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In praise of non-partisanship


And the winners are…

Adler Family Innovation Fund grantees emphasize community, collaboration

When leaders of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) hammered out a strategic plan last year, they were clear that they wanted the organization to continue playing a role in the community beyond raising money. They wanted it to take a lead role in bringing new and innovative Jewish programs to northern New Jersey.

To do this, the federation leaders created a special fund. With a major gift from Dana Adler; her husband, James; and in-laws, Mike and Elaine Adler; JFNNJ created the Adler Family Innovation Fund, now a $200,000 project.

In November, the federation announced six grantees, culled from 75 proposals.

According to Dana Adler, volunteers evaluated the proposals and selected the recipients.

The Adler family: Elaine and Mike Adler, Dana and Jim Adler

“The federation did a great job” including people in the evaluation process, said Adler, who was part of a small group reviewing dozens of proposals.

“There was a very specific rating system. Was a proposal innovative, was it financially responsible, could it be replicated? And then you had to kind of fight for what you were passionate about,” she said, adding that she enjoyed the chance to meet new people through these discussions.

Carol Silberstein, who chaired the funding process subcommittee of the Innovation Fund, said the criteria for selection reflected federation’s fourfold mission: to promote and expand a sense of Jewish identity; to expand the affordability and accessibility of Jewish learning and cultural experiences; to provide a safety net; and to strengthen the connection of the Jewish community of northern New Jersey with Israel.

“The vast majority of programs had to do with first two categories,” she said. “Almost all of the projects involve collaboration or leveraging the dollars. We’re able to really see the value-added of what we do.”

With the grants just announced, many details have yet to be worked out. Most activities are scheduled to begin in the spring. But the first funded program takes place this Sunday morning at Temple Avodat Shalom.

The following programs received Innovation Fund grants.

Kehillah Partnership/PJ Library: A ‘concierge’ website for young families

Is there one place young families can turn for information about Jewish resources in the Bergen County area?

Soon, there will be.

“It will be both a 24x7 guide to what’s happening locally in this community, what kind of Chanukah programs are there, for example, as well as a directory of what’s out there, so if a family moves to the area, it will be one-stop shopping,” said Linda Ripps.

Ripps works on community programming for the Kehillah Partnership, an umbrella group for area synagogues and Jewish institutions, which will be administering the grant together with the PJ Library

“The Kehillah Partnership’s goal is to make Jewish life more accessible and more affordable,” she said. “The website’s goal is to make the wealth of Jewish life that’s available in our community more accessible for families.”

The proposal, she said, is an example of how new ideas are percolating through the national Jewish community. Ripps learned of a similar program, Mazeltot, in Denver during a national conference for communities participating in the PJ Library program, which distributes Jewish children books.

Matan: Special needs awareness in congregational schools

Is your Hebrew school able to teach children with special needs?

Making the Jewish community fully inclusive of students with special needs is the mission of Matan, which will bring its services to New Jersey thanks to the Innovation Fund.

The grant will enable Matan to offer professional development workshops for Hebrew and Sunday schools. A two-day program planned for March will bring together heads of congregational schools, and training will continue over the subsequent year. An August program is planned for congregational teachers.

“Our hope is that we will have teams [consisting] of an educational director, with a few of his or her teachers, who will become much more knowledgeable about the resources that exist, what schools can and should be doing, how to speak to parents, and how to diversify lessons,” said Dori Frumin Kirshner, executive director of Matan and a Closter resident.

“Whether we’re talking about children struggling with language and auditory processing issues, or with more social issues, we would like to empower and educate the current leadership on how to handle that in their own institutions,” she said.

Kirshner is beginning the process of reaching out to the community’s rabbis and educators to invite them to apply for the program.

Kaleidoscope: Mainstreaming Ethiopian children through soccer

About 10 of the 75 grant proposals received by the Adler fund came from Israeli programs, so it’s fitting that one of the six winners is an Israeli project, this one targeting Ethiopian children.

“Their particular program combines teaching soccer skills — and the teamwork that comes from learning soccer — with computer activities, as well as learning from Jewish texts about what it means to be Jewish,” says Silberstein. “I love the approach.”

The program is run by the Israel-based Kaleidoscope organization, which seeks to promote the development of social and emotional skills. In keeping with the principle of using federation money to leverage other resources, the Adler grant is being matched by the Israeli Maccabi Association.

The program is based in Rosh Pina, near Safed. One of the conditions for receiving the grant is that the program be expanded to include the absorption center in Nahariya, the federation’s partner city, about 40 miles to the west of Rosh Pina.

