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Jewish Home’s Berkowitz receives Saul Schwarz award

In recognition of more than 30 years of Jewish communal work, Charles Berkowitz, president and CEO of the Jewish Home Family, received the 2009 Saul Schwarz Distinguished Service Award from the New Jersey Association of Jewish Communal Service during the organization’s fall meeting last month.

The NJAJCS gathered at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains on Nov. 20 for the event, which was hosted by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. Berkowitz, a resident of Glen Rock, is also executive vice president of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh.

“I have been in this profession for a long time,” he said. “I was very pleased professional colleagues of mine had thought of me in making the nomination.”

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Charles Berkowitz, president and CEO of the Jewish Home Family, is the 2009 winner of the Saul Schwarz Distinguished Service Award from the New Jersey Association of Jewish Communal Service.

Berkowitz has been with the Jewish Home since 1970, when he arrived after a stint at what is now the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, which was then in Englewood. Berkowitz is proud of the Jewish Home’s growth through the years and looks forward to growing it further.

“We’ve grown … to having two state-of-the-art institutions in Rivervale and Rockleigh,” he said. “We’ve really set a standard for the profession through these facilities.”

Through its Jewish Home at Home program, the organization has begun to focus on homecare alternatives for seniors. The first step in the program is a geriatric care management program, which includes a series of home-based services such as Meals on Wheels and medical day care.

“He’s really the dean of Jewish agency executives and somebody we at UJA always turn to for advice,” David Gad-Harf, associate executive vice president and COO at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, said of Berkowitz. “He’s always eager to be helpful and has wise advice based on his many years of service to our Jewish community.”

NJAJCS was founded in 1970 to “serve as a forum for the discussion of programs of Jewish communal service on a professional level, and of the application of general professional techniques to service in Jewish communities,” according to the organization’s Website. The Saul Schwarz award, created in 1984, recognizes a member who has demonstrated a consistent history of professional and personal commitment to the field. Schwarz was the first recipient of the award, which was later named after him. Winners are chosen by Jewish professionals throughout the state from all fields of communal service.

Schwarz, a past president of what would later become United Jewish Communities of MetroWest and one of the founders of NJAJCS, expected a great deal from others in the field, said Judy Beck, director of UJA-NNJ’s Synagogue Leadership Initiative, a past president of NJAJCS, and a past recipient of the Saul Schwarz award.

“He really felt that people who work in the field of Jewish communal service were professionals,” she said. “He was really an unbelievable human being in what he accomplished and expected us to accomplish.”

Schwarz died in August 2001.

“The Saul Schwarz Distinguished Service Award is an honor accorded annually to a distinguished professional who has devoted his career to Jewish life in our state,” said Arthur Sandman, NJAJCS president and associate executive vice president, program services, of the Whippany-based MetroWest federation. “We were very proud to give it to Chuck Berkowitz this year in light of the vision he has given to the care of seniors in our community and the professional example he has set for people in our field.”

Past winners of the award include UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey executive vice president Howard Charish; Joy Kurland, head of the federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council and a regional CRC; and Abe Davis, executive director of Jewish Family & Children’s Services in North Jersey.

“I know everybody who has won the award over the years,” Berkowitz said. “It’s a nice group of people to be involved with.”

 
 

Giving back by helping out

Pro bono program takes off in Bergen County

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Lisa Fedder, left, Alice Blass, Joy Kurland, and Leah Kaufman
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table class="caption">image David Siegel, left, and David Giller
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Lori Sackler, left, Alan Sotnick, and Stan Goldberg

“People are really struggling,” said Lisa Fedder, director of Jewish Family Service of Bergen County and North Hudson. There are “80-year-olds looking for jobs as receptionists. It’s awful.”

That’s why, when UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey convened its economic crisis meeting in October 2008, organization leaders realized that not only must an economic action plan help increasingly strapped community agencies, but that help must filter down directly to individuals.

That’s why, when UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey convened its economic crisis meeting in October 2008, organization leaders realized that not only must an economic action plan help increasingly strapped community agencies, but that help must filter down directly to individuals.

“We knew that agencies, schools, and synagogues were seriously affected by the economic downturn,” said Alice Blass, volunteer coordinator for the Jewish Community Relations Council. But there was also a clear need for emergency financial assistance and pro bono services.

The call for a pro bono network obviously struck a chord.

“Professionals stepped forward,” said Blass, reeling off a list of volunteer service-providers. Some were recruited through the federation’s Commerce & Professionals arm and Physicians & Dentists division; others came forward on their own.

“We spoke with JFS about the specific types of pro bono assistance they could use,” said Blass, noting that landlord-tenant relations, credit management, bankruptcy, and medical issues were most frequently mentioned.

Some 70 professionals — including accountants, dentists, financial experts, lawyers, funeral directors, and mohels — now participate in the pro bono project, said Blass. There is even a hairdresser, to help people preparing for employment interviews. It is up to JFS to screen the clients who may need pro bono assistance, said Blass, adding that “it’s their call; whatever the needs are.”

Jewish Community Relations Council Director Joy Kurland pointed out that when key federation and JCRC leadership discussed the economic downturn, it was realized that “the need was greater than what agencies could provide in terms of human resources.”

Requests for volunteers drew a wide response and the list “kept growing,” she said.

“I haven’t seen this kind of program — the way we’ve done it in northern New Jersey — anywhere else,” she said. “The JCRC was the point of entry in dealing with the economic crisis, and the pro bono network was created with the campaign divisions that handled the professionals. In other places, JFS agencies handle it themselves.”

“Perhaps because the economic crisis was a local emergency, unlike Haiti or Katrina or the tsunami, we had to approach it differently,” said Alan Scharfstein, UJA NNJ president. “We learned that it’s only when the community acts together as a whole, with federation as the convener and the key agencies as partners, that we can come up with solutions on how to deal with it. The idea of the pro bono network resonated widely and immediately throughout the community and was implemented quickly.”

“The decision was made to fully support the pro bono network and commit staff hours to the running of it,” said UJA-NNJ’s executive vice president Howard Charish. “What’s more, our Commerce & Professionals Division was a natural partner….Its members stepped up to volunteer their services.”

According to Kurland, “We also wanted to take care of the caregivers. We’re concerned about their health as well.” As a result, the pro bono network includes a professional masseuse who offers her services to clinical social workers at JFS.

Leah Kaufman, director of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey, said her agency has been referring people to pro bono professionals “mostly for legal and financial issues.” According to Kaufman, clients especially need assistance with bankruptcy issues and credit card debt.

“Some need assistance trying to figure out their budgets,” she said. “There are major lifestyle changes that clients are having difficulty adjusting to. They’re in a position they never thought they’d have to be in.”

Some clients, she said, were from middle- and upper-middle-class families, previously earning six-figure incomes.

“Now they find themselves on the verge of losing their homes.”

The agency used more than a dozen pro bono professionals in the past year, she said, whether referring clients directly or calling the professionals on their clients’ behalf.

As for her own clinical staff, “We took advantage of a hand masseuse who came here several months ago. It was a treat for the staff. We had to twist ourselves into a pretzel to find the time.”

Kaufman said she thinks the pro bono program is “a wonderful resource for us and I would like to see it continue.”

So would Fedder. “It’s been a fabulous boost to families in need,” she said, noting that her agency has referred clients for dental and medical problems as well as for financial concerns.

