For a group of 17 leaders representing a variety of denominations, synagogues, schools, and agencies in Middlesex County’s Jewish community, months of brainstorming and bonding culminated in building a greater sense of community.
The Marion and Norman Tanzman Fellows began meeting in January, honing the skills needed to lead their institutions and take their community to the next level.
The program culminated with a mission to Israel April 12-21. The group will officially “graduate” June 14 at the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County’s annual meeting at Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick.
“We have never done this before,” said federation executive director Gerrie Bamira. “We created this program after conversations with rabbis, synagogues, and agency directors who said there was a need for leadership training.”
In a recent conversation with federation president Lee Livingston, Jeff Shein, a trustee of the Norman and Marion Tanzman Foundation, expressed the foundation’s satisfaction with the results of the program. Shein said that the Tanzman Fellows program was a perfect fit with the foundation’s objectives, to develop leaders for the Jewish community of Middlesex County.
For the program, institutions and synagogues nominated emerging leaders between the ages of 40 and 55.
The $50,000 grant from the Tanzman Foundation paid for most of the programming and the Israel trip.
In return, the participants are obligated to give a year of service to their synagogue or agency.
“We are looking to build the next generation of leaders in this community,” Bamira added.
At a program May 12 at the East Brunswick home of Iva Dyckman, the participants and federation leaders chatted over dinner. Debra Stein, director of learning and development for the Jewish Federations of North America, ran a concluding session.
David Honig, a vice president of Congregation Beth Ohr in Old Bridge, said the Israeli trip “really created links to each other that will continue beyond this.”
“Everybody really became close friends,” added the Monroe resident. “I got to know a really wonderful bunch of people. I really think this will give me something to build on in my congregation.”
Elyse Schulman of Edison, vice president of fund-raising and financial security for the Jewish Family and Vocational Service of Middlesex County, recalled visiting a battered women’s shelter supported by federation. She admired the different styles of leadership participants displayed “under very extreme conditions.”
“I’ve been to Israel three times and never saw it this way,” said Schulman. “I knew going there everyone was coming to build bridges, and I thought Israel was a great way to do it.”
Lee Rudbart, a vice president at Temple Beth El in Somerset, said he became a Tanzman fellow “to work for the greater Jewish community.” He said the opportunity to meet people from other synagogues proved to be the biggest benefit.
“The other temples are not just names to me anymore,” said Rudbart. “Just this afternoon, I connected our men’s club president with another shul so that we can send out publicity releases to others. We are stopping the isolationism.”
Alan Bash, vice president of the Young Israel of East Brunswick, wanted to “experience Israel in a new way.” He learned about projects of the federation and its partners, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
“There is definitely not enough dialogue between different shuls and organizations in the community,” said Bash. “There needs to be more partnership on common interests such as programming or social services.”
Bash also urged joint political action on Israel’s behalf.
Such cooperation “really benefits Jews in New Jersey and beyond,” said Bash. “This also taught me that in the Orthodox community in particular it is important to make an extensive effort for us to reach out to other Jewish communities to find common ground. It is too easy for us to find reasons not to participate in events when there are so many more reasons why it benefits us to work together.”