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Local community councils end regional partnership
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Local community councils end regional partnership

Three federations agree advocacy best served by local initiatives

Representatives of the MetroWest, Central, and Northern NJ federations discuss the merger of their community relations councils at an August 2009 leadership retreat in Whippany.
Representatives of the MetroWest, Central, and Northern NJ federations discuss the merger of their community relations councils at an August 2009 leadership retreat in Whippany.

Three New Jersey Jewish federations — including United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ — are dissolving their public advocacy partnership, two years after it was launched.

In May 2009, UJC MetroWest, the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, and UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey formed a regional Jewish community relations council, or CRC. The goal was to increase the federations’ clout in lobbying for Israel, Jewish issues, and interfaith affairs, while trimming costs.

The federations announced in a joint statement Monday that the partnership is being dissolved as the result of “demographic realities, differing communal priorities, and significant organizational changes.”

The partnership will end as of June 30. Joy Kurland, who directed the regional organization, will return full-time to her post as director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the NNJ federation.

The MetroWest and Central federations have discussed plans for a joint CRC.

The regional merger “was a noble experiment that failed,” said UJC MetroWest executive vice president Max Kleinman.

“There was so much geographic span the regional CRC entailed that it became logistically difficult to have people travel such long distances for meetings,” he told NJ Jewish News in a March 22 interview. “That was a major drawback.”

Stanley Stone, executive vice president of the Central federation, also had high hopes for the regionalized approach to community relations, especially after his organization eliminated its full-time CRC director in 2009.

“Certainly we were optimistic that it would work,” he told NJJN. “But it wasn’t working and we could not foresee fixing it. Nobody wanted to do this, but these are important allocable dollars, and if they are not doing what they are supposed to do, you need to go back to the drawing board and figure out what would work.”

Both the merger and its dissolution coincided with a period of major change at all three federations. The NNJ federation, headquartered in Bergen County, is undergoing a search for a successor to Howard Charish, who retired as executive vice president in July 2010, and recently completed a strategic planning process that is now being implemented.

Last week, UJC MetroWest and the Central federation announced they are in discussions regarding a possible merger of the two organizations.

While the partnership lasted, the regional CRC met with state politicians over Medicaid and other issues, lobbied Washington on containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and challenged leaders of the Presbyterian Church over their criticism of Israel.

“There were good things that came out of this. There were successful things we did together and learned from on a regional basis,” said Kurland, citing a Yom Iyun, or day of learning, at the Israeli consulate in New York, and a government affairs advocacy training.

“Just because there is going to be dissolution of this entity does not mean we haven’t gained an appreciation for our commonalities.”

‘Sooner than later’

At the same time, lay leaders in the separate federations pursued their own projects. Melanie Roth Gorelick, associate director of the Community Relations Committee of MetroWest, continued to work out of the UJC MetroWest offices in Whippany.

The state’s 12 Jewish federations will continue to collaborate on “statewide issues of mutual concern” under the auspices of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, according to the joint statement.

Kurland told NJJN, “It is regretful that something you went into with a very positive outlook is not what you anticipated, but if the powers that be feel it is in the best interest of all concerned, that is an important consideration.”

Kleinman said he was disappointed that the regional effort hadn’t succeeded.

But, he noted, “when you realize there are some barriers you can’t resolve, it is better to make the change sooner rather than later. I thank our leadership for recognizing that when it was not going to work the way we wanted it to, they came up with an alternative that will serve our needs better.”

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