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entries tagged with: Ruth Cole


New head of umbrella group spells out its priorities

Ruth Cole, the new president of the State Association of Jewish Federations, sees “senior population issues” as among the most important facing New Jersey. And the association is marshaling its clout and allies to ease conditions for that population.

The Ridgewood resident cited the association’s support of the “aging-in-place program — we are urging the state of New Jersey to direct resources to serving underserved seniors so they can … continue to live as well as they can in their own homes, along with transportation so they can get to health care, nutrition services, and socialization. That would maintain their quality of life and avoid [their having to live in] nursing homes.”

The cost of maintaining people in their own homes, she noted, is about 10 percent of what it would be in nursing-home care.

For example, she said, “we try to further legislation that would amend the laws to include volunteer drivers’ efforts” for senior transportation.

“We are collaborators,” Cole said of the umbrella organization created by the state’s 12 Jewish federations. “We build teams of people” — professional and lay leaders of affiliated agencies — “with mutual interests” about “the public interest.” And then those leaders, either individually or as a group, advocate for needed funding and/or legislation.

“We really need to continue to help nonprofit agencies find funding in this very tight budget situation in this state,” she stressed. “If we weaken our nonprofit agencies, then the state would incur greater expenses in administering these services.”

At the annual meeting July 8 of the State Association of Jewish Federations, Ruth Cole was installed as the umbrella organization’s president. She is flanked by Jacob Toporek, its executive director, and Roy Tanzman, its outgoing president. Rachel Toporek

Another high-priority item is boosting the New Jersey-Israel Commission. “The people in our leadership care about this,” she said. They are “very supportive of increasing the activities of the New Jersey-Israel Commission and its visibility and viability.”

The association has “a long history of promoting New Jersey as a premier location for Israeli companies. Our goal is to assist Israeli companies in making their move to New Jersey a successful one.”

This state, she pointed out, is Israel’s 12th-largest trading partner in the United States. “That translates into millions of dollars annually for the economy of New Jersey.”

Noting that Gov. Chris Christie had expressed a commitment to leading a trade mission to Israel, Cole said that the association offered its help to set up areas of interest and meetings for the mission, which would enhance the economic development of the state.”

Homeland security is also high on the association’s list of priorities. “The New Jersey-Israel Commission,” she noted, “was one of the major sponsors in June of ‘09 of a symposium on terror medicine, preparedness, and transportation systems, etc., that should be protected.” A similar symposium, focusing on local preparedness for terrorism and disaster, is set for Sept. 22 at Montclair University and is being coordinated, she noted, by her husband, Dr. Leonard Cole, an expert on bioterrorism. “At last year’s symposium,” she said, Gov. Jon Corzine was the honorary chair, “and we are anticipating that Gov. Christie will be the honorary chair” of the September symposium.

The state association also advocated for the state’s divestment from Iran, and as of March, according to Cole, “had divested more than 90 percent of its investment in companies [that do business with Iran] and are working with our Community Relations Councils and other community partners to now work for the ‘No Nuke for Iran’ initiative and ‘New Jersey Stop Iran Now.’”

Cole came to the SAJF as a member of the board of trustees of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, where she serves as chair of Partnership 2000 with the city of Nahariya in the Western Galilee. A past chair of the federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council and a past president of Jewish Family Service of Bergen County and North Hudson, she was also chair of leadership development for the federation. Her fellow officers have similar federation activities on the résumés. (Cole’s is also heavily weighted with Hadassah accomplishments, and she is the current national chair of Hadassah magazine.)

Another representative from UJA-NNJ, Susan Penn, is a member-at-large of the association.

Members-at-large, Cole explained, “represent the other executive board members of the state association and bring years of dedication and experience in community policymaking and advocacy.”

Penn, Cole continued, “is a very experienced knowledgeable leader on these issues, since she has been a chair of the CRC and along with myself and others is a leader in the Jewish Council for Public Affairs,” a community-relations councils and policy group umbrella organization. “She and I work with Joy Kurland,” director of UJA-NNJ’s Jewish Community Relations Council.

Asked how effective the association is, Cole said, “Very.” She noted that Stephen Sweeney, the president of the state Senate, had driven two hours from Gloucester to address the July 8 meeting, which had also been attended by the deputy consul general of Israel, Benjamin Krasna. “Having the top senator at our meeting,” she said, “indicates his respect for what we do.”

Meanwhile, “tough economic times require more advocacy and more education of our elected officials. You [have to] work with other bodies or you can’t be effective. It takes teamwork and working together to reach consensus and find a way to reach the goals — that programs that need to be supported are supported.” It helps, she said, that “the Jewish community leadership is strong, talented, experienced, and wise.”