“We also have somebody offering haircuts,” she said, adding that the service was provided to an elderly woman who can no longer take care of herself.

Fedder pointed out that the two JFS agencies screen clients before referring them “so we don’t take advantage of the kindness of strangers. It’s a huge mitzvah these people are doing.”

The volunteers

The professionals in the pro bono network are a mixed lot, but all who were interviewed told The Jewish Standard that they are driven by a feeling of communal responsibility and a desire to “give back.”

David Siegel, who reached out to JFS and offered his services, helps clients with bankruptcy issues and debt settlement.

The Teaneck resident said that “a lot of people out there have problems and they don’t know how, or that they can, address them. They feel stigmatized by the idea of bankruptcy. But you can get your life back on track.”

A business insurance specialist based in New York, Siegel has already spoken with about a dozen people referred by JFS, either “offering some advice on what they can do on their own or referring them to a bankruptcy attorney.”

“The greatest need is for loan modifications,” he said. “It’s becoming very difficult; banks are making it very difficult to get modifications approved.”

He noted that people can go to HUD.gov to get the name of an organization, paid by the government, that does this work for free.

“You don’t need to pay an attorney for that; there’s stuff they can do on their own,” he said. “I guide people toward that.”

Siegel said he has put together a brochure that he has distributed through TeaneckShuls, among other outlets. Describing it as “a short booklet that will give you the basics on topics relating to settling various forms of debt, without the need for an attorney,” it covers issues such as second mortgages, credit cards, loan modifications (of first mortgages), student loans, and bankruptcy.

“I have been frustrated at the lack of media coverage on this issue,” said Siegel, pointing out that the Orthodox Union has held several “webinars” on the subject, which people can access in the archives section of the group’s Website, ou.org.

Siegel said that “the gamut of people we’re seeing is pretty wide. We’re seeing those we didn’t expect to. The banks are causing this to continue and to drag out,” he said, since people who could otherwise make deals and modify their loans may now need to file for bankruptcy.

Pointing out the “sad toll” that economic problems can cause, Siegel said that “one client filed for bankruptcy, and his wife filed for divorce. I’ve had to be a bit of a marriage counselor.”

On the other hand, he believes people are becoming more reasonable.

“They’re becoming more realistic with expenses and doing what they can to live within their means. They’re trying to learn from difficult situations.”

David Giller has been reaching out to various charities in Bergen County “to work with them and help them out.”

The Bergenfield resident, an attorney based in Hackensack, said he has spoken with about 30 pro bono clients over the past year, many referred by Project Ezra.

A typical presenting problem “is a person married and in dire financial straits,” with credit card debt, auto loans, personal loans, possibly taken out for business purposes, and a mortgage.

“They’re struggling to find out how to make things work,” he said. “They might just have been getting by for a while and then their industry wasn’t doing well or their spouse got laid off or developed a medical condition.”

“It snowballed,” he said. “I’ve seen many variations of that story. A couple of years ago they were getting by. They’re not people who just went crazy with credit cards.”

Giller said he has seen this story unfold for people of all professions and in all industries.

He has also seen the marital stress that results from these problems.

“I try to help guide them through the cumbersome, time-consuming legal process,” he said, adding that when he’s done, he has sometimes “eliminated several hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt. It’s incredibly rewarding.”

“What better way to reach out to people hurting the most, and [do it] within my own community?” he asked, noting that he has also approached various organizations offering to speak on budgeting and money management.

“It’s a way of giving tzedakah without being able to write a big check,” he said.

Tenafly resident Lori Sackler, first vice president/senior investment management consultant at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, stressed that while she has been speaking with individuals referred by JFS, “I’m not giving tax or legal advice.”

Sackler said the issues she encounters are typically the result of people losing their jobs or having significantly reduced income because business is off. They may also be overleveraged, affected by changing interest rates and no longer able to afford their mortgages.

“Typically, we talk about their budgets,” she said, noting that “there’s not a lot I can do, but I can counsel them about looking for part-time work, changing jobs, or consolidating their debt.”

Sackler may also suggest that they speak with their banks to make sure that they’re taking advantage of all options available under the government’s debt-relief program.

So far, she said, she has not been surprised by anything she has seen.

“It’s a reminder that this is happening all around us, not just on the news,” she said. “It’s good for people to talk to professionals, and I hope that more people will do pro bono work. It allows people a forum to speak openly about their economic problems.”

Reverse mortgage consultant Alan Sotnick was prompted to offer pro bono services by Rabbi Neal Borovitz, religious leader of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge. “I’ve been doing it for less than a year and have spoken with three people so far,” said Sotnick. “I thought it was time to give back.”

He said that generally, the people he speaks to have incomplete information, or even misinformation, about their situation, often gleaned from well-meaning friends.

“They talk to friends and relatives who are trying to give good advice but aren’t so knowledgeable,” he said.

The Hillsdale resident said he has seen people from all different professions who are in financial trouble “through no fault of their own.”

“Unfortunately, the problem also affects people of all ages,” he added, noting that he has done volunteer work with the elderly, driving a seniors van in his community after he sold his company four years ago.

The Kaplen JCC on the Palisades is also reaching out to those in need, offering free “Coping with Unemployment” seminars led by Fort Lee resident Stan Goldberg, past president of Fortune Personnel Consultants.

Goldberg, who answers questions about writing résumés and preparing for the interview process, said he thought “giving to the community” would be an appropriate way to deal with the recent loss of his wife.

According to Goldberg, his seminars, which will be offered until March 18, recognize not only that many are unemployed but that others “anticipate being laid off.”

Goldberg said he is interested in creating other forums where people who are out of work “and don’t know what to do with themselves” can meet to talk and network. “It’s nice being able to talk,” he said. “You stay motivated.”

The economic crisis was not a surprise, said Goldberg, a longtime expert in the employment industry. Still, he said, while “we’d been through [similar] situations before this, they were not as bad.” Nor does he think there will be much improvement in the short term.

“People have to be realistic and see if their skills are transferable, or they have to further and enhance their education in areas where there may be job opportunities in the future, doing research on [which] sectors will get better.” Still, he said, “No one has a crystal ball; it becomes a guessing game.”

Goldberg said his seminars are customized to address participants’ individual problems. For example, he said, he may suggest that if someone has gone on five or six unsuccessful interviews, “he may have to start looking to see what has to change. Maybe he’s not dressing correctly, or he’s antagonistic or bitter. A lot of it is chemistry. Employers are looking for someone to join a team.”

In the meantime, JFS-Bergen’s Fedder believes that the pro bono program should continue when the recession ends, since “the needs of the community won’t decrease in the short term.”

“There are kids in their early 20s with no real experience who can’t get their first job; and those 50-plus who won’t get a new job at the same level or with benefits. The recession may end ‘by the book’ but not in the lives of the people we are serving.”

 
 

N.J.-Israel Commission funds slashed

The New Jersey-Israel Commission lost its director, Andrea Yonah, to budget cuts last week as it officially became part of a new initiative in the State Department to boost business in New Jersey.

The commission has been rolled into the Partnership for Public Action, which, under the auspices of Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, is charged with attracting new businesses, retaining businesses, and making the state more business-friendly, said Sean Connor, Gov. Chris Christie’s deputy press secretary. Other programs joining the Israel Commission will be announced in coming weeks, he added.

