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entries tagged with: Mark Levenson


Israeli ‘cleantech’ takes center stage

Lois GoldrichLocal | World
Published: 11 September 2009

Israel and New Jersey have a great trading relationship,” says Mark Levenson, a member of the New Jersey-Israel Commission and chair of the group’s upcoming U.S.-Israel Cleantech Conference. In fact, he says, New Jersey is Israel’s ninth-largest trading partner.

To “build on and enhance that relationship,” the Sept. 16 conference, at the Meadowlands Environmental Center in Lyndhurst, will provide an opportunity for U.S. business and government leaders to meet the leaders of Israel’s cleantech industry, said Levenson, who is clearly confident that the event will benefit both groups.

Chair of the Israel Business Practice Group for Sills Cummis & Gross P.C. as well as president of the Federation of Greater Clifton/Passaic, Levenson, a resident of West Orange, noted that a similar conference last year attracted nine Israeli companies.

“This time there are 15, despite the fact that money is tight,” he said. “If they’re coming for this, they must feel it will be worthwhile.”

He is also hopeful that building stronger relationships between the Israeli and New Jersey companies will lead to more jobs in the state.

“Not only is the United States a target market for the Israeli technologies, but “[the Israeli companies] want to establish a presence here, have U.S. partners,” said Levenson. “They want to hear what the states have to offer.”

Explaining that Israel has had to find innovative alternatives for renewable energy, at least in part because of its geopolitical location, Levenson said the Jewish state has more than 50 years of experience in water management and solar energy technologies.

According to a statement from conference organizers — who note that Israel is second to the U.S. in startup companies pursuing innovative sources of renewable energy — the conference “will gather the region’s most influential cleantech professionals and provide a forum for exploring business opportunities and targeted networking.”

“One day is not enough time” to accomplish all these goals, said Levenson, but he noted that networking continues after the gathering itself has ended.

The conference chair said that he has seen some of the Israeli technological developments that will be showcased at the meeting. Calling them “mind-blowing,” he noted that developing those systems “is obviously more attractive when the cost of fossil fuels is high …, [but] given global needs, investment in such solutions will eventually draw them to a point where market prices will be more in line with fossil fuels.”

“Research and development in these areas is sorely needed,” he said, citing Israeli accomplishments that will be highlighted at the meeting.

Presenters will include leaders of Israeli companies that have developed an advanced solar-hybrid power generation unit; innovative water, agricultural, and other clean technologies; solutions for the treatment of municipal solid waste and hazardous waste; and sludge-dewatering treatments. Also featured will be companies that have pioneered methods to cool, heat, dehumidify, disinfect, and clean the air — powered by energy sources such as solar panels, geothermal water, and waste heat — and businesses working on cost-effective solutions to solar and wind applications.

While the conference is a three-day affair, only one day is centered in New Jersey; New York and Philadelphia will host the other two sessions, said Levenson. He expects some 200 people to participate in the New Jersey event.

The state gathering is being organized by the New Jersey-Israel Commission in partnership with the government of Israel and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

Levenson pointed out that attendees will not only meet leaders in the area of alternative and renewable energy sources, but they will connect with senior state officials to hear about progressive legislation and incentive programs for cleantech development. Experts will be on hand to discuss “how to grow a green company.”

According to the conference chair, organizers are targeting utility and industry executives, companies involved in the development of alternative energy sources, investors, technology vendors, government policymakers and municipalities, as well as scientists and researchers.

Presenters from the state will include Jerry Zaro, head of the New Jersey Office of Economic Growth; Kenny Esser, chief energy adviser; and Caren S. Franzini, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. Also speaking will be representatives from energy and utility companies.

Levenson said that the day “is not about politics” and the commission is an independent entity that has permanent status. In addition, he said, New Jersey “offers great tax incentives” for the kinds of programs the conference will explore.

For further information about the conference, call the New Jersey-Israel Commission at (609) 633-8600 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). For more information on the New Jersey-Israel Commission, visit


Clifton-Passaic Y slated to close

Amid budget troubles, federation had sought merger with North Jersey

The YM-YWHA building at 199 Scoles Ave., Clifton Josh Lipowsky

One year ago the YM-YWHA of Greater Clifton-Passaic celebrated its grand reopening, and the dedication of a newly renovated half-million-dollar playground. One month ago the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic, facing budget deficits and major drops in its fund-raising campaign in recent years, decided to sell the Y, a 105-year-old institution and the only Jewish community center in the Passaic-Clifton area.