Jewish Labor Committee partners with Working Families United

JLC wants to be ‘shidduch between Jewish community and the local labor movement’

Jacob Taporek, center, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, was among the guests at the recent Labor Seder. courtesy JLC

Historically, the Jewish community has been a partner with organized labor, but the connection has weakened in recent years. Martin Schwartz, executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee, wants to reinvigorate it. To that end, the nonprofit JLC recently became a partner agency in Working Families United for New Jersey, a statewide grassroots coalition of labor, religious, community, civil rights, students’, women’s, and retirees’ groups.

This move is part of the JLC’s broader effort to rekindle traditional ties between Jewish groups and organized labor at a time when, according to the agency, labor unions are being unfairly blamed for the nation’s ills.

The partnership “will help us to advance both sets of interests — those of the labor movement and those of Jewish groups,” Schwartz said.

He explained that often there is overlap between the labor movement and Jewish communal organizations in terms of lobbying efforts.

“Often the labor movement and Jewish groups are advocating for the same issues and not aware of it,” he said.

He expects the partnership will strengthen both groups’ abilities to advance issues of common concern such as funding for education, health care, unemployment compensation, and job training.

“Unions are understanding they need to go beyond just union membership to work with people concerned about these issues,” said Schwartz. Similarly, Jewish groups that “receive a lot of federal money for services they provide to the elderly and the poor in the Jewish community and others” realize they need allies, especially in a cutback-happy climate, he said.

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, believes the JLC’s move is “natural” and will build the influence of Jewish organizations in the area.

“As much clout as the Jewish community thinks it has, it can’t be as effective as it is working with others who feel the same way about certain issues,” Toporek said.

Issues Toporek said are of growing concern to his agency include Medicaid reimbursement for the elderly and a “new lower middle class” of the unemployed seeking help from federations.

“We are concerned with the impact of cuts in Medicaid on nursing homes and the elderly poor,” Toporek said. “In that respect we do share a lot of those concerns [with the JLC and WFUNJ].”

The JLC seeks to be matchmaker between the local Jewish and labor communities, according to to Arieh Lebowitz, its associate director.

“We speak the language of the Jewish community and the language of labor,” said Lebowitz. “The Jewish community used to understand the language of labor, and a lot of labor unionists spoke Yiddish. There are still Jews in the labor movement, but fewer have roots in the Jewish community.… Our goal is to be a shidduch between the Jewish community and the local labor movement.”

The JLC was formed by Yiddish-speaking immigrant trade union leaders in 1934 in reaction to the rise of Nazism in Germany, according to the JLC website. During World War II, the JLC established underground channels to anti-Nazi labor, socialist, and Jewish forces. Historically, in the United States, the JLC maintained close ties with the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

One possibility that could emerge from the new partnership with WFUNJ would be the presentation to local labor unions of a program developed by the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey on Israel as a democracy, according to Joy Kurland, the agency’s director. Schwartz recently met with the JCRC and suggested this idea.

Another possibility would be to arrange for local labor unionists to meet with Israeli labor unionists, Kurland added.

The JLC’s effort to revive traditional ties between the Jewish and labor communities comes at a time when labor unions are weathering criticism across the state and the nation.

“Unions and collective bargaining are under attack,” said Schwartz. “It’s important to raise the level of awareness and advocacy on these issues.”

The JLC’s outreach is also social: The agency held its annual Labor Seder in partnership with the State Association of Jewish Federations on April 13. Held at Cong. Ahavath Sholom, the only remaining synagogue in Newark, it brought together members of the local Jewish and other communities as well as labor union activists. Guests included Thomas Giblin, president of the Essex-West Hudson Labor Council, as well as leaders of several local labor unions including the Food and Commercial Workers’ Union, the Bakers’ and Confectioners’ Union, the Service Employees’ International Union, and the International Association of Machinists.

Also in attendance were Toporek and Ruth Cole, president of the State Association of Jewish Federations.

“It was a lovely gathering of people from many walks of life celebrating freedom for the Jewish people and for all people,” said Cole, who lives in Ridgewood.

“I’ve been to three or four Labor Seders and this one was the best,” said Toporek. “The people who organized it worked well together. They tried to bring the labor unions and the communities together and succeeded. You could really feel warmth in the room.”


Rutgers Hillel celebrates successes in combating anti-Israelism on campus

Honorees and others at last week’s gala are, front row, from left, Mark Busch, Michal Greenbaum, Katie Landy, Ruth Cole, Andrew Getraer, (not an honoree but Rutgers Hillel executive director), Rona Shein, Raffi Mark, and Frankie Busch (not an honoree but a co-chair of the event). In the back row, from left, are Liran Kapoano, Leonard Cole, Jeff Shein, Mariya Badu, Melissa Schoffer (not an honoree but a co-chair), and Sarah Morrison. courtesy Rutgers Hillel

It was a tough year for friends of Israel on the Rutgers campus.

But last Tuesday night, at the Rutgers Hillel Gala held in Livingston, student activists got a warm reminder that they don’t stand alone as community leaders from all corners of the state came out to support the 68-year-old campus organization.