“The New Jersey-Israel Commission will be focusing on how to bring more economic development to the state of New Jersey,” he said. “We are excited about that. The New Jersey-Israel Commission has and will continue to play an important role in helping to attract, retain, and grow our relationships with global businesses.”

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who had chaired the commission, expressed optimism that its focus on business development and cooperation, cultural exchange, and educational exchange would remain

“We’ve been reassured by the lieutenant governor that the commission itself is now a valued part of [her] portfolio,” he said. “We’re going to make this work.”

Kurtzer tendered his resignation after the shake-up announcement just before Passover. The move was a courtesy to Christie who, Kurtzer said, should be allowed to choose his own chair. Kurtzer is hopeful, however, that the governor will see fit to reappoint him as a member of the commission.

Since the commission was already housed within the State Department, it was easier to roll it into the partnership than other programs, Connor said. The changes to the commission, he emphasized, were administrative and there would be no changes to its mission or membership make-up. The commission had been operating with an annual budget of $130,000, almost $120,000 of which went toward salaries for Yonah and another employee, he said.

April 9 marked the last day of Yonah’s eight-year tenure with the commission.

“She’s a powerhouse,” said commission member Howard Charish, executive vice president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. “She has been able to attract excellent leadership on the commission, bring business from Israel to New Jersey, and develop cultural, scientific, and trade relationships that have helped both New Jersey and Israel.”

“We’re not saying goodbye to Andrea,” said commission member Mark Levenson. “She will be working with us on lots of issues and ventures in terms of trying to help Israel and I can’t wait until she lands her next position because she is just a dynamo.”

Yonah remained upbeat during a phone interview with The Jewish Standard on Tuesday.

“To be able to bring the best of Israel and match it with the best of New Jersey was a dream,” Yonah said. “Both of our states have so much in common and so much to collaborate on and so much opportunity for the future.”

Her future remained uncertain, but, she said, she looked forward to spending time in Israel and continuing to help bridge the Jewish state and the Garden State.

As members praised Yonah’s leadership they also expressed outrage at Christie for cutting the commission’s funding.

“This is an affront to the people who volunteered to be on this commission,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), a longtime member. “This is an affront to an employee who had served so well for eight years. It’s an affront to the Jewish community.”

Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) had harsher words for Christie.

“The governor’s budget sold the commission out with any number of other groups,” he said. “The New Jersey-Israel Commission was one of the first of its kind. It has been shown and proven that the commission is instrumental in creating jobs for New Jersey.”

Schaer, a member of the Assembly’s budget committee, also lashed out at Christie’s budget proposals.

“There are so many areas of real concern that so many of us have regarding seniors, education, colleges, and universities,” he said.

Christie has the option to veto any changes the Assembly or Senate budget committees make and, according to Schaer, he has pledged to do so. Despite the Christie administration’s explanations, Schaer doubted the benefits achieved by the change.

“With New Jersey-Israel Commission we see the cost was ridiculously small compared to the deficit and the very real benefit — the close relationship with the State of Israel,” he said. “In that case, the governor’s proposal doesn’t make financial sense and doesn’t make any sense at all.”

The New Jersey-Israel Commission was created in 1989 to foster business ties as part of a sister-state agreement. More than 700 New Jersey companies do business with Israel, 65 Israeli companies maintain operations in New Jersey, and 18 New Jersey companies have operations in Israel.

 
 

UJA-NNJ head moving on to ‘next chapter’

Voices from the next generation

Howard Charish, reflecting on his years as executive vice president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, said that graduates of the Berrie Fellows program are already doing valuable work in the community and will help to frame the Jewish future.

The Jewish Standard spoke with some of them.

Paramus resident David Goodman, who was in the Berrie program’s first cohort, said that it “brought him in touch with peers who were as passionate as I was about Jewish communal service.”

Goodman, who has been involved in the field “from a fairly young age,” was recently presented with the Marge Bornstein Award — what he called “a kind of life-achievement award.” He is 46.

The community activist said that what he found most powerful about the Berrie program was learning the history of Jewish leadership and “characteristics of Jewish leaders that go back to the Torah.”

“We’re just another generation of leaders,” he said.

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Laura Freeman, left, David Goodman, and Stephanie Goldman-Pittel

Goodman is spearheading the implemention of UJA-NNJ’s recently adopted strategic plan.

“We’re changing how federation operates,” he said. “One of the things we want for the future is for federation to be perceived as adding value to the community … not just through the giving out of money, but [figuring out] what other ways we can make the umbrella organization of the Jewish community have relevance in today’s world.”

“It’s quite a challenge,” he said, “but the community is up for the challenge.”

Goodman, the immediate past president of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey and a current vice president of UJA-NNJ, said he learned from his role in searching for an executive director for JFS that “you choose the best candidate for the position, that it doesn’t have to be age-related.”

“Howard has done a great job,” he said. “I’m sorry he’s leaving. But … I understand. Maybe he just felt that he came in with a vision and now he’s accomplished it and is ready to move on. It’s great to leave when you’re on top.”

Berrie Fellow Laura Freeman, Wyckoff resident and president of the town’s Temple Beth Rishon, said the Berrie program took her from being a “Type A leader to a Type B leader — from someone who manages meetings and puts out fires to one who is looking to make a difference, to create a vision and galvanize teams of people to work towards it — one who plants seeds that will grow long past her own leadership cycle.”

“The Jewish landscape is changing,” said Freeman, “minute by minute. The most important thing a new [federation] director needs to know is that the skills and commitment that took us to where we are are not the same as those that will take us to where we need to be tomorrow. It’s a daunting task.”

Freeman, who said she was surprised to learn that Charish will be leaving, said his replacement will need to be “a visionary and a risk-taker. He’s got a lot of challenges, balancing yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”

Among the biggest of those challenges is “getting secular Jews to understand their role in perpetuating Jewish life and their responsibility to help Jewish life.”

Secular Jews “structure their whole life on choice,” she said. “They’re hard to engage.”

Still, she said, a successful federation leader can build an organization that will accomplish this task, helping such Jews “understand their role in sustaining the community.”

Stephanie Goldman-Pittel, a Berrie Fellow in Cohort 2 and a resident of Norwood, echoed Charish’s contention that Berrie graduates are “all doing such wonderful things. I feel blessed to be part of that community,” she said.

As an example of the Fellows’ communal involvement, she cited Michael Starr, who is heading up federation’s Synagogue Leadership Initiative and chaired the committee that drafted the organization’s new strategic plan.

Characterizing that plan, she said “the key word is accountability ... having the organizations we fund be accountable for the projects they’re going to implement.” She noted that other organizations she serves, Jewish and non-Jewish, seem to be striving for the same goal.

As regards the qualities needed in a leader, “my thought is to get someone who is a great listener. That’s a very important quality.”

Commending Charish as “a brilliant speaker and someone who has footholds in all areas of the community,” she said she would seek someone “who is basically open” and pays attention to other people’s points of view.

 
 

UJA-NNJ head moving on to ‘next chapter’

Last week, after eight years as executive vice president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, Howard Charish announced that he will leave the organization in December.

While it was not a sudden decision, he said, “it surprised many people. It’s not something one predicts.”

Still, he said, the response to his announcement has been very rewarding.

“You never know when you touch someone’s life,” he said. “At times like this you find out.”

Charish said he chose this time to leave because “as I reviewed the progress of the North Jersey federation, I saw that we were much better poised to move forward than during the past couple of years.”