The Y, also known as the Tri-County JCC, houses the federation, Jewish Family Service, the Riskin Children’s Center, and the Holocaust Resource Center. Federation leaders say they intend that these agencies would remain open after the sale of the building but remained noncommittal about Y programming beyond September 2011. The Y still expects to offer camp for the summer of 2011.

The board voted to sell the building at its July meeting and put the building on the market later that month. Community members did not learn about the move, however, until they received a letter in early August.

“The decision has been brewing for several years,” Ed Schey, the federation’s executive director, told this newspaper last week. “It became very difficult these past several years to maintain the services we want to at the Y. We just don’t have the wherewithal to continue.”

He pointed to a diminishing donor base as the result of a donor’s death or relocation out of state. Late donors’ families often don’t continue the tradition of contributing, he said, while those who move away shift their dollars to local charities.

The changing demographics of Passaic — the city has experienced a boom in its Orthodox population in recent years and is home to 10 Orthodox synagogues, while Clifton has one Conservative shul — has also played a role. While Y leaders estimated at least 50 percent of the Y’s users are Orthodox, the federation has not been successful in fund-raising in that community.

Ten years ago, the federation’s campaign raised more than $1 million. Schey would not provide specifics but said the campaign today is about half of that. According to 2008 tax forms, the latest on file with the website, the federation collected $5,162,965 in total revenue between Oct. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2008, but faced expenses of $5,583,671 — a deficit of more than $400,000.

Just to open the doors of the Y — paying for electricity, heating, and other basic needs — costs approximately $600,000 a year, according to the Y’s executive director, Kenneth Mandel. With the federation facing a $1.5 million budget deficit, he said he was saddened by the decision but understood it.

“I look at this building and say this is a community asset,” he said. “By selling this building you’re never going to be able to have a building like this again.”

The Y has approximately 1,300 members including family units, and Mandel estimated that about 1,000 people pass through the doors each day. This year’s summer camp is at capacity, with 600 children enrolled.

The Y’s operating budget is $2.7 million; it receives $178,000 from the federation and the rest is raised from other sources. Each year the staff wonders if that will be the final year, Mandel said, but various grants and last-minute donations have kept the building afloat. The Y staff took a 10 percent pay cut last year, representing a savings of $200,000, Mandel said.

The federation had looked at merging with one of its neighboring federations, but plans to merge with the Jewish Federation of North Jersey in Wayne fell apart when that organization merged with the UJA of Bergen County & North Hudson to form UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. From 2002 to 2008 the Passaic-Clifton federation held conversations with the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, but those talks eventually broke down.

“We didn’t want to be in a position next September to say, ‘We’re closing tomorrow,’” said Mark Levenson, who concluded his eight-year presidency of the Passaic-Clifton federation in June. “We have been deliberating for a long time to come to what I call a soft landing.”

The 7-acre property went on the market last month, Levenson said, although he would not disclose the asking price or the broker.

The federation is not shutting down, Levenson emphasized, acknowledging rumors that followed the sale’s announcement.

“The campaign will continue; what federation does will continue,” he said. “We are not closing the federation. The federation absolutely is in control and the implementer of this decision.”

The federation board is open to ideas to save the Y, Levenson said, but only a large infusion of dollars will work.

“Unless there is some real concrete plan of real funding to help address the gap in keeping the building going, good intentions just don’t get us there,” he said. “We need actual real cash to keep the building going.”

When Mitch Morrison, a Passaic resident who is vice president and group editor of CSP Information Group, received the federation’s letter, he quickly began to mobilize efforts to save the Y.

As of Monday, when he spoke to this paper from a business meeting in Utah, he had been trying to organize a meeting with federation leaders for the end of this week. An initial e-mail asking people for help has attracted lots of attention, he said, and he’d like the federation to examine all options from the community.

“Let’s pause,” he said. “Let’s take a deep breath and let’s regroup and see if we can create a model that is truly representative of a broader Jewish community and can we do it under a financial model that not only allows the institution to survive but to thrive.”

Passaic has experienced a demographic change, not a demographic decline, Morrison said. That separates the Passaic-Clifton Y from other agencies in decline across the country. He envisions new models of operation and outreach for the Y that bring in the Orthodox, the Russian émigre´s, the non-affiliated, and Jews from smaller communities nearby.

“If you take the attitude of ‘let’s rebuild this from scratch, what kind of fund-raising model could you create,’ you could potentially create something very dynamic and robust,” he said.

Schey said that the federation would negotiate with a buyer to see if Jewish Family Service, the Riskin Children’s Center, and the Holocaust Resource Center could stay in the building. Whether the federation ends up renting space back from a buyer or if the building will be razed depends on who buys it, he said.

