Veteran Jewish activist Michael Kurtz of Livingston was appointed the first president of the eight-month-old New Jersey region of the American Friends of Hebrew University.
The NJ chapter of the organization was formed last September, but Kurtz has been involved in Hebrew University’s fund-raising and support activities for more than 20 years.
“He has been one of the top leaders of American Friends of Hebrew University in this country, so he was the logical choice to step up and take this role,” said Howard Gases, executive director of AFHU’s NJ office as he announced Kurtz’s appointment April 3.
“He will be helping us to build our organization,” Gases told NJ Jewish News in a phone interview that day. “Since we just opened up our doors last fall, we don’t have other officers yet.”
Kurtz and Gases have begun forming an advisory committee and a planning board, and Kurtz said he hopes to recruit supporters of Hebrew University he knew in the 1980s.
“As you can imagine, New Jersey had a very active group of donors for Hebrew University and its cancer center. I am trying to reinvigorate that old group,” Kurtz told NJJN.
“It is one of the leading universities in education and science, and I want to tell people in New Jersey why they should consider supporting it. We need people who have a lot of money and also people who don’t have a lot of money but have time and heart and passion.”
Kurtz, a partner in the Cranford accounting firm of Kurtz & Hornak, said he became interested in the university, Israel’s largest, some two decades ago at the urging of a client.
“He said, ‘Michael, I want you to get involved,’ and I couldn’t say ‘no’ to him,” Kurtz said.
Kurtz’s contributions began gradually with a group of supporters in West Orange. Eventually, he volunteered his time at AFHU headquarters in New York.
“They made me treasurer and asked me to become a board member on the Israeli side,” he said. That commitment requires Kurtz to make three trips each year to attend board meetings in Israel. He said each one has enabled him to forge a deeper connection with his own Jewish identity.
“I was bar mitzva’d, but that pretty much was it,” he said of his boyhood years in South Orange. “Going to Israel has become my temple, going back to my roots.”
In addition to AFHU, Kurtz is active in the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, serving as chair of its Endowment Foundation’s investment committee, and its Jewish Family Service. The Central federation community includes Cranford.
“He is committed and knowledgeable and practical,” said Amy Cooper, associate executive vice president of the Central NJ federation. “He has been a great volunteer and a great lay leader who most recently helped us on our endowment committee. He led us through a very complicated process when we changed investment advisers.”
Kurtz himself recognizes that his new assignment is filled with financial challenges.
“We are trying to compete with other charities and show them we have a quality product,” he said. “To some degree it is an uphill fight, but I love it. I represent what I think is a terrific institution.”