It was a good time, he said, “to hand the baton on and move forward.”

Looking over the changes during the past eight years, both global and local, the UJA-NNJ head said the current economic situation is unparalleled in most people’s lifetimes. “This has had a real impact on how we do business,” he noted. In addition, he said, “Israel is under siege and more vulnerable than at any other recent time in history.”

In the local federation, as in federations around the country, “the biggest challenge is to engage the next generation, to get the next generation — with their vision and their willingness to grow the community — to step up,” said Charish.

That is already happening to some extent here, he said, citing the Berrie Fellows initiative as a major factor. The grant program produced its first cohort in 2004.

“We have 44 alumni who currently have assumed the presidencies of day schools, synagogues, and agencies,” he said, “and if you listen to them, they speak in a new language that is anchored in Jewish values and thought as well as cutting-edge leadership protocols.”

“[Another] advantage of the fellowship is that it includes men and women from all streams of Judaism, all parts of northern New Jersey, breaking down walls” and fostering collaboration. “It’s great to see,” he said.

Charish said he is particularly proud of the local federation’s enhanced relationship with Israel, through the Partnership 2000 initiative and the continuation of ties developed during Project Renewal.

In addition, “I am gratified that we were able to move our headquarters to a safe, secure building after 9/11. The old building was on stilts, and we were told to change our headquarters for security reasons.”

While the new building took three years to find, “Today, operating expenses at the old building and the one on Eisenhower Drive are the same,” he said. “We have a hospitable, secure facility.”

During his tenure, Charish oversaw the merger of two federations, UJA Federation of Bergen County & North Hudson and the Jewish Federation of North Jersey.

“We had two federations in one geographic area. Where there were two previous efforts at merger that didn’t succeed, we finally did so, bringing two strong communities together.”

He is also proud of federation’s growing role “as concerned citizens of the overall community,” creating such programs as Bergen Reads, Mitzvah Day, and Bonim Builders, as well as crews of volunteers who have helped clean up the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“During the economic crisis we raised additional sums on top of the annual campaign to work with Project Ezra and Tomchei Shabbos to provide relief,” said Charish. “We also developed a pro bono professional network, coaching and providing real services to people who otherwise could not have afforded that help.”

Such crises, he said, have “brought out the best in everyone. This community stands tall for responding to crises. We raised over $6 million for the second Israel emergency campaign, over $400,000 for Katrina, and $200,000 for Haiti. It demonstrates that this community has a big heart and is very generous.”

Engaging the next generation is only one of the challenges facing federation, said Charish. Another is “providing customization so donors feel they are connected to their gift.”

“While the concept of a collective pool is as important as ever and gives us the flexibility to respond, in today’s environment donors — particularly younger donors — want to follow the dollars, and we need to provide the way [for them] to do so.”

His successor, he said, will need to have both vision and the ability to take risks. In addition, he or she must be able to build relationships and must have a passion for Jewish life.

Reviewing his own career, Charish — who has not yet decided on his future course — said, “I’ve been privileged to participate in some of the great events of Jewish life, including the Soviet Jewry movement.”

Not only did he travel to Russia to visit refuseniks, he said, but he went to Ethiopia twice as part of Operation Promise, which joined federations across the country in an effort to address the needs of vulnerable Jewish populations. In Ethiopia, funds were used to provide food, medical attention, and education, as well as to prepare Jews there for aliyah and absorption into Israeli society.

In addition, before coming to this community, he was involved in a federation initiative to revitalize the Argentina Jewish community.

“I realize how blessed I’ve been to have had a part in repairing the world,” he said. “I’m excited about the future, looking forward to the next chapter, and grateful that I had this time in northern New Jersey with outstanding volunteer leaders and staff. I’m in awe of my executive and professional colleagues.”

Alan Scharfstein, now entering his third year as UJA-NNJ president, pointed out that Charish’s term of office will have been “one of the longest tenures of someone in that position.”

“He has accomplished a tremendous amount,” he said, citing the merger of the two federations and the move into the new headquarters. Also, he stressed, it was under Charish that the group’s new strategic plan was crafted and will soon be launched.

Scharfstein said he will soon appoint a search committee to find a new leader, looking for “an individual with energy, enthusiasm, and the vision to lead us into the future.”

The federation has already undertaken the process of creating a “road map,” he said, “which will change the future of UJA in many ways.”

“The greatest challenge facing our federation and others is how to engage and motivate the next generation of Jewish leaders,” he said, echoing Charish. “Our focus has got to change in order to attract and motivate the younger generation of Jews.”

“We know that the next generation wants to follow their money in a more hands-on way,” said Scharfstein. “Saying ‘Trust us’ is not enough. We have to both do the right thing and have more transparency in using money. We also have to leverage our dollars better.”

Scharfstein said there’s a perception that people donate, “and federation has an infrastructure and overhead and less goes to the community. We’re engaged in a program where every dollar we collect is leveraged to generate more money.”

He cited the Kehillah Partnership — which facilitates joint purchasing — as an example of this trend, noting that it saves “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The strategic plan also includes a program through which federation will hire a grant writer available to all constituent agencies, “giving them access to federal, state, and private grants.”

In this way and others, he said, “we’ll leverage dollars to provide more dollars.”

The new executive vice president, Scharfstein said, must “understand the strategic plan and be committed to implement it, [having the] capability of engaging the next generation and the financial skills needed to continue the program of leveraging dollars.”

Scharfstein said the board expressed “thankfulness and appreciation” to Charish not only for his many achievements but, in agreeing to remain until December, “for giving us enough time to have a logical and thoughtful process to find a replacement.”

“He’s the ultimate professional and consummate gentleman,” said Scharfstein, managing his departure “the way he’s done everything else, with concern for how it will affect the community.”

The federation president said he expects the strategic plan implementation process to be a multi-year initiative.

“It gives us the ability to bring an executive on board to be with us throughout this process,” he said. “It’s an exciting point in the life of the federation.”

He also cited the contribution of young leaders in this effort, pointing out that “an extraordinary group” has come to the fore at the federation. “We’re lucky to be where we are.”

Scharfstein pointed out that the federation campaign “is on target for our goals for the year and we’re still working hard to achieve them.” In addition, he said, from the financial management standpoint, “We’ve hit a target we haven’t hit in years,” paying all constituent agencies their full allocations within the fiscal year.

“In recent years, we always paid as allocated, but not as promptly as we would like,” he said. “The financial crisis has caused us to put greater emphasis on financial management and planning. We planned much better this year and executed much better. We have not let the crisis go to waste.”

 
 

Hudson County: A federation no-man’s-land?

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Moishe House in Hoboken holds meetings like this one to plan programming for Jewish young adults in the area. Courtesy of Moishe House

Jewish life in Hudson County, home to thousands of Jewish young adults, has been on an upward swing in recent years, with new Jewish organizations opening up and working together with the area’s synagogues.

One major Jewish institution has not come to southern Hudson County, however: A Jewish federation, a local chapter of the Jewish Federations of North America, to raise money for and coordinate social services.

Joshua Einstein, a Teaneck native who now lives in Moishe House Hoboken, decried the lack of federation presence in a letter to The Jewish Standard last week.

Moishe House is a national organization that subsidizes housing for groups of young adults in exchange for their holding programs for local young Jewish adults. Einstein and his two roommates regularly have some 30 to 50 people in their apartment for Shabbat meals, study sessions, and social programs.