“The executive committee of the federation and board of trustees of the federation will review carefully all of the proposals and make a decision that’s in the best interest of the Jewish community of Clifton-Passaic,” he added.

Edith Sobel, the former editor of the Jewish Community News, praised the federation and its relationship with the paper when the JCN was housed at the Y.

“It was a very wonderful experience for me,” she said.

Valerie Sharfman, director of the Holocaust Resource Center, declined comment.

Jewish Family Services receives $125,000, or about 10 percent of its annual budget, from the federation, which has been “a pretty secure funder,” said Esther East, executive director of Jewish Family Service.

“We are very saddened by the fact that the financial difficulties have resulted in this loss,” she said. “We’re losing the one communal institution in the Clifton-Passaic community where Jewish people cross-denominationally come together. That’s a big loss.”


N.J.-Israel Commission meets, under new chairmanship

Dignitaries attend gathering in Trenton

At Monday’s meeting in Trenton of the New Jersey-Israel Commission are, from left, Ambassador Ido Aharoni, consul general for Israel in New York, N.J. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, and Mark Levenson, the new chairman of the commission. Tim Larsen/Governor’s Office

The New Jersey-Israel Commission was created in 1988, when New Jersey and the State of Israel forged a relationship, via executive order, to implement the goals of a Sister State Agreement “to promote the development of trade, culture, and educational exchanges; encourage the development of capital investment and joint business ventures; and foster a spirit of cooperation between the citizens of [in this case] the State of Israel and the State of New Jersey.”

On Monday, at a meeting in Trenton attended by some 75 people, the commission was officially reactivated by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration under the chairmanship of Mark Levenson, who was appointed in December. Levenson, president-elect of the State Association of New Jersey Jewish Federations and a veteran eight-year president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic, is a real estate attorney who chairs the Israel Business Practice Group at his law firm, Sills Cummis Gross PC of Newark.

“I’m very excited about our first meeting,” Levenson, who lives in West Orange, told this newspaper in a pre-meeting interview. Among the presenters on Monday afternoon were Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno; Ambassador Ido Aharoni, the consul general for Israel in New York; State Treasurer Andrew P. Sidamon-Eristoff; Yair Shiran, the economic minister to North America for Israel; and Linda Kellner, acting executive director of the New Jersey Business Action Center.

Levenson said that, because of limited resources and to avoid duplication, cultural and educational projects would be handled by Jewish federations. He emphasized that “the commission’s focus is to increase trade and economic activity, get businesses to invest in Israel, get Israel to invest resources in New Jersey, and create jobs. For example, if a New Jersey pharmaceutical company wants to expand its global reach and needs operations outside of the United States, we would like them to consider Israel as a real prospect. And there are many similarities, in population and in geographical size. The Israelis have an educated workforce and so does New Jersey. Israeli companies like Teva [the drug company] and Netafim [a water technology company] ought to consider New Jersey for U.S. operational headquarters and research and development centers. We want to encourage incubators, entrepreneurs, and business alliances.”

Levenson said that in return, New Jersey offers “tax incentives, a wealth of universities, research facilities, academic talent, welcoming communities, and [high] quality of companies.”

Levenson said that he is determined to make New Jersey one of Israel’s top trading partners. Israel is New Jersey’s 11th-largest trading partner — with 70 Israeli companies doing business here. In 2010, New Jersey did $814,814,378 in exports to Israel. Military contracts with Israel in 2010, using the government’s “Foreign Military Financing,” totaled $44,176,250. Some New Jersey companies granted contracts through the FMF program include: ITL Optronics, Inc. in Emerson; Radbit Computers, Inc. in Mahwah, and Ness U.S.A. in Hackensack.

The chairman noted that Israel’s economy grew by 7.8 percent in the last quarter of 2010. “Israel was the first country in the developed world to raise the benchmark central bank lending rate — now up to 2.5 percent since the worldwide economic crisis began, and the housing market in many cities is on fire. They have moved from an ‘orange economy’ to hi-tech, life science, computer science and IT, clean-tech (renewable energy), defense, and security— all ready to spawn major subsidiaries in our state.”

According to various sources, more than 700 New Jersey companies do business in Israel, including American Gas and Chemicals, Ace Locksmith, Johnson & Johnson, and Hewlett Packard. In July 2008, the New Jersey-Israel Commission and the U.S.-Israel Bi-national Industrial R&D Foundation (BIRD) renewed their partnership to promote ties between companies in New Jersey and Israel that develop innovative products and technologies and are eligible for matching grants of up to $1 million to pay 50 percent of their development costs.

