Just past the fifth anniversary of his appointment as executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, Jacob Toporek is dealing with two big changes. One is strictly pragmatic — a move to new premises in Scotch Plains — the other is more personal — the marriage, and resultant departure, of his executive assistant, Rivka Weiner.
Regarding the move and referring to the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Toporek joked, “They made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.” The State Association, the umbrella lobbying organization for New Jersey’s 11 Jewish federations, occupied space for many years on the second floor of the YM-YWHA of Union County in Union.
While the rent there will be covered for another year, the GMW federation offered space free of charge in its regional offices at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains, where the former Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey was housed.
Since its merger with the former MetroWest federation that created GMW this past summer and subsequent staff changes, some office space was left vacant. It had been suggested in the past that the association be housed at one of its member federations, but there was concern about locating it in a “non-neutral” setting. The GMW federation is by far the largest in the state and contributes around 51 percent of the association’s income. “But I’ve been in this job for five years now,” Toporek said. “The federation leaders all know me, and they know that I will be totally fair, that everyone’s concerns will always be given equal attention.” The move officially took place Nov. 8.
Much of Toporek’s work representing the Jewish community’s priorities — issues like support for seniors aging in place, transportation for seniors, Medicaid funding for nursing homes, homeland security, the NJ-Israel Commission, and state support for nonprofits — requires that Toporek travel to Trenton a few times a month to meet with legislators. But, as he pointed out, “e-mail makes communication so easy, no matter where people are.” When necessary, leaders from the various NJ federations will meet with him in Scotch Plains as they did at the Y, or he will visit them.
With regard to Weiner’s leaving, Toporek admitted to mixed feelings — sadness at losing a colleague who has become a close friend, and pleasure for Wiener and her husband-to-be, Rabbi Dave Walk.
In a statement issued last week, he said, “I am most appreciative that she has been there as a special aide and friend, making for a wonderful working relationship that has benefited both of us, and the agency, too. I am certain that Roy Tanzman and Ruth Cole, both of whom have held the position of State Association president during my tenure…, are equally grateful to have had the support of Rivka and the benefit of her dedication to the State Association.”
Weiner, a former reporter with NJ Jewish News, was with the association for nine years. She recently completed a degree in social work at Rutgers University (winning an award for academic excellence) and had planned to move on professionally at some point. After her wedding on Nov. 18, she will be moving from Elizabeth to Stamford, Conn., where her fiance is education director at Congregation Agudath Sholom.
Jane Lemberg has been appointed in her place. Toporek said he feels fortunate to have found someone already familiar with the federation system. Lemberg worked for the Jewish Federation of Central NJ, and then with the GMW federation at its offices on the Aidekman campus in Whippany.
Toporek, who lives in Edison, and Lemberg, who lives in Westfield, both said they are pleased to be working so close to home and to be receiving such a warm welcome. Since the merger, most of the federation staff’s colleagues are housed at the Whippany headquarters and the Scotch Plains location has been quieter than before.
“It’s really nice to be able to welcome the new people from the State Association,” said Amy Cooper, director of the GMW federation’s regional office. “I’m glad they are joining us in Scotch Plains.”