In an evening of familiar and time-honored rituals dealing with the annual business of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, its leaders also celebrated some of the less acknowledged aspects of their shared commitment.
There was an explosion of laughter and nods of acknowledgment from the audience of some 250 people when keynote speaker Rabbi David Wolpe described committee meetings — those bugbears of communal labor — as “sacred work, even if you don’t feel it every day.”
Addressing the June 1 gathering at federation headquarters on the Aidekman campus in Whippany, he asked, “Without those committee meetings, how would you decide how to allocate the funds” that feed the hungry and care for the needy?
While his message may have come as a surprise, Wolpe himself was no stranger to his audience. Many had heard him speak in other venues, and those who hadn’t knew him by reputation: Wolpe, the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, was named one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by The Jerusalem Post and, in 2012, the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine. He is the author of eight books and has written for numerous leading publications.
“Every institution — synagogues and federations — suffers from the same complaint,” he said, that there is too much politics in Jewish life. But, he asserted, “When you get your way, you don’t complain that there’s too much politics. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but the mission is the same.”
And the mission of federation work, he said, is “unique in the Jewish world,” in its commitment to what is local and specific to the Jewish community and Israel, and to the broader community. While it is sometimes criticized for being parochial, its core commitment enables it to ultimately have a far wider effect — like blowing on the narrow end of a ram’s horn to get a great blast to emerge from the wide end.
Its work, he said, “is a beautiful and wonderful thing, and a sacred thing.”
The evening’s program also included the presentation of the 2016 Julius and Bessie Cohn Awards to Robert Francis and Shira Rothschild (see sidebar) and a tribute to outgoing federation UJA General Campaign chair Maxine Murnick.
That tribute included some unusual elements, including happy allusions to her love for children and her passion for “good whiskey.” In recognition of that taste, developed through her close relationship with her father, the evening’s refreshments included that libation.
Her praises — as a champion fund-raiser, supporter of Israel, tireless volunteer, and devoted mother and grandmother — were delivered (some in verse, some via a video) by two federation leaders, president Leslie Dannin Rosenthal and associate executive vice president of global connections Amir Shacham, and by Murnick’s children and their spouses, with help from three of her five grandchildren.
They had ample material. Murnick’s service to the local and national community has been long and extensive. She is immediate past president of federation’s Women’s Philanthropy and has been serving as chair of its nomination committee; she also serves on the board of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ, the GMW federation board of trustees, and other federation bodies. In addition to that, she serves on the board of her synagogue, Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange, and of National Women’s Philanthropy of Jewish Federations of North America.
As her son Jay said, “My mother doesn’t commit to things half-way.”
Murnick herself told the crowd, “We make a living with what we get; we make a life with what we give.” She added, “You have to believe in the cause and that what you do matters.”
The annual meeting was cochaired by Merle Kalishman and Wendy Rosenberg.