to the Princeton area, Merkovitz again sought out the federation as a “portal” to the local Jewish community and has since participated on boards and committees at Jewish Federations of North America, Greenwood House, The Jewish Center, American Jewish Committee, Center for Jewish Life/Hillel at Princeton University, and the Jewish Community Youth Foundation. He has held leadership positions at federation over the last five years, including campaign vice-president and, for three years, as president.
When Andrew Frank — who served as executive director since 1998 — stepped down July 31, the board recommended that he take the position, said Merkovitz. Because of the challenging environment, he added, “the federation board felt that it would be better to put somebody in, on an interim basis, who has ‘knowledge of and connections in’ the community.” A search for an executive director will begin later in the year.
Since taking over the full-time position on Aug. 1, Merkovitz has been meeting with rabbis, agency executives, organizational board presidents, and community members to get their perspective on federation and what role they would like to see federation play in the community. He said he is looking to implement new ideas and programs that will help “strengthen the fabric of the Jewish community, as well as help people garner a better understanding and appreciation of the important work federation does through its programing, facilitating, and fund-raising.”
“Federation does good work, but we can’t be our father’s Oldsmobile,” said Merkovitz. “We have to be today’s Tesla.”
Over the last 10 years, federation has allocated over $9,000,000 to local agencies, beneficiary organizations in Israel, and over 70 countries around the world. The federation also “answers the call,” said Merkovitz, “when there is an emergency and Jews are in need.”
“We want to continue to do the good work that has been the foundation of federation, but we know there are many needs that didn’t exist 10 years ago. We know we have to be aware and responsive to the new challenges and opportunities that will help strengthen our Jewish community here and throughout the world.”