Instead of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, how would you feel about giving to the Jewish Federation of Middlemouth?
That was one of the names bandied about — with tongues planted in cheeks — by leaders of the former federations of Greater Middlesex County and Monmouth County before their Jan. 1 merger.
“That was the funniest of the names someone suggested,” recalled Eliot Spack of Edison, a former Middlesex federation board member and current member of the new federation’s leaders’ council.
Arriving at the new name was only one small element in the two-year process that led up to the merger. While the process has given leaders like Spack an opportunity to connect with old friends who had moved to Monmouth County, it has also allowed federation supporters in both communities to learn what makes the other special or unique.
For Ken Philmus of Matawan, chair of Monmouth’s merger committee and the new federation’s second vice president, those two years have demonstrated to him that there’s lots to love in Middlesex.
“I love their leadership for their dedication to their community,” he said. “We’ve found that both of us have that dedication to our communities. Now we just have to make sure it works” to better the Jewish community and support its agencies and efforts. Now, he added, “comes the fun part: all these dedicated people getting to work together to create meaningful bonds — and enjoy each other’s company.”
He noted how invigorating it is to work with Mitch Frumkin of Kendall Park — former president of Greater Middlesex Federation who now holds that post in the new organization — who is so active with Jewish and other causes at Rutgers and is invested in creating business networking opportunities in the Jewish community. Plus, Philmus said, Frumkin is a regular at Rutgers University football games. “I’d love to go to a Rutgers game with Mitch,” Philmus said, “or maybe we’ll have a meeting at the game or down here on the beach at Belmar.”
That would suit federation first vice president Jeff Schwartz of Monmouth Junction — former financial resources development chair for the Middlesex federation — just fine: The beach at Belmar is one thing he loves about Monmouth County.
Also way up on his list of things he loves about working with the people of the former Monmouth federation is Keith Krivitzky, the former executive director of the Monmouth federation, now the CEO of the united federation.
“He’s so interesting and energetic,” said Schwartz. “In fact, what I love about the Monmouth people is their enthusiasm and optimism. I think they bring a lot to the table in those terms.”
Leaders on both sides cite the many positives of combining the two federations. They include increased leverage on the national level, more efficient use of financial and human resources, more opportunities 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. Monmouth has a younger community, which Krivitzky and others believe can bring creative, fresh ideas to reenergize the Middlesex constituency — which is larger but aging.
Edward Thompson, a federation board member who lives in one of Monroe’s many adult communities, said he likes that Monmouth “has a lot of younger people. We’re a lot older than them.”
For its part, the Middlesex federation comes into the merger in a stronger financial position, with twice the endowments. Before the merger, the Monmouth federation was raising over $2 million annually for local and global Jewish causes, while Middlesex was raising over $2.5 million.
But the social and cultural aspects of the merger are in many ways as important as the financial and management considerations.
Amy Mallet of Fair Haven — a former member of the Monmouth board and now a member of the new federation’s executive board and chair of its community building and advocacy committee — loves that the merger is doing for her what it is doing for many others in Monmouth County — broadening Jewish cultural horizons. Mallet and her husband are theater lovers and regulars at the Two River Theater in Monmouth County’s Red Bank, but joined on Feb. 8 what had been an annual outing for Middlesex federation supporters: a trip to the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick.
The show they saw — The Whipping Man, about a Jewish Confederate soldier and his former slaves who were raised Jewish gathering for a postwar Passover seder — was chosen as a direct result of feedback from the community requesting that federation serve as a conduit to Jewish themes in the arts.
The play and the theater event in general were “wonderful,” said Mallet, “and it was federation that brought us there.”
“Each community really has so much to learn from the other,” she said. Many residents of Monmouth work and shop and visit family in Middlesex and vice versa. “We are like family. We live in the same type of neighborhoods, share the same culture, and now our family has grown and we’re so much more interesting together.”
To her, in fact, as to others active in the new federation, it feels that making one community of two is no great stretch. The boundaries, which were blurring anyway, are now, as far as federation is concerned, gone.