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UJA-NNJ head moving on to ‘next chapter’

Voices from the next generation

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

The Jewish Standard spoke with some of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

UJA-NNJ Women’s Division becomes Women’s Philanthropy

The federation world is no stranger to name changes.

In 2009, for example, United Jewish Communities — created in 1999 by the merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, United Israel Appeal, and United Jewish Appeal —changed its name to the Jewish Federations of North America.

Closer to home, the Women’s Division of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey has followed the model set by its umbrella organization, National Women’s Philanthropy (a name adopted in 2002), and changed its own name to Women’s Philanthropy.

The name change “is much more than just semantics,” said Women’s Philanthropy Director Jodi Heimler.

In addition to “branding” the local group with the name being used by many of the 69 federation women’s groups throughout the country, the change reflects the growing orientation of its members.

“We felt that ‘Women’s Philanthropy’ is more self-explanatory than ‘Women’s Division,’” said the group’s co-president, Stephanie Goldman-Pittel.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “There’s amazing programming already going on. There’s no place for territoriality.”

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Jodi Heimler, left, Stephanie Goldman-Pittel, and Gale Bindelglass

“‘Women’s Division’ didn’t say who we are,” agreed Gale S. Bindelglass, who, with Goldman-Pittel heads the UJA-NNJ women’s arm. “‘Philanthropy’ means love of humankind, and that is what women believe in. It’s not just monetary gifts but the gift of time and caring about volunteerism.”

The proposal to change the name of the local group came before the Women’s Division board in 2009, said Heimler, who added that it was approved unanimously. The new title was adopted in July 2010.

“There was a lot of discussion,” she said. “In the beginning, it was felt by some that the new name implied you’d have to be a big giver.”

But after hearing from members of the national women’s board, they came to understand the reason behind the change.

“They told us the meaning of the word ‘philanthropy’ and the Greek root meaning love of mankind,” Heimler said. “They also gave the board comfort by talking about the transition in their own communities.”

Heimler said that Women’s Philanthropy “is so much more than the ladies who lunch,” a term that has increasingly gone out of favor.

“We bristle at that thought,” said Goldman-Pittel. “It’s been so long since that has been a reality. We basically want to encompass all women in the community in what we do. We realize that we’re different groups of women in levels of observance, age, geography, wealth — but we share the commonality of wanting to help others.”

“Our mission is twofold,” said Bindelglass. “Inspired by the ideas of tzedakah and tikkun olam, we try to support the annual campaign through fund-raising, but we also want to build a stronger Jewish community by engaging women in the mission of supporting the community, Israel, and [Jewish communities] in 60 countries around the world.”

Goldman-Pittel said the group wants women in the community to understand “that we’re not just putting our hand out and asking for their money. We’re asking them to be involved.”

“It’s a subtle shift,” said Heimler, adding that Women’s Philanthropy can offer participants a “menu” of volunteer activities. “But once they put in their big toe, they’ll understand the mission. It’s not just about the money but about improving the world.”

Women are no strangers to giving, she said, noting that some 3,000 women donated to last year’s campaign in their own names, constituting 41 percent of the total donors and providing 24 percent of the monies pledged.

“Women give from the heart,” said Bindelglass. “With the economic downturn, they sense the greater need. They’re particularly sensitive.”

Goldman-Pittel pointed out that the growth in women’s philanthropy is part of a national trend. “Women are the fastest-growing philanthropic group in the country,” she said, citing last year’s study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

The study found that, at every income level, households headed by women are more likely to donate to charity than those headed by men.

Recognizing the growing role of women in this area, Women’s Philanthropy not only encourages women to donate but allows them to weigh in on how the contributions will be used.

“We trying to educate them,” said Heimler. For example, in making solicitation calls on Super Sunday, “we tell wives that we’d love to have them stand up and make a gift in their own names. ‘You wouldn’t let your husband vote for you,’ we say.”

In addition to generating additional monies, getting donations from both husbands and wives increases the visibility of the Jewish community, she said, pointing out “that our representatives in Washington count the number of donors to the federation’s annual campaign as a touchstone of how many Jews are involved. There’s strength in numbers.”

“We’re trying to get more women into the fold,” Heimler said. “This started years before the name change.” She noted, for example, that the invitation to the May 2009 spring luncheon included a check-off list of volunteer opportunities.

Another important development has been the emphasis on inter-agency cooperation, she said.

“When volunteers deliver kosher meals on wheels, they learn that the meals are cooked at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh and that the program is coordinated by Jewish Family Service,” she said. “They learn the [connection] between the various agencies.”

And, said Bindelglass, who also serves on the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council, there is now a greater effort to publicize JCRC events among other federation groups.

 
 
 
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