The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ is restructuring its overseas initiatives department in order to simplify its message and streamline its organization.
Beginning Nov. 2, the philanthropy’s “Israel and Overseas Department” will be known as “Global Connections: Israel, Greater MetroWest, and the World.”
The restructuring aims to rein in a sprawling enterprise of programs and projects supported by the federation in various parts of Israel and in communities like Cherkassy, Ukraine. They will all be integrated and funded as one.
In the works since February, the restructuring has been designed to streamline allocations, facilitate collaboration among overseas projects and local Israel-related programs, and more effectively engage emerging leaders, according to Amir Shacham, currently associate executive vice-president of the federation’s Israel Operations.
“We achieve a lot through our Israel center, but we were working in silos,” said Shacham. “There were so many different committees and different departments that made it seem so complicated.”
As an example, he noted that three similar federation-supported projects in Israel’s Negev — in Arad, Ofakim/Merchavim, and Kibbutz Erez — each operate independently from the others. The new structure will bring all of the work in each geographic area under one set of leaders.
In addition, he pointed out, overseas programs were being funded through three different areas of the federation budget, and will now be funded as a whole. No funding has changed, nor have any priorities, organizers emphasized; only the structure is changing. In 2014-15, the federation allocated $3,903,802 to Israel and Overseas.
And finally, Shacham pointed out, the name “had to change. ‘Israel and Overseas Programs’ is too archaic. Yes, we do these activities, but we are not only about sending money. The paradigm has shifted. We are not just about money; we are really more about connections,” he said. “They are the key in our culture for building a strong community here, with Israel, and with the rest of the Jewish world.”
Israel and Overseas chair Paula Saginaw worked with Shacham, federation president Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, and federation CEO Dov Ben-Shimon on the overhaul. Global Connections is one of several major structural changes expected under Ben-Shimon, who became the federation’s top professional in 2014.
“This is one of the most critical areas of restructuring that we have taken on in the last year,” said Ben-Shimon. “The restructuring of Global Connections is part of a wider and deeper process to make sure federation is relevant and that its voice speaks to everyone in the Greater MetroWest community, Israel, and the Jewish world.
“We are thinking thoughtfully and strategically about federation’s relevance in our Jewish community,” he said.
“It took nine months. It was like giving birth!” said Saginaw, who is the first chair of Global Connections. (See page 26.) When she was asked to take on the position, she recalled, “I told Amir we really needed a change. The whole structure was confusing. We were using acronyms no one understood, and there were all these committees. No one could explain what we were doing. People were focused on their piece but could not see the big picture.”
The “big picture” will now be captured in a phrase derived from Torah, “Yama, Kedma, Tzafona, Negba,” each referring to a different thematic and geographic “platform”: respectively, the Jewish Diaspora, Israeli Shared Society, Israel Engagement, and Negev Operations (see box).
Each platform will have a senior lay leader and a deputy leader spot reserved for an emerging leader. There are also designated leaders for specific projects on a realm of activities within each group that will establish liaisons between groups.
“I love the fact that we are basing the whole structure on the Torah. It validates that what we do here is truly sacred work,” said Saginaw.
The merger that created the Greater MetroWest federation in 2012 brought the issues into relief, said Shacham. The former Jewish Federation of Central NJ, which joined with the MetroWest federation, supported projects in the Negev, including in Arad and those associated with the Ness Fund, which promotes economic development in the region.
“We needed to integrate all of the initiatives in a good way, and not as MetroWest vs. Central,” Shacham said.
Global Connections will coordinate the federation’s existing Israel center offices: the Legow Family Israel Program Center in Whippany and the Israel Office in Jerusalem, under the direction of Shacham, who will be based in Israel and will visit Greater MetroWest frequently. He will have two managers underneath him, one in Israel, and one in New Jersey. The shift will also involve eliminating the professional position of executive shaliah, which will be replaced by a full-time director. For the least several decades, an Israeli shaliah had come to the community for two to three years and then returned to Israel. “We came to the conclusion that we need stability” in this position, said Shacham. Instead, the position will be held by the NJ global manager under Shacham. The federation will continue to have a strong Israeli presence in New Jersey; its 10 shlihim is the largest such Israeli delegation in the United States.
A kickoff event will be held Monday, Nov. 2, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany (jfedgmw.org/global-connections). Participants will have the opportunity to join a particular area of interest for brainstorming, setting priorities, and raising concerns. The evening will include dinner and conclude with singing and dancing. The cost is $18.