Unlike other Moishe Houses, they’re doing it without funding from a local federation.

“I find it very frustrating that we’re engaged in not just building a Moishe House community, but im yiritz HaShem [with God’s will] building institutions of a larger Jewish community in Hudson County,” he said.

Hoboken and Jersey City are transitory communities, he said, filled with thousands of young Jews who will eventually move to the suburbs. That population, he said, is woefully underserved and that will hurt the Jewish community down the road.

“For those five to 10 years there’s nothing for them to plug into while they’re in their apartments,” Einstein said. “The community’s not making an investment.”

In 2007 Adam Weiss formed HudsonJewish, a central forum for efforts to revive the county’s Jewish presence. The group organizes and promotes community events on its Website, which acts as the Jewish directory for the county.

“Apart from HudsonJewish there’s no organized voice of the community,” Weiss said. “So the conversation would probably need to start between one of the federations and HudsonJewish” if a merger were to take place.

Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of the United Synagogue of Hoboken has been in the city for 12 years. He praised HudsonJewish, but said it does not fill the gap of a fully functional federation.

“I can only imagine the ideal, which is that a federation exists to assess Jewish communal needs and then raise funds to address those needs,” he said. “It’d be very helpful if there were a Jewish communal entity that played that role in Hudson County.”

He pointed to aging communities in Jersey City and Bayonne and the Jewish responsibility to provide for the elderly. His synagogue also runs a host of singles programs and has worked with Moishe House.

“We are trying valiantly,” he said, “to provide all the services that a Jewish community should have and to engage young adults in Jewish life — even without a federation.”

Southern Hudson County is not totally devoid of a federation presence.

Bayonne, south of Hoboken in Hudson County, does have its own Jewish federation, but it is focused solely on that city. The Hoboken/Jersey City region is part of Jewish Federations of North America’s Network of Independent Communities, which only provides for volunteers to raise money for overseas projects. Jewish Family Service of UJC of MetroWest extended its services to the Hoboken/Jersey City area in 2003 ahead of what some thought would be an annexation of the area.

Federation leaders reportedly decided not to annex southern Hudson County because it is not contiguous with the federation’s catchment area. Calls to the MetroWest federation were not returned by press time.

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, which includes all of Bergen County, part of Passaic County, and northern Hudson County in its catchment area, offers some of its services to the Hoboken/Jersey City area.

“We do have a relationship with those parts of Hudson County in an ongoing way,” said Miriam Allenson, UJA-NNJ’s marketing director. “Either they have come to us for help and we have provided it or we have included them in our programs that are available to people and institutions in the UJA-NNJ area.”

According to Allenson, UJA-NNJ’s Synagogue Leadership Initiative has included southern Hudson synagogues in its programming; scholarships to Jewish camps, 16 percent of the total, have been provided to six campers from that area; and students from the area participated in a UJA-NNJ-sponsored Birthright trip this past spring.

“We’re delighted to work with them,” Allenson said. “There’s never been to my knowledge a time we’ve said no to them.”

North Hudson County — North Bergen, Secaucus, Union City, Weehawken, and West New York — affiliated with the federation’s precursor in 1988.

Moishe House, Allenson said, has not approached UJA-NNJ for any assistance.

“They’re welcome to come to us at any time for the resources that we have that we are able to provide them,” she said.

Annexing the region into UJA-NNJ, however, has not come up in discussions with area leaders, she said.

“We commend the efforts of HudsonJewish to provide Jewish community services for the residents of that geographic area,” said Howard Charish, UJA-NNJ’s executive vice president. “We also are very pleased about the progress they’ve made toward those goals. We have been, along the way, responsive to their efforts when they’ve called us.”

“We feel that it is the responsibility of an organized federation to help a neighboring independent community,” Charish added.

Weiss offered three scenarios for the region: A continuation of the status quo, the creation of a new federation, or the annexation of the area into an existing federation. All of the options have pros and cons, he said.

“There’s a strong desire to have the conversation and ask what can you do for us, what can we do for you, and what’s the best solution,” Weiss said. “It could be the best solution is to do nothing and continue the way things are.”

“There’s no reason you need to start from scratch,” Einstein said, “but that’s what we’re forced to do because nobody’s showing us the blueprint for the wheel.”

 
 

JFN’s Charendoff looks to the future

Let no one say that Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, does not practice what he preaches. Nine years after taking the helm of the Jewish Funders Network, and just days after calling for term limits for Jewish communal leaders, Charendoff announced he would step down later this year.

“This is an issue I feel strongly about in the Jewish community,” he told The Jewish Standard earlier this week. “I feel there should be far more movement among CEOs, and organizations should have their own organic lives that are not tied to a particular CEO. We accomplished an enormous amount in nine years. It’s someone else’s turn to experiment in new directions and I think the organization deserves that. I think all organizations deserve that.”

Just as the president of the United States is limited to two four-year terms, Charendoff, an Englewood resident, would like to see a timeline imposed on Jewish communal leaders to accomplish their goals.

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Shortly after publicly calling for term limits for Jewish communal leaders, Jewish Funders Network president Mark Charendoff announced he will step down from the organization in December after a nine-year stint. Courtesy Jewish Funders Network

“I don’t think enough Jewish organizations feel an urgency to achieve,” he said. “They feel an urgency to achieve their budgets, to show a certain amount of money coming in. If we have an expectation that the president of the United States can turn around the country in no more than eight years, it’s hubris to believe we can’t (also) hold ourselves to those standards.”

Executives can become burned out or lose touch with their changing constituencies, which is why he advocates bringing new blood into an organization after so many years, Charendoff said.

“We should all ask ourselves whether we continue to be the best person for the job, and whether the job continues to be the best for us,” he said.

He was quick to dismiss praise for the work he has done at JFN, instead offering praise to his colleagues.

“I was the orchestra leader,” he said. “I don’t think the orchestra leader makes a lot of music but gets everyone to play their instruments. The accomplishments were theirs.”

Charendoff’s position on term limits drew agreement from some long-time North Jersey community leaders, who also praised the JFN president for his role in Jewish life.

“It will certainly be a loss to the Jewish Funders Network,” said Howard Charish, executive vice president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, “but I’m convinced that in any new role that Mark has, he will continue to make a contribution due to the fact that he’s an innovator and somebody who leads by example.”

Charish, who is retiring later this year after eight years at UJA-NNJ, agreed with Charendoff’s call for executive term limits, but added that a support system should be put into place for agencies and executives in transition.

“Although I would not say that it has to be a hard-and-fast rule, I do believe that handing the baton over should be a planned event and allow the organization new ideas and new leadership,” he said.

A regular change in leadership would help Jewish organizations prosper, said Angelica Berrie, president of the Teaneck-based Russell Berrie Foundation.

“The Jewish world is a world that can only benefit from innovation,” she said. “It’s important for us to be exposed to new things. You can’t continue to attract and inspire the next generation of donors with an executive who doesn’t grow with the times or speaks their language.”

Charendoff’s legacy, she said, is his ability to break down barriers and encourage collaboration between foundations and between Israel and America.

“The world of Jewish philanthropy is changing,” she said. “There’s a need for more collaboration, more alliances, and combining of resources. Mark led the way for that.”

 
 

What do we do when we disagree?