“To infuse soccer with Jewish culture is incredible,” said Dana Adler. “To be able to help these immigrants in our partnership city is incredible.”

Shalom Hartman Institute: Upgrading the Israel conversation

Acknowledging that Israel has become a fraught subject for American Jews — with the long-standing intensity of Israel political debate having made its way to our shores — the Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute has created a program to “elevate” the ongoing dialogue.

“We’re trying to introduce a new way of approaching and talking about Israel,” says Rabbi Julia Andelman, director of the Engaging Israel project of the Hartman Institute. “It’s based on Jewish values, as discerned through Jewish texts, to bring people together across political lines into a substantive and meaningful conversation about Israel.

“One of the core aspects is to try to move beyond a crisis narrative, of thinking about Israel in perpetually post-Holocaust terms and in a defensive mindset, and instead allowing ourselves to think in aspirational terms about what Israel can be, what role we can have, even from North America, in creating and strengthening the Jewish state based on our Jewish values,” said Andelman, a Teaneck resident.

With the grant, Hartman will train area rabbis to bring its nine-unit curriculum into their congregations. The course examines questions such as the meaning of Jewish sovereignty, Jewish power, war and occupation, religious pluralism, and human rights — “the really core issues that come into play once you have a Jewish state,” said Andelman.

The grant will also enable the creation of a mini-course for lay leaders — details have yet to be determined — as well as a series of public lectures for the community by Hartman scholars.

“I’m definitely excited to bring this into my home territory,” said Andelman. “It’s a fantastic curriculum, uniquely able to bring people together from different positions, people who are in an uncomfortable place with Israel and people who are in a more comfortable place and not able to understand the discomfort of others.”

Sparks: Raising awareness of post-partum depression

Sparks ( assists women suffering from pre- and post-natal depression and other mental illnesses. Founded in Brooklyn, it currently servies mainly Orthodox communities, including Lakewood in New Jersey.

The Innovation Fund grant will bring Sparks to northern New Jersey, where it will work with local Jewish Family Service agencies to develop an awareness of the problem. They will engage not just the mothers but also their husbands, caregivers, doctors, rabbis, etc., and then create a model of service delivery.

Temple Avodat Shalom/Jewish Outreach Institute:

Inviting non-Jewish mothers into the community Are you — or someone you know — a non-Jewish woman raising Jewish children?

Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge has a program for you — with help from an Adler grant.

Sunday morning at 9 a.m., a “Hanukkah Helper” program will offer guidance to participants on celebrating the holiday.

After the holiday, there will be a three-part discussion group.

This schedule — one pre-holiday session followed by three weeks of post-holiday discussion — will be repeated for Passover and the High Holy Days.

The program is being designed by the Jewish Outreach Institute, which is adapting a longer program to this more focused and compact schedule.

“If I really wanted to reach the families on the periphery, I had to offer something different than a 16-week program,” said Rabbi Neal Borovitz of Avodat Shalom.

“The reality is that many interfaith couples in our community are like the fourth child at the Passover seder. They literally don’t know the questions to ask. They’re not against bringing Judaism into their lives and raising their children Jewish; they don’t know where to go and how to do it.

“If this works, we’ll be able to replicate this on an ongoing basis and share it with sister congregations,” he said.


A donation in time

Federation’s go-to man when local institutions need help

Alan Sweifach has a message for the community’s synagogues and day schools: The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) is here to help you.

Behind Sweifach’s lengthy job title — “co-managing director for community planning-capacity building and engagement” — is a commitment to looking at how all the region’s Jewish institutions can “each help each other to meet whatever the needs are.”

He is responsible for allocating federation money to local institutions, and helping the agencies increase their own capacities. And by institutions, he means the area’s “approximately 80 synagogues, 13 day schools, and eight major agencies,” the latter including three Jewish community centers or Ys, three Jewish family service agencies, and two homes for the elderly.

Alan Sweifach thrives on helping area Jewish institutions help themselves.

As part of his efforts, he has helped local Jewish institutions receive $2.6 million in federal homeland security grants over the past five years.

He helped forward the information about grant procedures as he received it and “boiled it down and synthesized it in a way that’s understandable.” The request for proposals from the federal government was written by and for grant writing professionals, but many of the synagogues and institutions applying for grants had lay leaders writing them, not professionals.

“I tried to give them the information and tools so they themselves could write them,” says Sweifach.

