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Public approves merger of two NJ federations
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Public approves merger of two NJ federations

Monmouth merger committee chair Ken Philmus said federation needs a “reset” if it is to continue as a leading philanthropic force in the 21st century.
Monmouth merger committee chair Ken Philmus said federation needs a “reset” if it is to continue as a leading philanthropic force in the 21st century.

The Jewish federations of Monmouth and greater Middlesex counties cleared the final hurdle for their planned Jan. 1 merger as constituents of both voted overwhelmingly for the consolidation.

The Dec. 1 vote passed unanimously in Monmouth with 39 affirmative votes while in Middlesex it passed 47 to four, with one abstention.

Several of those who voted against the merger at the Middlesex meeting, held in Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick, declined to comment to NJJN on their decision.

Three other votes — to restate the organizations’ certificates of incorporation, amend and restate their bylaws, and reelect all board of trustees members effective Jan. 1 — were also overwhelmingly approved. The combined board will be known as the board of directors.

The separate votes were a requirement of state law regarding nonprofit corporations.

“I’m happy the vote was so strongly positive in both communities,” said Monmouth executive director Keith Krivitzky, who will take over leadership of the combined federation. “This new arrangement will enable federation to exert greater strategic impact throughout the region.”

Krivitzky told those gathered at Marlboro Jewish Center that the vote was “gratifying, but anti-climactic.” Leaders from both federations said it was the end result of years of discussions that had picked up steam in the last two years.

Middlesex president Mitchell Frumkin, who will keep his position in the merged federation, acknowledged that there were concerns among constituents of both federations. “Without change we become static. While change is hard, we both realize it is important to do this. It is the right thing to do,” he said.

Rabbi Robert Wolkoff of B’nai Tikvah, the rabbinic delegate to the Middlesex board, cited rabbinic text before the vote highlighting instances when decisions were made for the greater good of the Jewish people.

“If you are sure the merger will support am Yisrael, then you should support it,” he said.

Ken Philmus, who chaired the merger committee for Monmouth, told his gathering at MJC that many Jewish institutions are operating under pressure. “If federation is to continue as a leading philanthropic force in the 21st century it needs a reset,” he said.

Middlesex committee chair Lee Livingston cited the geographic similarities between the two areas as one of many reasons why merging makes sense.

“If you drive down Route 18 you can’t tell where one county ends and another starts,” he said. “Over the last two years we’ve discovered we have a lot of smart people in Middlesex and a lot of smart people in Monmouth. We’ve discovered a lot can be accomplished when you have a lot of smart people around the table.”

Both chairs cited the many positives of combining the two communities. They include a larger critical mass of current and potential donors, increased leverage on the national level, increased financial resources, more efficient use of combined staff, more opportunity to address common key issues, and a better ability to attract and retain professional talent.

The merger will also allow each side to bring its strengths to the larger community. For example, Livingston said, Monmouth has a younger community that can bring creative, fresh ideas to reenergize the Middlesex constituency. For its part, Middlesex federation comes into the merger in a stronger financial position, with twice the endowments.

For the immediate future, both federation offices will both remain open. Monmouth rents space in Holmdel while Middlesex owns its South River building.

Frumkin said a marketing and branding firm has been hired to come up with a new name for the federation that “reflects who we are.”

“The federation in the future will be the problem-solving leader of the Jewish community,” he said. “We want to build an inspiring Jewish community that will inspire people.”

Monmouth federation executive committee member Stu Abraham of Manalapan said both communities are “homogenous in many ways and working together, they will be able to effectively leverage influence and create positive impact throughout the region.”

In explaining why she voted for the merger, Cindy Gittleman of Kendall Park in Middlesex said, “I honestly feel that a lot of smart people devoted a lot of time to this and if they felt a merger is the best solution, it was important for me to come out and vote for it.”

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