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UJA-NNJ reaches out through Kehillah Cooperative to share costs, save money

The national recession has resulted in decreased donations to charities across the board, but it has also spurred local Jewish organizations to enter a cost-sharing initiative that could save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey convened a July 29 meeting at its Paramus headquarters to highlight its successes in the year-old Kehillah Cooperative — the federation’s role in the wider Kehillah Partnership — and draw new organizations to the program. To date, 29 organizations have signed up and collectively saved more than $300,000 on electric bills. (The Kehillah Partnership is a group of community organizations banded together to realize savings in cost and programmatic resources.)

“The sole purpose [of the cooperative] is to try to save the Jewish community money,” said Dan Silna, former president of UJA-NNJ, as he welcomed attendees.

The federation expects participating organizations to save another $125,000 by the middle of next year, said Matt Holland, UJA-NNJ’s community purchasing manager, who explained the program to some 50 representatives of more than 30 communal organizations.

Eight organizations have recently signed contracts to join the electricity cost-sharing program, while four more are reviewing the program, which could lead to annual savings of $125,092 for these 12 groups, according to UJA-NNJ.

The federation solicits bids from companies for electricity, shipping, credit-card processing, and office supplies, among other providers, Holland explained. The company with the best prices then becomes the supplier for the entire cooperative. For electricity, for example, the federation arranges for a single supplier, such as ConEdison or Suez, through PSE&G. Supply costs can account for 78 percent of an electric bill.

New vendors include Systrum, which Holland said could save $200,000 of a $2.5 million annual communal gas bill; FedEx, which he said could save $150,000 annually on shipping costs; and iPayment, a credit-card processing service that Holland said could save between $65,000 and $150,00 for the cooperative.

Participating organizations do not, however, have to sign up for every service offered, he said. More participation means more leverage, though, he added.

“The more participation we get, the easier it is for me to go out and swing a big stick,” he said.

Holland stressed that there is no fee to join the program, nor does the federation receive any fee from the vendors.

The program appears to have already had a small impact for Jewish education.

Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge, Yavneh Academy in Paramus, Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford, and Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland saved a combined $24,000 through the cooperative’s electrical group-purchasing plan, according to UJA-NNJ.

Electrifying numbers

The Kehillah Cooperative has saved 16 organizations $304,874.61 in electric costs from July 2009 to June 2010, according to UJA-NNJ.

The Frisch School and Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, and The Moriah School in Englewood, also recently signed up.

“We really believe this is a value to the community, something we’re set up to do,” Miriam Allenson, UJA-NNJ’s marketing director, told the Standard. “It’s something we can give back to the community.”

Since last week’s meeting, Holland has received at least 25 e-mails about the program. The economic downturn has been a driving force, he said.

“When everybody’s doing very well, people aren’t looking at this closely,” he said. “To think outside the box and join together as a community — the economy drove that.”

Attendees at the meeting who were already active in the Cooperative appeared happy with their choices.

“You can see what the savings have been and what the potential is,” said Lisa Fedder, executive director of Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson, one of the groups participating in the cooperative’s gas and electric aspects.

“This is what federation should be doing,” said Wally Greene, executive director of the Jewish Center of Teaneck and former director of the federation’s Jewish Educational Services. “I look forward to seeing more.”

Who's in?

The following organizations are part of the Kehillah Cooperative:

Bergen County Y, a JCC
Daughters of Miriam Center/The Gallen Institute
Jewish Family Service of Bergen County
Jewish Home Assisted Living
Jewish Home at Rockleigh
Kaplen JCC on the Palisades
Cong. Beth Abraham
Cong. Beth Sholom (Teaneck)*
Cong. Bnai Yeshurun*
Glen Rock Jewish Center*
Jewish Center of Teaneck
Temple Beth El of Northern Valley*
Temple Sinai of Bergen County*
Frisch School
Gerrard Berman Day School
Moriah School
Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey
Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County
Yeshiva Ohr Simcha
Yeshivat Noam
Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities
Cong. Beth Shalom (Pompton Lakes)*
Cong. Shomrei Torah (Fair Lawn)

*In addition to these synagogues, supplementary or nursery schools operating within these institutions are independently participating in the Kehillah Cooperative.

 
 

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.”

 
 

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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