That is an example of how the federation can help other institutions help the community. “Rather than have every institution try to find out about the grant process for themselves, we can get the information for the entire community and pass it down and try to make life easier for them,” he says.

Sweifach says he encourages the agencies to apply, and wants them to know that “federation is there to help them every step of the way. That includes reviewing the applications, and critiquing them, and in some cases doing rewrites myself when I knew they would have a hard time.”

JFNNJ played a key role in getting, and administering, another federation grant: one devoted to “Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities,” or NORCs for short. Service for the grants are provided by the Jewish Family Service agencies and the Jewish homes. Three of those grants have brought $500,000 to northern New Jersey, he says.

As part of its new strategic plan, JFNNJ will begin making allocations in response to formal grant proposals, rather than as simple direct allocations to agencies. (The process was piloted with the grants given by the Adler Family Innovation Fund — see related article.)

“Our goal is to make it as easy for the agencies as possible,” he says of the new procedure. “We will help the agencies through it as best we can.”

And if the process leads to the agencies having better grant-writing skills, that would be a useful by-product. “The same things we may require from the agencies, other funding sources also require,” he says.

Sweifach’s advice for people filling out grant applications: “A lot of it is just common sense. Answer the questions in the way that they’re asking them. If you can’t follow the instructions the way they’re asking, that will be an indication to the funder that you can’t administer the program in the way they expect you to.”

Additionally, “funders these days are increasingly looking toward collaboration. They’re looking for people working together. If you don’t have the capacity yourself and you have a great idea for a great program, try to find someone who has the capacity to write that grant.”

Meanwhile, Sweifach keeps an eye out for grant opportunities that could help the local organizations. “If something is of interest to an agency or day school, I absolutely will forward it to them. If I can be of help in putting partners together, I will do it. If there is a role for ‘the fed’ in writing or advocating a community-wide grant, we will certainly be doing that.”

“The value-added federation can provide involves bringing the agencies together to meet the needs of the community in the best way possible,” he says.


Helping the federation save big bucks for synagogues

Meet Matt Holland

As an engineer for Black and Decker, Matt Holland held 19 patents.

“The plaques hang proudly in my basement,” said the Highland Park resident, now community purchasing manager for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Kehillah Partnership Initiative.

Holland is the man responsible for negotiating savings for the JFNNJ catchment area’s nearly 160 eligible groups — including synagogues, day schools, affiliated agencies, and community centers. He says his technical knowledge has come in handy.

Matt Holland

For example, when he tells a synagogue board member how the shul can save money on an electric bill, “I can go through the fine print on a PSE&G bill and make the average congregant understand it.”

Born and raised in Baltimore, Holland studied mechanical engineering at Philadelphia’s Drexel University before taking a job at Black and Decker, where he worked for eight years. After five years as a developmental engineer, “It soon became clear to those around me that I had a talent for negotiation.

“I moved into the purchasing world,” he said. “My personality was different from that of the standard engineer. When I went to China — and all over the world — as an engineer, the people I traveled with realized that my personality was suited for negotiation and vendor development.”

Holland met his wife, Shelley, in college. Living in Baltimore while working at Black and Decker, the couple decided to move to Highland Park — a place they knew well from previous visits and where they have lived for the past six years.

Leaving Black and Decker, he got a job as the “purchasing person” at Echo Unlimited.

“It entailed indirect spending — back-office stuff that people take for granted,” he said, adding that he was able to streamline purchasing for the company, putting the process online. Subsequently, he was asked to manage the facility.

When the economy began its downward trend, Echo — as did so many businesses — felt the negative effects. “We were closing facilities, retail and distribution centers, and putting a freeze on spending,” he said. “I could see the writing on the wall.”

As he began to look for other employment, he did some “soul-searching,” resolving to “look outside the box.” Fortunately, he said, Robin Greenfield, JFNNJ’s chief financial officer, saw his resume.

The federation “had been looking to do group purchasing for years,” he said. “They realized that they needed someone to do it on a day-to-day basis, to have somebody living and breathing it every day.”

With his background, he said, “It was a great fit.” As an observant Jew, he welcomed the opportunity to work for a Jewish organization.

One of the first cost-savings areas he investigated was utilities, looking to leverage volume purchases to save the community money on electricity and gas.

“I love math,” he said. “I get excited about crunching numbers on a big spreadsheet. It’s nice to help organizations understand how they could save money. I can talk technically to people who aren’t technical.”

Holland said his “big passion” is running, although, with three young children — Jonas, 5, Nina, 3, and Bella, 6 months — he does not have as much time to do this as he used to.