Wedding announcement controversy leads to communal soul-searching

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The viral controversy surrounding The Jewish Standard’s printing a same-sex marriage announcement last month — and then deciding, one week later, not to do it again — caught publisher James Janoff off guard.

“I expected that there would be people who agreed and people who didn’t,” he said, “but I was unprepared for the volume, and passion, of the responses.”

“Maybe I was naïve,” said Janoff, who noted that while the paper has weathered many storms throughout its 80-year history, he has never seen one of this intensity.

But exactly what transpired, and what it means for the community, depends on who you ask.

Avi Smolen, who grew up in Ridgewood and whose same-sex wedding announcement appeared on Sept. 24, said he, too, was surprised by the barrage of media coverage the issue has received.

“We (Smolen and his partner, Justin Rosen) submitted our announcement to share the simcha with the community and we were happy it was published,” he said. “The follow-up decision not to publish (other announcements) was frustrating, and somehow the greater media picked up on the story and it has been everywhere in the news. We didn’t expect this.”

Smolen, communications and development associate at Keren Or Inc., Greater New York, said he didn’t really think much about submitting the announcement “because it was so accepted in our community; we didn’t think it was a big deal.”

He noted that recent communal meetings to discuss the ongoing controversy are of value, but said that members of the gay community should be invited.

It’s important, he said, “so that they can be part of the conversation and so it’s not ‘them’ and ‘us.’ There needs to be frank and open discussions so people can share their concerns and feelings.” In addition, he said, meetings should be “less about rhetoric and more about problem-solving.”

Smolen suggested that the strength of the uproar was at least partially a matter of timing.

“The previous two weeks, there were a number of suicides by young gay people that got attention, and that was a counterpoint to the announcement about celebrating our union. People really connected those two incidents and thought it was important to speak out.”

He said he can respect the position of those who do not support same-sex wedding announcements, but noted that he “does not agree with tactics to prevent them from being seen. In a way it’s comical,” he said. “The desire to marginalize [the issue] has made it larger than ever.”

“In a sense, I’m glad that this has occurred and I hope people will continue to talk about this,” he said. Being “pushed out of their comfort zone” may prompt diverse groups to deal with the issues and find a solution.

“I hope they will recognize that people with different beliefs and practices exist, and find a way to grow and unite.”

Looking back at what has occurred over the past several weeks, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, religious leader of Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood and first vice president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, said, “The problem emerged when the Standard underestimated the importance and sensitivity of this issue to the Orthodox community.”

Goldin telephoned the Standard following publication of the wedding announcement to “alert [the newspaper] to those sensitivities.” Janoff recalled that the rabbi said he had been in touch with Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, president of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County.

Following several calls, the Standard printed a statement saying it would not publish such announcements in the future. Rebecca Boroson, the Standard’s editor, characterized the conversations with Goldin — in which the editors, publisher, and associate publisher took part — as “intense.” “He repeatedly told us that the paper had caused pain in the Orthodox community,” she added, “and that we had ‘crossed a red line.’”

The backlash resulting from the Standard’s about-face goes beyond the current controversy, said Goldin.

“The Orthodox community is involved in an ongoing struggle to determine how to live with the tension between two fundamental principles that have to guide our approach to the gay community,” Goldin said.

On one hand, the movement seeks to “respect all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation,” recognizing in particular “the personal struggles of those who belong to the gay community and want to continue identifying as committed Jews.”

On the other hand, the Orthodox movement must maintain “its allegiance to Torah law, which strongly prohibits same-sex unions.”

Goldin spoke of “the overwhelming animosity and resentment displayed toward the Orthodox community and rabbinate of Bergen County in particular” in the aftermath of the announcement.

“Gross misrepresentations have been accepted as fact,” he said. “The fact is that the RCBC had no official response” to the incident. “To say that the group threatened organized activity is an outright lie.”

He suggested as well that the issue of homosexuality “has become the civil rights issue of the era.”

“We have to recognize that each of us has issues and red lines,” he said. “I sometimes feel that because the Orthodox position is not the automatically popular position in the society in which we find ourselves — it’s easier to argue for inclusiveness than for certain limits — in a knee-jerk fashion the Orthodox are judged in a negative way without giving credence to our right to hold our positions.”

Susie Charendoff, who belongs to an Orthodox congregation in Englewood and has been a participant in recent discussions, said the most troubling aspect of the recent events was that in declaring that it would cease running same-sex announcements — citing offense to the Orthodox community — the Standard “only recognized the pain of one community on an issue that is sensitive across the board.”

“I think the Orthodox community is more complex than [the way] it is often characterized,” she said, highlighting the “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community,” circulated this summer and signed by more than 100 Orthodox leaders.

Written by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot — who has just become rabbi of Teaneck’s Netivot Shalom and is chair of the Bible and Jewish Thought departments at New York’s Yeshivat Chovevei Torah — the piece was widely hailed as a progressive document within the movement.

“It was really a thoughtful piece on the part of the Orthodox community,” said Charendoff. “It attempted to be as welcoming as possible to same-sex couples despite the fact that [same-sex marriage] is antithetical to the Orthodox position. It reached out as far as it could within that framework.”

Charendoff said the “content and tone of that document is a voice that needs to be heard in the current discussion. While it doesn’t solve the issue, it changes the tenor of what’s going on. I’m disturbed by the assumption that the Orthodox don’t recognize the complexity of this issue.”

Describing the communal flap as “a controversy that is testing the boundaries of pluralism and inclusiveness within the Bergen County Jewish community,” Rabbi Adina Lewittes, religious leader of Sha’ar Communities, said the country is seeing a “ruthless physical, political, and social backlash” against the gay and lesbian community.

Lewittes — who describes her organization as “a suburban network of small, inclusive, and accessible Jewish communities connected by a broad vision of Jewish renaissance” — said that, given media reports about gay youths who committed suicide or were physically attacked, the paper “should have had the foresight and courage to respond to the resistance of the Orthodox in a way that sends the message that there is a home for everyone in the Jewish community.”

Still, she added, “the fundamental issue here is a matter of journalistic process and integrity…. Many people do not see this as a complicated issue or something needing conflict resolution.”

Front and center, she said, “is the flip-flopping” by the Standard “and the privileging of one group over another. This is a clear breach of journalistic responsibility, particularly given the self-stated goals of [the paper].”

The best-case scenario, she said, would be for the Standard “to acknowledge that it failed to adhere to its mission and steer itself back on course.”

Noting the mission of her own organization, “to enter Judaism through multiple gateways,” Lewittes said community dialogue will be useful only to the extent that it “acknowledges the many lenses through which different Jewish communities look at both Judaism and the broader world in which they live and what the different relationships between the two look like.”

She decried “tying your own legitimacy and integrity to what someone else might believe or think. We don’t need to achieve consensus,” she said. “Sure, it would be great,” but all parties to a discussion would inevitably want their positions to be adopted.

“To achieve consensus on matters of halachah or politics is not the goal here,” she said. “If anything, we have such a rich heritage because of the diversity” that has characterized the community. “What’s needed is an environment of respect for multiple understandings” of Judaism.

Lewittes added that those who call for pluralism also need to be wary of denying the presence of any particular community.

“We need to be inclusive of all voices,” she said, even those with whom we disagree.

