Among the hefty assignments Scott Krieger has charged himself with during the next 30 months as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ (GMW) is to make personal visits to all 90 synagogues in the catchment area. He can attend services, congregation meetings, gatherings of boards of trustees, or “whatever they may prefer,” he said.
Six months into his tenure he’s up to 10, and — exemplifying the difficulty he faces in completing this self-imposed responsibility — he realizes that even if he manages to up his pace to two visits a month, he’ll still be 18 short of his goal by the summer of 2020, when his three-year term ends. So he’s decided to push himself harder.
Through these efforts, Krieger said, he hopes to convey a message to GMW residents: “We care about you.”
Krieger touched on a number of subjects during a wide-ranging interview at NJJN’s office in Whippany, including how he envisions his role, the improvement of federation efforts to engage young Jews and Orthodox communities, and fund-raising shortfalls. The new president said he is intent on “making people feel included in community activities and appreciated for what they do.”
A self-described “people person,” Krieger said he considers diplomacy to be one of his strengths, one he hopes to take advantage of to enhance the relationships between the federation, synagogues, and schools. In some ways, he likens his new position — and prospects of success — to that of a pulpit rabbi.
“If you are a pulpit rabbi and 51 percent of your congregation is happy, you are probably doing a great job,” he said. “When we take on anything, people will be happy, and people will be unhappy.”
Because he is an Orthodox Jew and a member of the Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center in Livingston, so far much of Krieger’s focus has been on engaging Orthodox synagogues. A few years ago, some congregations “might have felt excluded from the community,” he said. “It was not offering anything for them.”
But Krieger said that the federation has made major inroads since 2006, when it established the Greater MetroWest Day School Initiative. In coordination with Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ, the initiative provides aid to four area day schools, helping them develop tuition funding programs for middle-class students, professional development for teachers, and marketing. Of the participating schools, Golda Och Academy in West Orange is affiliated with the Conservative movement, the Gottesman RTW Academy in Randolph refers to itself as pluralistic, and both the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston and the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth are Orthodox. This collaboration with the Orthodox community has opened the door for more.
“It is refreshing to see,” he said. The Orthodox community knows “we have been making the effort to embrace them as much as we do the other parts of the community. I think we have come a long way.”
By contrast, he said, the federation has stalled in trying to reach 25- to 35-year-old Jews. He intends to meet one-on-one with members of that demographic to develop a plan to bring a young crowd into the fold.
“We need to learn exactly what they are looking for and how they want to be engaged,” he said. “It is not ‘Hey, Israel needs money now because there is a crisis.’ It doesn’t work like that anymore. There are no more hot-button issues. A lot of it is selling. They need to be shown what our community has to offer and why we need to support those efforts. But it takes time.”
One challenge, he noted, is that while some people “have Jewish philanthropy in their blood,” and continue a family legacy of tzedakah, for others, “giving to Jewish causes can be a tough sell.”
Regarding the federation budget, Krieger said he doesn’t expect to change allocation plans “at this time,” although he is open to a reevaluation 18 months or two years down the road.
He said, “I think we have to spend more money in all of our programs, but we have to bring the money in before we can hand it out.”
“The federation has struggled to maintain its financial numbers,” he said. In 2017 federation received $20.35 million in pledges, down from the $21.2 million in pledges in 2016. “But we had a lot of new donors,” he said. “If we finish up this year  at $20.5 million, I would be very happy.”
For years, the cornerstone of federation fund-raising was Super Sunday, the annual December event when hundreds of volunteers, ranging from elected officials to Hadassah members to Boy Scouts in uniform, flooded into the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany and the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains. The day was packed with hours of fund-raising solicitations via phone, plus food, prizes, craft sales, and activities for adults and children.
In 2016 the name was changed to “The Big Give,” and this year it will be called “The Big Give and Challah Bake” and will be held on March 11. The discussion over the downsizing of Super Sunday has been longstanding, Krieger said.
“It was a very expensive event to run and with a lot of staff, but we were getting fewer people every year to come out and support it physically,” he said. “Throughout the years there were less and less people saying, ‘We love being here on Super Sunday.’ That was the problem. So, we felt it was time to shake it up.”
Krieger, 63, grew up in Cranford in a “traditional Conservative” home, he said, and attended what is now Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim. During his years at Cranford High School he was active in his temple’s United Synagogue Youth chapter, his family hosted young people from the Fresh Air Fund on holidays, and Russian immigrants who lived in Elizabeth were frequent guests at his parents’ seder table.
“I grew up in an environment of always reaching out to help others,” he said.
While he was studying for his bachelor’s degree in commerce at Rider University, and then for a few years after graduation, Krieger said, he was completely uninvolved in Jewish affairs.“Then, toward the end of my 20s, somebody, somewhere found me and put me on a list to be called on Super Sunday.” A few years later he volunteered to be one of the callers.
That was “around 30 years ago,” he said. “When my gift reached $1,000 someone from Young Leadership sat me down and asked if I would be interested in participating in more events.” He agreed and his involvement in federation work has grown ever since, beginning when he served as chair of a young accountants’ group.
Approximately 20 years ago he was president of the Young Leadership Division, which he said was “the most rewarding” part of his involvement with federation. It led to a slot on the federation’s executive committee, two terms as treasurer, then as financial vice president, and now a three-year term as president. “I have seen the view from the top for a long time,” he told NJJN.
Krieger and his wife, Robyn, a volunteer at the Friendship Circle, have three sons, Dan, Eric, and Josh. He enjoys reading mystery stories and novels on international terrorism “where the good guys win,” and attending blues and rock concerts. But, he confessed, “my number one addiction is non-commercial television.”
As if his community visits, federation projects, family life, and weakness for TV are not enough to keep him occupied, Krieger is also a partner at the Manhattan accounting firm of Friedman LLP.
“I have to prioritize my time, and my priority [for the federation] is selling and reselling the organization and influencing as many people as I can.”