“I also love landscaping,” he said, noting that he not only mows his own lawn, but knows a good deal about hedges, bushes, and other plants. In addition, he said, “I’m a huge Baltimore sports fan.”

More than just launching initiatives

Holland said he is gratified that there are now close to 100 community organizations participating in his joint purchasing initiatives.

“There were 16 when I started,” he said, adding that he has so far rolled out nine initiatives: electricity, natural gas, shipping, credit card processing, office supplies, telephone service (voice and data), janitorial supplies, waste removal, and financing.

To date, said Holland, participating groups have saved a combined $1.2 million.

“We have shown that working together can truly impact our bottom lines, as well as create leverage when negotiating with vendors,” he said, suggesting that the program has spread primarily by “creating successes people can look at.”

Joining the program is simple, he said. “All organizations have to do is call or e-mail me and I’ll walk them through our offerings and explain the process to move forward. They just have to supply me with their invoices so I can do a savings analysis. There’s no fee to participate. It’s really a no-brainer.”

“This is how the federation can bring people together,” he said. “It’s about forming relationships. That’s what it’s all about.”

New initiatives this year will include maintenance services and solar power.

School savings seen

“Yeshiva University and the Jewish Education for Future Generations are currently looking at areas that would lower costs among our day schools in northern New Jersey, and maintenance services is one of these areas,” he said. “A few schools have already implemented this and are realizing significant savings.”

For solar power, he said, “I am working behind the scenes with about seven institutions.” If enough organizations participate, combining their kilowatt usage in aggregate, “Solar companies may be willing not only to offer competitive rates but to cover the cost of new roofs for these institutions.” Not only will utility bills be less than what these groups are currently paying, “but they’ll be going green and getting a free roof while saving additional dollars.”

In addition to initiating joint purchasing ventures, Holland has also become a “purchasing sounding board,” advising Jewish organizations on buying items such as new copiers and resolving ongoing vendor issues.

“It’s more than just rolling out initiatives,” he said. “People are looking at their expenses more closely.”

For example, he said, one big synagogue that is doing construction realized that it was being charged for a meter that is not active. Holland worked with all the parties involved, helping the synagogue get a $17,000 refund from PSE&G.

The next community meeting to discuss cost-savings opportunities will be held Dec. 16, 9 a.m., at the JFNNJ office. For more information, call Holland at (201) 820-3932 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


A donation in time

When dialing for dollars is a mitzvah

Last year, George Hantgan marked 60 years of Super Sunday volunteering. With him from left are his daughter, Roberta Hantgan, his wife, Hon, and his grand-niece, Elizabeth Levi.

“Give us a couple of hours,” says Howard Chernin, “and make a world of difference.”

Chernin chairs the Super Sunday telethon, the largest one-day fund raising event for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Each year, Super Sunday raises around $1 million from 2,000 donors.

That is a lot of phone calls.

This Sunday, volunteers will be manning the phone lines — a hundred of them — once again.

And Chernin wants you to join the volunteers.

In particular, he is looking for people to help fill out the three-hour shifts that begin at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. He will be happy, however, to see you even at 9 a.m., or at the start of the noon shift, as well.

Chernin has been making Super Sunday calls for a decade now. It is not as hard as it may seem, he stresses. “You’re just talking to somebody. If you can talk to somebody, you can make a phone call,” he says.

“When you’ve got a person sitting next to you and they’re making the call, it makes you want to make the call. It makes you want to bring in something, whether it is $18 or $72 or whatever it is.”

Chernn says he is bringing his 16-year-old daughter to help make calls on Sunday. She will be joined by peers from the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies, as well as a contingent of college students from Hillel.

In a four-minute training video (at, Chernin lays out the basics. It begins with the instruction to smile. “It will help you relax, and the other person, on the other end, will hear it in your voice,” he says.

Most of the calls go to people who have previously given to the federation. Not all of them, however. For one in 10 of last year’s Super Sunday responders, it was the first time they donated to the federation.

Chernin says that when the volunteers make the calls, they should be listening for signs that the person could benefit from assistance from the Jewish community.

“You’re going to hear stories, ‘I’d love to help you but my husband just lost his job.’ You should say, “By the way, if you need some help, we’re here to help you,’” and pass the call on to a representative of Jewish Family Services.

Volunteers who are afraid to talk to strangers are welcome, says Chernin, and can find ways to help, but “we really need those phone-callers.”

“Give me three hours of your Sunday, I’ll show you how to make a difference. You’ll walk out so positive and excited that you did something good.