Lewittes said that with respect to community process and lasting lessons, we should heed the words of the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a seminal figure in modern Orthodoxy. “Rav Soloveitchik’s insight on how kedushah/holiness is found not in the neat and tidy resolutions to conflict but in the very paradox of the often conflicting and contradictory elements of our makeup, is most relevant,” she noted. “Our ability to hold together the different and disparate pieces of who we are as a community in a singular, pluralistic embrace is what will transform us into a kehillah kedoshah, a holy community, and is what we might model to other communities facing similar struggles.”

Rabbi David J. Fine believes strongly in the power of dialogue.

The religious leader of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood — the Smolens’ synagogue and the shul in which the gay couple celebrated one of their two aufrufs — said it would be an “easy out” to conclude that we are not one Jewish community but rather several disparate groups.

“Dialogue is one of the essences of how we do Judaism,” he said. “We learn from rabbinic tradition to honor and respect views we don’t agree with, to have a respectful discourse. We can only be one by listening to each other.”

Acknowledging that “tensions are coming to the boiling point,” Fine said the wedding announcement controversy has simply highlighted fissures in the community, particularly the fault line between the Conservative and modern Orthodox movements.

“We’re much more similar than we pretend to be,” said Fine, adding that both movements “look over their shoulder” when making halachic decisions.

“We’re the only two groups who believe that we have a place in the modern world but [adhere] to a normative halachic tradition,” he said. “It’s so hard to acknowledge sharing that space with the other,” he added. “It’s threatening because we’re so similar.”

Fine said the current flap is about much more than the wedding announcement.

“It’s about our own identities and who we are,” he said. “We’re not just arguing a specific issue but our specific identity.”

The rabbi said that not only is talking to one another “the only way to understand each other, but I determine how I articulate where I’m coming from by talking to someone who doesn’t agree with me.”

This is something every rabbi deals with, he said, noting, “We don’t want to preach to the choir.”

Fine said he doesn’t know why rabbis get so excited about the issue of gay marriage.

“Gay and lesbian Jews are just like everyone else,” he said. “Their private lives are different, but I don’t know why it animates people so much. Part of it may be generational.” He added that the position is likely to change as same-sex couples become more accepted in the wider society.

“The real issue is Jewish identity and questions of authenticity and different forms of Judaism, between liberal and traditional Judaism,” he said, pointing out that this division was apparent in the diaspora uproar over the Rotem bill — which proposed giving the Orthodox rabbinate control of all conversions in Israel.

Rabbi Jarah Greenfield has discussed the announcement controversy with people from many different communities “and their responses involve total incredulousness — the inability to grasp how in 2010 a small segment of the Jewish community can exert so much influence over a paper about something that so many people consider a normative thing in Jewish life — the inclusion of the LGBT community.”

Greenfield, religious leader of Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel in Maywood, pointed out that Monday was National Coming Out Day, created to raise awareness, end discrimination against the LGBT community, and encourage LGBT people to be proud of who they are.

“It’s much wider than a newspaper issue,” she said. “It’s about how Jews and all of the institutions that represent us make decisions about who’s in and who’s out.”

“[Being LGBT] is a non-issue from my community’s perspective,” she said, calling opposition to same-sex wedding announcements “a retrograde perspective on contemporary life. Most of the Jews I work with already live in a context where they have one foot in tradition and one foot in contemporary life.”

“Being a Jew today is about drawing from both [contexts],” she said. “LGBT inclusion is not a problem of ‘religious’ versus ‘secular’ influences, but about integrating religious life with contemporary times.”

Greenfield said the issue of gay equality is not a “hot-button” topic from the perspective of most Jews. She noted also a distinction between Torah laws concerning issues such as kashrut and adultery and those pertaining to “human beings created in the image of God.”

“The distinction is that this issue is about human beings and their inherent nature. At the heart of the matter, it’s not about a behavior, or a sin, or a choice. That’s why it is not as black and white” as issues such as advertising events that take place on Shabbat.

The rabbi said that if there were firm commitments on both sides to have regular meetings “in which to learn about and from each other,” in the long term the different groups would come to better understand one another.

“No one has a strong hold on what constitutes legitimate Jewish identity,” she said. “Jewish identity is continually evolving. [It] has always changed and adapted within the various civilizations where Jews have lived. It’s not a matter of religious purity versus secular deviance.”

Greenfield said people gain respect through human contact rather than through antipathy expressed in the media.

“It’s impossible to overvalue the importance of human interaction,” she said. “We want to welcome Orthodox leaders into the circle.”

The rabbi suggested a possible “trade.”

Ideally, she said, “I would have all non-Orthodox Jewish leaders commit to condemning Orthodox-bashing in exchange for the Orthodox understanding that they are not the sole arbiters of authentic Judaism.”

Rabbi Randall Mark, religious leader of Shomrei Torah in Wayne and head of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, to which no Orthodox rabbis belong, said the community rift is not a secret, nor is it unique to northern New Jersey.

“What we’ve seen over the course of the last decade is that rabbinical groups rarely sit together anymore. There are times and places where the two communities easily coexist, but sometimes they bump up against each other.”

Mark did note that during his first year as president of the NJBR, he has had several conversations with the RCBC’s Rothwachs.

“The two of us were cognizant of the fact that our rabbinic communities are diverse, and we felt it important at least to have the ability to communicate,” he said. “My hope has always been to find places of agreement and ultimately work together.”

The NJBR president said that homosexuality in religious life is one of the most difficult social issues of the day for American religious communities.

“Religious groups have a long history of intolerance” on this issue, he said.

He suggested that strong feelings have resulted from the fact that the matter “deals with people and not just issues and because in issues concerning human sexuality, people will often react on an emotional level.”

He noted as well that the issue transcends the newspaper because “The Jewish Standard strives to be a community newspaper … and we are a very diverse community.”

“Any constituent group has the right to respond” to something with which he or she disagrees, he added, suggesting that appropriate responses include letter-writing and/or requesting meetings with the leadership of the paper.

“I’m pleased that they’re willing to sit down and listen,” he said of the Standard staff, which recently participated in a meeting of rabbis and communal leaders. The gathering, held last Thursday at Temple Emanu-El in Closter, was hosted by the congregation’s Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner and was devoted specifically to the controversy.

“The newspaper, as an independent entity, has the editorial freedom to decide what it will or will not include,” said Mark. “Ultimately, people will decide if they’re happy or unhappy.”

Other Voices

Rabbi Neal Borovitz, religious leader of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge and chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, wants to use the current conflict as a teachable moment.

“I want to convene a meeting of the Jewish Leadership Forum to continue the discussion about how we, as a diverse Jewish community, can learn to live together and work better together,” said Borovitz following last week’s meeting in Closter.

The rabbi said he believes firmly in the principle of a free press and expects the Standard to decide how it will respond “to all the simchas in our community,” with the hope that the paper will be “sensitive, responsive, and supportive of the diversity that exists in our northern New Jersey Jewish community.”

He noted other instances where the paper had provided equal access to conflicting views.

“When I disagreed with [Standard columnist Rabbi Shmuley] Boteach on the settlement issue, the Standard graciously gave me op-ed space to respond,” he said. “I believe the paper should be a forum for the free and open exchange of ideas, concerns, and information for our broad community.”

Borovitz said he hopes the forum will be a place where opinions “are put on the table,” even if they are not necessarily resolved. “We can agree to be civil in disagreements,” he said.

Charles Berkowitz, president and chief executive officer of The Jewish Home Family, affirmed the “right and responsibility of a newspaper to publish news.”