The commission serves as BIRD’s official representative in Israel for New Jersey. For example, BIRD funding allowed Bogen Communications in Ramsey to work with Artuv Communications on a call interceptor. The resultant product allows users to store voicemail, bypass voicemail systems, and use different messages for day and night. Telenex Corporation of Mount Laurel collaborated with TTI of Israel on a telephone surveillance system. The companies’ components could not be marketed separately, so BIRD sponsored the production of an interface allowing both products to interact. The combined system allows phone companies to detect fraud, keep call data records, perform diagnostics, and control billing. ITS Sharplan Lasers in Allendale, distributors of medical lasers, teamed up with I Sight Ltd., an Israeli manufacturer of digital video cameras, to create the I Sight medical video camera, used mainly with endoscopes and laparoscopes in gynecology and urology.

“When companies like these partner with each other, what we are creating is the potential for extraordinary commercial and technological achievement to benefit New Jersey, Israel, and the world,” Levenson concluded.

Jacob Toporek, Executive Director, NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, left; Senator Tom Kean, Jr, Senate Minority Leader; Roger Jacobs, Vice-Pesident, NJ State Association of Jewish Federations; Senator Barbara Buono, Senate Majority Leader; Consul General Ido Aharoni; Mark Levenson, Chair, NJ-Israel Commission; Roy Tanzman, Immediate Past President, NJ State Association of Jewish Federations; Ruth Cole, President, NJ State Association of Jewish Federations; Senator Stephen Sweeney, President of NJ State Senate.

Jewish group gets security training

From left are Paul Goldenberg, national director, National Secure Community Network; Charles McKenna, director of the N.J. Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness; Jacob Toporek, executive director of the N.J. State Association of Jewish Federations; Ruth Cole, its president; Mark Levenson, its president-elect; and Leonard Cole, director of the program on terror medicine and security of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. NJSAJF

The Secure Community Network, the non-profit homeland security initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, hosted an executive security conference June 14 for senior Jewish leaders in this state.

Paul Goldenberg, national director of SCN, who opened the conference at the East Brunswick Jewish Center, said that the “event highlights the strong partnership between the governor’s office, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, and the leadership of our Jewish communities in New Jersey.” He added, “The importance of public-private partnerships, particularly as it relates to homeland security efforts cannot be overstated.”

Co-sponsors were the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, the Anti-Defamation League, the Orthodox Union, and Agudath Israel.

Nearly 100 community delegates, law enforcement officers, and security experts attended.

The NJSAJF “is a prime sponsor and coordinating agent for this statewide security training program because it is important to our community safety,” said its president, Ruth Cole of Ridgewood,

“The Jewish community remains highly vulnerable to terrorist threats and, therefore, it is vital that we remain vigilant, prepared, and well-trained and that our community security communications network is well integrated from the initial receipt of alerts to rapid response deployment,” Cole said.

Morning briefings by officials from the U.S Department of Homeland Security and the Anti-Defamation League were followed by training to strengthen preparedness and assessment strategies for Jewish communal institutions, including federations, day schools, synagogues, JCCs, and other organizations.

Josh Pruzansky, N.J. regional director of public policy for the Institute for Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union, said that “synagogues and day schools have become the front line against terror and the staff of these institutions are our last line of defense…. [T]o provide practical training and guidance to them in how to react in an emergency is, unfortunately, critical. We are grateful to New Jersey’s leadership for recognizing this need and partnering with the Jewish community to meet it, especially Governor Christie, the lieutenant governor, and Director [Charles] McKenna” of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

McKenna, the keynote speaker, said, “We will all be safer if people say something when they see something.” He added that his agency “has been at the forefront in reporting suspicious activity through the Counter Terrorism Watch, its 24 hour-tip line.”

The convenors advise that suspicious activity should be reported by phone to 1-866-4-SAFE-NJ (1-866-472-3365), fax (609) 530-3650 or by e-mail to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Clifton Passaic Jewish institutions undergoing massive changes

Y to close its doors, programs to be relocated or phased out, federation in flux

Published: 24 June 2011
The Jewish Community Center at 199 Scoles Avenue, Clifton, is being phased out.

By 1904, teenagers in Passaic’s growing Jewish community were finding that synagogues — the traditional center of Jewish life for their European-born parents — no longer met their needs. And so, following a pattern emerging in Jewish communities across the country, a group of high-school students formed the city’s first Y. Three years later, The Young Men’s Hebrew Association of Passaic was formally incorporated under state law. It eventually merged with a YWHA formed in March, 1905. The story is recorded in “Jewish Roots: A History of the Jewish Community of Passaic and Environs,” published in 1959 by the Jewish Community Council of Passaic.