“We’re helping adults living in assisted Jewish housing, Ethiopian teens, congregations and synagogue schools, day schools, seniors in the former Soviet Union. There’s so much that we’re doing using this money.

“In our Northern New Jersey community, there are so many families who need help. That’s what federation’s offices are all about, that’s what Jewish Family Service is about. We’re here to help you in time of need.

“This is the easiest way to give back. We’ll feed you, we’ll make you laugh, you’ll get a little tear in your eye talking to people,” he says. “This is a great day.”


Re-evaluating how dollars are spent

Federation puts some education programs on hold

A decision to suspend three long-running programs for area Jewish educators has left the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) on the defensive, but it may have helped spark greater cooperation on educational issues among the community’s rabbis.

Jason Shames, the federation’s chief executive officer, said the programs, which already had been scheduled, are “on hiatus” for the year. The programs were two conferences, one for early childhood educators and one for Hebrew school teachers, and an ongoing forum that gathered together day school principals every few weeks. The resources that would have paid for these programs are instead being used to evaluate the programs and goals of the federation’s Jewish Educational Services (JES) division.

“We don’t have enough bandwidth staff-wise to parallel everything we’re doing while undergoing a process to identify the priority areas,” Shames told The Jewish Standard.

“The core of JES remains the same,” said Shames, pointing to the federation-sponsored Florence Melton Adult Mini-School program and the projects JES undertakes with the day schools. “Jewish education remains a priority.”

Shames pointed to a soon-to-be-announced grant in the $30,000 range to Jewish day schools to support collaborative professional development for teachers. This grant is part of the shift toward grant-based allocations called for by the federation’s strategic plan adopted last year.

Professional development had been the primary focus for JES, which prior to the global financial crisis had a staff of 11, several of them paid for by outside grants. Now it has a staff of two. Organizationally, the staffers are being reassigned to JFNNJ’s Synagogue Life Initiative (SLI).

Shames said the evaluation of JES is part of the process of moving federation’s operations in line with the goals and strategies called for by the strategic plan, which “gave this community a new mission. It talks about the federation providing added value and leadership to the community. It called for goals and objectives that meet that mission. The JES has not been put to the litmus test in terms of our strategic plan.”

Hence, he said, the need for the evaluation. “The needs of our community are far outpacing the entire communal effort to address them, so we need to focus on the federation’s priority areas,” he said.

Initial news of the federation’s retrenchment in educational programming, however, was poorly received by the area’s rabbinic leadership.

The North Jersey Board of Rabbis (NJBR), which is mainly composed of the area’s non-Orthodox rabbis, had begun discussions about working together to enhance Jewish education when it learned of the changes at JES.

Some of the initial concerns the rabbis had were somewhat alleviated following conversations with Shames.

“There are some of us who are unhappy with the decision to reallocate the education dollars this year for the study,” said Rabbi Randall Mark, the current NJBR president. “There are others who have an issue with the process as opposed to the content: Tell us what you’re doing and why, not just that you’re doing it.”

He said that the rabbis understood the motivation for the hiatus. “All of us want the federation to spend wisely,” Mark said. “We acknowledge the need for them to ensure the dollars they receive go for the best possible use. Stopping to take a look is not a bad idea.”

Word of the hiatus at JES came as the rabbis were embarking on their own venture into promoting Jewish education. The group decided to put time and effort into that, and several volunteered to join a committee on the issue.

“We’re going to make this a larger part of our efforts, to work with federation, and to advocate for a broader community involvement in supporting Jewish education,” said Rabbi Benjamin Shull. The rabbi, who leads Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, will assume the NJBR presidency later this month.

The group has been discussing what they as rabbis can do to address “significant changes” in the Jewish educational landscape, among them “some shrinking of the institutions,” Shull said.

“If we need new models and broader representation and support for Jewish education — and I think we do — we should be having some rabbinic voice in trying to bring the broader community together. There’s an overall sense that our community is too fragmented, our educational institutions are working in their own areas, and there’s not enough discussion of collaboration.


Volunteers to take the field on Super Sunday

It’s not too late to join the Super Sunday team

Larry YudelsonLocal
Published: 25 January 2013
(tags): jfnnj

Join the telethon, give to the food drive, and donate blood.

Unlike the teams competing in New Orleans next week, the federation’s Super Sunday team is accepting recruits until the very last minute.

Even rookies are welcome.

“We’re going to train you,” Howard Chernin said. “We’re going to give you the script. We’ll put everything together.

“There’s so much excitement in the room.”

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