“If you make a decision to put in no simchas,” that’s one thing, he said. “But to decide to put them in for only a certain segment of the community is wrong, regardless of which segment it is.”

Berkowitz said “some of the bright people in the community should sit down and begin to talk about issues we need to deal with, and not put our heads in the sand. No one should impose their will on others.”

He noted, however, that sometimes firm decisions must be made. For example, his organization — which embraces the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Russ Berrie Home for Jewish Living; the Jewish Home Assisted Living, Kaplen Family Senior Residence; the Jewish Home Foundation of North Jersey Inc.; and the Jewish Home & Rehabilitation Center — does not allow people to bring in food from other than accepted vendors to maintain the level of kashrut.

“Some would prefer not to have that,” he said. “But it’s important for people of all religious beliefs to feel welcome here.”

Berkowitz said the fact that he is a social worker is a big help.

“We deal with the issues head on and face to face,” he said. “You don’t sit down in front of cameras but do it quietly and talk to each other.”

Howard Charish, executive vice president of UJA-NNJ, said that since the Standard sees itself as the “paper of record for the Jewish community,” the current controversy should be dealt with by the whole community.

“When we face complicated issues, open exchange and dialogue is very helpful,” he said. “Not all parties will agree with all positions, but [when] active listening is happening and points of view are shared, then mutual respect is possible.”

Charish said that the next step, as he understands it, is that “before any further decisions are made,” there will be a series of discussions involving the JCRC, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, rabbis, and other interested parties.

“To me, that is a critical step,” he said.

As executive director of the Kaplen JCC, Avi Lewinson is “surprised and not surprised” that the announcement controversy became so heated.

“It wouldn’t have reached that level if there hadn’t been a retraction so soon after,” he said. While he believes that the Standard’s intentions were good, “they acted too quickly and people felt the paper was taking sides. That fueled the fire.”

Lewinson said that while the JCC has faced differences of opinions — for example, over whether to remain open on Shabbat — the facility, which is closed on Saturday, has never experienced “a firestorm of this size.”

The JCC director pointed out that times do change, and cited the racial discrimination rampant in the 1960s.

“I’m appreciative of the gains we’ve made,” he said, adding that, “personally, I think we should sit down with representatives of different viewpoints and start with the premise that everyone is coming with deeply held beliefs based on principle.” Still, he said, “The goal can’t be that, in the end, you’re in or out 100 percent.”

Lewinson said the community needs to strive for shalom bayit (literally, peace in the home), finding a compromise that will allow both sides to feel that their views have been acknlowledged.

“It’s not a perfect solution,” he said, “but maybe one possibility is not to use the word ‘marriage’ in a same-sex announcement but rather to use the term ‘commitment ceremony.’ The question is, ‘What can we do to find a way so we each feel we’re being heard and our principles and values are being considered?’”

Regarding the controversy, Lewinson said there have been “misquotes on both sides.” Still, he said, he is an eternal optimist and is convinced that the issue will be resolved.

“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” said Lewinson, who has called the JCRC offering the JCC as a resource for community forums. He noted that Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of the New York City-based CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, wrote a book called “You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right.” “We’re all part of the Jewish people,” Lewinson said, “and it is important for us to be able to sit and listen to each other with respect.”

For his part, Janoff knows that he has a lot of listening to do. In a statement published on Oct. 8, he wrote that the paper now understands “that we may have acted too quickly in issuing the follow-up statement, responding only to one segment of the community.”

As a result, he said, he is now engaged in meeting with local rabbis and community leaders, understanding that the exchange of views is necessary before the paper issues its final decision.

Wrote Janoff: “We urge everyone to take a step back and reflect on what this series of events has taught us about the community we care so much about, and about the steps we must take to move forward together.”

 
 

So you think you know Howard?

_JStandardOp-Ed
Published: 31 December 2010
 
 

UJA-NNJ begins transition after long-time leader retires

Monday marked the first day in 2011 at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, and also the first day without Howard Charish, its executive vice president who retired at the end of last month after eight years with the federation.

David Gad-Harf, the interim executive vice president, and Robert Hyman, the interim associate executive vice president and chief operating officer, have assumed the leadership of the federation while a search committee looks for Charish’s successor. They began the transition Monday morning by asking the federation’s employees what characteristics described Charish’s term and what they wanted to continue.

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David Gad-Harf Courtesy UJA-NNJ

“As a staff we committed to finding ways to keep Howard’s qualities alive in UJA,” Gad-Harf told The Jewish Standard. “For me it was very cathartic.”

Those qualities included nurturing people, optimism, lightheartedness, dedication, enthusiasm, and surprises for the staff.

“He would just surprise us with hot soup in the cold winter or cupcakes as a treat,” Gad-Harf said. “He loved doing that and we loved it as well. We decided this should be embedded within our culture as an organization.”

The change in leadership comes as the federation is looking toward a change in direction. Its new strategic plan calls for more collaboration among Jewish communal organizations. The federation, Hyman said, should be “the convener to bring the agencies together.” The federation will also encourage Jewish institutions to apply for funding for specific projects through an innovation fund still in development, Gad-Harf said. Once up and running, that fund will focus on projects outside the federation’s typical sphere but still within the Jewish community, according to Gad-Harf. The main role of the federation, he continued, should be to bring the community together, and so UJA-NNJ leaders will also look to build connections between what Gad-Harf called the “fractured” and “decentralized” North Jersey Jewish community, which will include reaching out to institutions that have not previously been federation beneficiaries.

“What we’re doing is announcing to the community that the impact the federation can have and should have goes beyond the dollars to institutions,” Gad-Harf said. “We need to play a role in strengthening the infrastructure of Jewish New Jersey.”

Gad-Harf and Hyman’s swift assumption of leadership appears to be well-received. Miriam Allenson, UJA-NNJ’s director of marketing services, called the transition seamless.

“There was no — on the staff level — feeling of nervousness,” she said. “It means our work goes on and it goes on in a positive direction.”

The lay leadership, meanwhile, has launched a nationwide search for a new executive, with help from Jewish Federations of North America, the federation system’s umbrella organization. UJA-NNJ president Alan Scharfstein said he expects to have someone in the position by June.

“We want a candidate who understands and is supportive of what we’re doing, but we’re not looking for one who comes from the same old mold of doing things the way federations have done them for half a century,” he said. “We need somebody who can speak to our younger donors, involve a larger group of people in federation activities, who’s willing to look at redefining the role the federation plays in the community and can display a sense of excitement and dynamism.”

Jayne Petak, who is co-chairing the search committee with Jules Eisen, said that it has drafted a position description, which it will soon begin circulating. JFNA, in the meantime, is placing ads and headhunting for UJA-NNJ. The committee is looking for someone with a strong business background and passions for excellence and the Jewish community who will motivate the professional and volunteer staffs, Petak said.

Charish oversaw the merger of the UJA of Bergen County and the Jewish Federation of North Jersey, as well as the move to UJA-NNJ’s current headquarters in Paramus. In recognition of his work, the federation’s lay leadership is instituting an annual award in Charish’s name. Starting in June, the federation will award a stipend at its annual meeting to a successful and committed Jewish professional from the community.

“It helps support one of Howard’s passions, to make sure that those who devote their lives to the service of our community be appropriately rewarded,” Scharfstein said.

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 
 
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