Last week, the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic announced the closing of its YM-YWHA — the direct successor to that institution. Doors to the Y’s pool and fitness center at 199 Scoles Ave., Clifton, will shut today, June 24, and the rest of the Y’s operations will phase out during the month of July.

“The Y Nursery School has ended its program for the year and will not re-start,” said the federation’s president, Joan Gottlieb. “Day care will continue at its present location through July 22.” Only the day camp — the most profitable of the Y’s programs — will make it through the summer, ending on Aug. 19 as scheduled, with no home for the foreseeable future. The day camp, all of whose campers are Orthodox, reflects the changed demographics of the area’s Jewish community. While profitable, the camp is self-supporting, providing no funds for other federation activities.

When the Y — also known as the Tri-County JCC — moved from downtown Passaic to Clifton in 1976, the transition was funded by contributions from a then diverse and generous Jewish community. “Since then, a lot of our big givers either moved away or passed away,” said Gottlieb, “and the new [Orthodox] Jewish community has neither the financial ability nor the willingness to support the federation and the Y. We’ve been running at a deficit for years,” she added.

Recognizing its problems, the federation pursued efforts to merge, first with the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest — encompassing Essex, Morris, Sussex, and part of Union counties — and later, the Jewish Federation of North Jersey in Wayne. Neither effort was successful.

The Y’s closing is the latest chapter in a saga that officially began a year ago when the financially strapped federation put its 60,000 square-foot building on the market. The property sits on seven acres, comprising a playground renovated just a year ago. The sale has been under contract to a prospective buyer (The Learning Center for Exceptional Children) since early this year. Both parties say they expect closing this summer, and the buyer has indicated it will open the fitness center and pool to the public at what Gottlieb called “reasonable rates.”

The building will not be vacated until the closing occurs, and in the event it does not, the JCC says it has other options to pursue.

Real estate negotiations are also at the heart of the Y’s closing. “It’s a disappointment because a month and a half ago, the federation voted to continue funding the Y for another year,” said Mark Levenson, who ended eight years as federation president last year and is president-elect of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations. “We felt strongly about providing the Y’s resources to the community for another year, and we were helping Y chairman Kenneth Mandel with negotiations to continue to operate in a different building, retaining many of the services it provides with day care in one building, senior services in another.”

When negotiations with a third party fell through two weeks ago, a letter went out informing the community of the closing of day care and the Riskin Early Learning Center. The Y’s senior services program will be administered by Jewish Family Service, a former federation division that, according to Levenson, was deliberately spun off as a separate agency so that it could continue its work regardless of the federation’s financial status or location. In fact, JFS is also negotiating to rent office space in Clifton with enough room to house the federation, originally scheduled to relocate with the Y. The Holocaust Resource Center, which occupies space in the JCC building, is also looking for a new space. “We are in the midst of finding an appropriate home for their art collection and book collection — hopefully in the same place,” Gottlieb said.

When Ed Schey, the federation’s executive director for 10 years, announced his retirement as of July 1, rumors circulated that the federation would cease operations.

“The federation will continue to exist, but in a different form,” Gottlieb explained. “What I’m hoping is that without the overhead of the building, Super Sunday and our fundraising efforts will enable us to build up our funds and increase support of our beneficiaries which, in recent years, have been considerably reduced.” At the end, Gottlieb added, “We didn’t give any money to Israel or other institutions we used to support.”

The Scoles Avenue building was reportedly put on the market for an asking price of $6 million last year. The federation, Gottlieb said, will realize far less than that amount.

While the board is still in the process of deciding how to use any profits, “First of all, we have two very large lines of credit to pay off, and second we will be helping JFS to get up and running in its new location,” she added.

Reflecting on the conditions that brought the Clifton-Passaic JCC to this point, Gottlieb recalled the social conditions that led to the Y’s creation more than a century ago.

“One of the reasons we needed a Y was so that our children could meet and socialize with other Jewish children. That doesn’t seem to be a concern in the Orthodox community,” she said.

Added Levenson: “Everyone at the federation level worked very hard for a different kind of outcome, but it just wasn’t possible. We spent hundreds and hundreds of hours on this — looked under every rock, went to every constituency. We kept going longer than many people thought we could, but the federation has been on a changing ground for the past 15 years. Evolution and change happen.”

Still, as he prepares to assume the presidency of the state association, Levenson remains optimistic. “The final chapter has not been written,” he said.

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