“The Rutgers Hillel Gala was an overwhelming success by every yardstick,” said Andrew Getraer, executive director of Rutgers Hillel. “We surpassed both attendance and fundraising goals by comfortable margins and, perhaps most important, the evening was a social success thanks to the Hillel students who provided programming and master of ceremonies duties. The gala was a perfect end to a highly successful Hillel school year and provided a running boost to the $18 million capital campaign to construct a new Hillel on the Rutgers campus.”

Some 275 people attended.

Local students spotlighted include Sam Weiner of Paramus, who was one of the masters of ceremonies for the evening, and two of the undergraduates who received “Student Rising Star” awards: Mariya Badu of Fair Lawn and Raffi Mark of Wayne. Michal Greenbaum, originally of Teaneck, who graduated in 2007, received Hillel’s first Young Alumni Award.

Highlighting the connection between the campus community and the established Jewish community was the leadership award given to Leonard and Ruth Cole of Ridgewood. Ruth Cole is president of the New Jersey Association of Jewish Federations, which is funding Hillel’s battles on behalf of Israel on campus. (See related story.) Leonard Cole is chair of the Birthright-Israel Committee of the Jewish Federations of North America and a faculty member at Rutgers, where he is an expert in bioterrorism and terror medicine on the faculty of the Division of Global Affairs.

Mark, along with Liran Kapoano of Highland Park, presented a program entitled Fighting the Delegitimization of Israel on Campus.

“Since November of last year we have been subjected to numerous anti-Israel events and a significant increase in campus tensions,” said Mark. “Rarely has a day gone by when we have not had demonstrations, op-eds, or events that seek to falsely cast Israel as an aggressive, apartheid state or even draw comparisons between the Jewish state’s defensive actions and Nazi Germany’s Final Solution.”

“Rutgers University has found itself on the front lines of international anti-Israel efforts, as well as some visiting programs that can only be described as anti-Jewish,” said Getraer. “I was very proud of the Hillel student leadership and how they rose to the occasion to delegitimize the delegitimizers.”

One such event, co-sponsored by pro-Palestinian group BAKA (Belief, Awareness, Knowledge, Activism) and IJAN (the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network), was entitled Never Again for Anyone. The premise of the event was that the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israelis was equivalent to the treatment of Jews and other political prisoners of the Nazis during the Holocaust. It was advertised as “free and open to the public,” and so as a response Hillel organized a silent protest. Several students planned to sit in the front rows of the event wearing yellow shirts that said “Don’t Politicize the Holocaust” and, during one of the pro-Palestinian speeches, stand for a moment of silence before exiting. The event caught the attention of Jewish leaders from surrounding communities, and almost 400 people showed up to protest. Seeing that they were outnumbered almost three to one, the cost of admission, which previously was a suggested donation, suddenly became mandatory. The protest was thus held outside the event’s doors.

Hillel was on the front lines crafting responses to each anti-Israel event as it came up, as well as creating new pro-Israel programs to bring the community together. During Apartheid Week, Hillel set up a booth near BAKA’s apartheid wall and handed out cake with an Israeli flag design in the icing, as well as pamphlets, Israeli candy, and snacks. The overall feeling from the group was that the pro-Israel side attracted far more passers-by than the wall.

There were also many pro-Israel events that were not reacting to anti-Israel sentiment. For instance, IsraelFest, held just a few days before RutgersFest, included a large inflatable rock wall labeled Masada for anyone who wanted to climb. Participants left with bags and sunglasses labeled IsraelFest, as well as pamphlets and other sources of information on the Jewish state.

“This year has been a stressful year with constant reminders of the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel movement on campus,” said Mark, “but Hillel has remained not only supportive but a true safe haven against negativity which will only improve with the new staff.”

In addition to its pro-Israel activities, Hillel also is a resource for many Jewish religious and cultural events and activities, such as Birthright trips, ASB (Alternative Spring Break) trips to Guatemala, Israel, and New Orleans, and programs for freshmen to get acquainted with one another and Hillel.

Badu’s description of her experience with Hillel exemplifies the role of the organization in forging Jewish identity among students.

“I was never fully sure what Judaism meant to me as I was not raised religiously,” said Badu, who was born in Russia. “I was unable to identify myself with a specific denomination. Through Birthright and my experiences within Hillel, I have been truly able to embrace my identity and come to terms with my strong cultural ties to Judaism, which have come to be an integral component of my identity. Hillel played such a pivotal role in my college career and inspired me to continue to be involved in the Jewish community now that I have graduated.”

“Working with student leaders such as these every single day is one of the best parts of my job,” said Getraer at the gala. “The generation of Jewish youth today faces challenges like we’ve never seen before. We intend to give them the inspiration to become Jewish leaders.”

Anti-Israel graffiti on an "Israeli apartheid wall" set up on Rutgers campus.

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).

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