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Merging federations aim to ‘make a difference’
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Merging federations aim to ‘make a difference’

‘Greater MetroWest’ marks new era in local Jewish philanthropy

Welcome to the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.

After two years of negotiations and at least 15 years of cooperation, United Jewish Communities of MetroWest and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey will become a single, $24 million fund-raising and community planning organization.

As of July 1, the two organizations will combine efforts, staff, and infrastructure, even as they continue a process of integrating volunteer leadership and diverse community cultures.

“We go into a process like this not just because bigger is better,” said Lori Klinghoffer, who will become the first president of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. “We feel deeply that the impact we will have in the Jewish world will be enhanced. The whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.”

After the merger, Julie Lipsett Singer will move from the presidency of the Central federation to a member of the Greater MetroWest executive strategic planning and executive committees.

“My hopes and expectations are that it will strengthen the Jewish community. Otherwise I would not have endorsed it,” she told NJJN.

“We are all interested in supporting Jews in need, whether they be here, in Israel, or in the far reaches of the world. As a combined entity, I believe we can do that more effectively and more efficiently.”

She said “the two federations have existed along artificial borders between our communities. As the world has evolved they have become more and more artificial, so it makes sense for us to come together and take on this enterprise.”

The merged federation will raise funds for local Jewish needs and overseas projects in campaigns targeting some 126,000 Jewish people in five counties of New Jersey, including Essex, Morris, and Union. The federation will manage a combined endowment fund of close to $300 million.

Steve Klinghoffer, a past president of the MetroWest federation who chaired the merger committee, called it “by far the largest merger of two independent federations that I am aware of.”

With it will come combined financial resource development, allocations, and Israel and overseas operations, and a single board of trustees, executive committee, and slate of officers representing both communities.

Since January of 2011, community relations operations have already been joined under the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest and Central NJ. Its outreach efforts cover seven congressional and 20 state legislative districts.

New Jersey Jewish News, published by UJC MetroWest, has produced a separate weekly edition for the Central community since 1997.

Agencies that received allocations from the respective federations will continue to operate as before, although there will be one annual allocations process directing federation dollars.

“Some major portfolios, such as the leadership of the Community Relations Committee and Israel and Overseas, will be handled by Central,” explained Max Kleinman, executive vice president of UJC of MetroWest. “We are hopeful that during the transition period we will have developed an organizational culture and esprit de corps so that we are all part of Greater MetroWest.”

After the merger, Kleinman will become executive vice president of the combined federation.

Stanley Stone, now executive vice president of the Central federation, will be Greater MetroWest’s executive director, the organization’s number two spot.

Both men will divide their time between MetroWest’s Aidekman campus in Whippany and the regional office on the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains, the current headquarters of the Central federation.

“This was done because I felt this could make a real qualitative difference for the Jewish community here and in Israel and around the world,” Stone told NJJN.

“In this day and age it is the combining of resources. You can combine our two back offices into one back office, and that will allow us to do more with our philanthropic dollars to make an impact on the quality of life for the Jewish community here and around the world. That is our mandate,” he said.

During a three-year transition period that begins on July 1, the federation will strive to ensure fair representation for lay leaders of the smaller Central federation.

A combined board of trustees will have 225 members — 150 from MetroWest and 75 from Central. A new 52-person executive committee will be composed of 36 people from the MetroWest region, 16 from Central.

Due to what Kleinman called “redundancy,” the merger will eliminate the positions of three Central staff members — one each from marketing and communications, accounting, and Women’s Philanthropy.

Two people on the Central staff have been assigned “to take on new responsibilities in MetroWest at the foundation and in planning and allocations,” Kleinman said.

Shared interest in supporting a multitude of projects in Israel is a key motivator of the merger.

Greater MetroWest will have nine shlihim, or emissaries, from Israel — the largest such delegation to any American federation.

“The footprint we are going to have in Israel will potentially be more exciting, and that can inspire people,” said Don Rosenthal of Westfield, who served as financial resources development chair of the Central federation and will become a member of the campaign cabinet.

Amir Shacham, who directs MetroWest’s office in Israel, will remain in charge of UJC MetroWest’s Partnership 2Gether relationships with Israeli communities in Ra’anana, Rishon Letzion, Kibbutz Erez, and Ofakim-Merchavim, as well as Central’s in Arad, the Tamar region, and other parts of the Negev. His office in Jerusalem will add a new position of Negev operations director.

Tehila Nachalon, who has served as the Central federation’s representative in Israel, will become a Mandel Jerusalem Fellow — a prestigious training program whose mission is to prepare professionals “to lead community institutions and direct educational initiatives with vision, commitment, and practical wisdom.”

Central’s assets include the $15 million Mack Ness Fund of the Jewish Community Endowment Foundation, which funds economic development programs in the Negev region and focuses on education, infrastructure, and technology development in disadvantaged communities.

“We are very much in alignment in our commitment to the Negev,” said Lori Klinghoffer. “It is a program for which Central brings large assets to the table.”

Along with many common interests, planners of the merger had to consider cultural differences among donors and institutions in Central and MetroWest.

“When you have a bigger federation dealing with a smaller federation, there is always the issue of the smaller one being swallowed up and not having adequate regard for the smaller one’s own history and culture,” said Kleinman. “We have to have people feel they are part of this new community. So we need to work even harder at developing a sense of unity.”

“I think the biggest hurdle was building trust,” said Steve Klinghoffer.

Marilyn Flanzbaum of Warren, a past president of the Central federation, remembers discussing the possibility of a merger with Steve Klinghoffer “more than 10 years ago, while we were on a Jewish Agency mission in Jerusalem.”

“When you are used to being a big fish in a small pond, it will take awhile,” said Flanzbaum. “I think there is going to be some rough sledding for awhile. It is a different culture and a different way of doing business. We are going to have to get used to bigger meetings and more people at meetings. It is going to take some Central people a while to see where they fit.”

Eleanor Rubin, a past president of the Central federation who now lives in Tinton Falls, described one of those differences.

“The Orthodox population connected to the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth” — part of the Central region — “may bring in a greater Orthodox presence” to the new federation, she said. The JEC is a network of linked institutions that includes synagogues, day schools, and ritual baths.

“The Jewish Education Center is a world unto itself,” agreed Lori Klinghoffer. “The synagogues and the day schools form a campus — something we are not familiar with in MetroWest. We have to learn from them. They are excited in partnering in some of the things we do.” She once spent half a day there, she said, and remembers thinking, “Oh, wow! This is quite an establishment.”

“The variety of views we have coming to the table are going to get greater,” she said, “and the perspectives need to be respectful of each other.”

As the first president of the new federation, she said, she is looking to the future with optimism.

“Five years from now I see a broader cohesive community,” she said. “There are untapped resources in Central, because they have not had a significant young leadership and they are very excited to now have that opportunity. In MetroWest we have a fairly strong young leadership program. I hope we see a growth in the number of people who become interested in what the federation is. That is the ultimate goal — to serve the Jewish people better.”

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