Successful collaboration — between different parts of the Jewish community and with others beyond it — was the theme of the fall program of the New Jersey Association of Jewish Communal Service on Nov. 12.
It was central to the description of the honoree, Stanley Stone, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, and to the message of keynote speaker Len Robinson, executive director of the NJ Y Camps.
Stone was awarded the Saul Schwarz Distinguished Service Award. The association, which brings together staff members of federations, agencies, synagogues, and other organizations, established the award in 1984 as its highest honor, and then named it for the first recipient, a man who served the community for four decades, inspiring scores of other Jewish communal workers.
Amy Cooper, associate executive vice president of the Central federation and its director of financial resource development, presented the award. She said Stone’s ability to forge relationships and collaborate have expanded the impact of the federation “far beyond our size or our borders.”
She said earlier that the federation staff had agreed unanimously to nominate him for the award. Cooper described Stone as a mensch, “perhaps too modest,” and as someone who treats everyone as being “in the image of God,” regardless of their position or standing. She went on to say, “Without compromising one iota of Jewish faith or practice, Stanley demonstrates what it means to live a meaningful and purposeful Jewish life.”
Stone, whose wife, Ellen, and six children were at the event on the Aidekman Jewish Community Campus in Whippany, said he had never met Schwarz, but got to know about him through Eleanor Rubin, a former Central federation president, who told Stone about his “welcoming support for a diversity of opinions and thinking.”
Schwarz’s approach, Stone said, was in line with Judaism’s commitment to “individual freedom within constraints” and its determination to improve the status quo. The members of the association, coming from a cross-section of disciplines, are carrying forward that mission, “writing a new chapter in our 4,000-year-old history.”
Some might doubt whether they could succeed in the face of the current challenges, he said, but his own answer to that question is “a resounding ‘yes.’”
‘Better human beings’
Robinson also acknowledged the challenges facing the community and the urgent need to forge new alliances. He said, “There are opportunities all over the place. The question is, are we open enough to take advantage of them?”
Answering questions from event chairs Alan Sweifach and Rebecca Missel and from the audience, he talked about the partnerships the camping organization has formed. The examples he cited include a close collaboration with the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, an upcoming project with Columbia University to tackle the issue of children with celiac disease, and joint undertakings with a music studio in Livingston that has brought in children from the Russian-Jewish community.
Among other ideas for projects being explored are camp experiences for families whose children have survived cancer and for those with adopted children.
It is vitally important, he said, to find new ways to connect with and appeal to more people. Outside of the Orthodox communities, the number of children seeking a Jewish camping experience is dropping dramatically, and with it the contribution camping makes to Jewish continuity.
The issue must be dealt with within the next generation. “We can’t save Jewish kids alone,” he said. “We only have them in the summer. We need all of you.”
The pursuit of NJ Y Camps’ aims, said Robinson, is based on looking after each and every one of the 2,200 children that come to the camps each year to ensure their enjoyment of the experience and “that they leave as a better human being, more prepared for the challenges of being a Jew and to lead a more participatory Jewish life.”
In her closing remarks, NJAJCS president Julie Rosenberg, who serves as assistant campaign director of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, likened the collaborations discussed at the event to the harmony of a symphony. She also challenged association members to begin thinking of nominees for a new honor it has established, the Nachshon Award, which will “recognize a mid-career professional who has distinguished him- or herself through their dedication and commitment, or through a significant innovative achievement that exemplifies Jewish values.”