Gathering to hear an Israeli war veteran’s tales of heroism, major donors from the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County and the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County chatted and ate together in anticipation of their hoped-for merger in January.
The Vanguard/Major Gifts event was held Sept. 18 at the Monroe Township home of Sam and Laurie Landy. Both communities have held such an annual campaign event in past years, for donors of $5,000 or more annually in Middlesex, $6,000 or more annually in Monmouth; this was the first time it was held jointly.
The featured speaker was Izzy Ezagui, a Brooklyn resident who lost his dominant left arm in battle, but went on to become the only soldier in Israel Defense Forces history to return to service after losing a limb.
The annual Middlesex campaign, which began July 1, 2014, and ends June 30, 2015, has so far brought in $850,000 toward a $2.043 million goal. Monmouth’s campaign, which stands at $1.1 million, will close Dec. 31, 2014. Leaders of both federations said that post-merger, the schedules will gradually be synched.
Monmouth board chair and campaign vice president Joseph Hollander noted that both federation boards had approved the merger in the weeks prior to the Vanguard event. The merger still has to be voted on by constituents of both federations later this month.
“Concerns and feelings have changed. People came knowing the merger is concrete instead of an abstract,” Hollander told NJJN. “This is an important event in the process because it is the first time we’ve all gotten together.”
Said Middlesex federation executive director Susan Antman: “It was wonderful to meet each other in a relaxed environment and to learn we’re like-minded people who care about a strong, vibrant Jewish future.”
She said that she and Monmouth executive director Keith Krivitzky have come to know each other. “We make a pretty strong tag team,” she said.
“We are given the 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to reflect on where we have been, where we are going, and what we want to do differently in the coming year,” said Antman. “This year is truly a time of personal and communal introspection grounded in the idea that we have the capacity to change the way we and others live.”
Krivitzky acknowledged that mergers come with challenges, but was confident in the federation system and the legion of problem-solvers in both federations.
Among those challenges, said Hollander, is declining identification with Israel and with the organized Jewish community among younger generations.
Middlesex president Mitchell Frumkin, who would serve in the same role for the combined federation, said, “We need to change how we measure success — not by how many give, but by how many people we touch with the money given. My goal is to grow our merged federation to touch every one of the 120,000 Jews in Middlesex and Monmouth to let them know the value of being Jewish and the value federation brings to the community.”
Ezagui, who moved to Israel from the United States as a young adult, sustained his traumatic injury about three years ago during a mortar explosion on the Gaza border. When he told his parents in the hospital of his determination to return to service, they supported his decision. He learned to shoot an assault rifle with his right hand and pull grenade pins with his teeth.
Now back in Brooklyn, although still in the IDF reserves, Ezagui has no regrets about his service.
Ezagui said he also had a soft spot for federation, saying it was during a Birthright trip at age 18 that he developed a love for Israel.
“Federation is a massive contributor to Birthright,” he said.