Home February 2024 Reaffirming Duty to Local Needs

Reaffirming Duty to Local Needs

Annual Meeting 2023 Discussion

Federation Recounts Successes of Last Year at Annual Meeting

While the Israel-Hamas war continues to loom large over the Jewish community, the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey has stepped up to provide support to Israel while continuing initiatives helping the broader Jewish community.
     “We can never forget out commitments to local partners caring for the elderly  and people with special needs and mental health concerns,” federation Executive Director Susan Antman told a crowd gathered at the Monroe Township Senior Center on Dec. 14 for the federation’s annual meeting.
     Community members spoke about what the federation has done for their synagogues and organizations, elected a slate of officers, paid tribute to hostages being held by Hamas and showed a community that remains resilient and proactive in the fight against antisemitism and in engaging with and supporting young and old.
     The federation’s efforts include enhancing security at synagogues and other Jewish institutions as antisemitism continues to rise as a result of the war, initiatives to educate children and working with government to pass important legislation and provide needed funding.
    Among the beneficiaries were Holocaust survivors and seniors, for whom

Annual Meeting 2023 Honoring Israelis

the federation was able to obtain significant grants, including national  advocacy that resulted in a 40% increase in Holocaust survivor assistance.
     At the state level, a new law spearheaded by the federation will improve already required Holocaust and genocide education in schools.
    At a brainstorming session, other suggestions about how federation could engage the community were made, including using social media to reach people and spread accurate information, the need to engage young adults and creating a program to support pro-Israel businesses.
    Even with the many accomplishments of the last year, the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks that left more than 1,200 innocent Israeli civilians dead and more than 200 taken hostage was not forgotten on this last night of Hanukkah, where candles were lit in their honor by community leaders.
     “When Hamas attacked the people of Israel Oct. 7, like you, we were stunned, and outraged and grief-stricken,” Antman said. “But the federation was prepared. Not because we saw into the future, but because we have been here before. We were built for this.”
    Antman said the federation had flagged growing antisemitism a decade ago and in the interim helped the community access millions of dollars in grants for improving security, training for almost 1,000 leaders, building relationships with law enforcement and advocating for legislation.
    The war and its surge of antisemitism have been met by federation with a new enhanced reporting system and by joining forces with eight other Jewish organizations in forming the Jewish Security Alliance of New York/New Jersey, a network of shared intelligence, resources and training.
    Moreover, Antman said the federation helped Jewish organizations bring in $2.5 million in federal nonprofit security grants.
    Rick Estrin, the security liaison for Congregation Etz Chaim-Monroe Township Jewish Center, said the grant to his synagogue was “a lifesaver for us” and praised the federation’s continuous support and assistance in security matters.
    Antisemitic graffiti was recently spray-painted on the synagogue and on a piece of reflective tape left on a front sidewalk. A 15-year-old juvenile was arrested in connection with  the incident.  
    Among the initiatives that have made the community is the federation’s longstanding push to ensure the future  of the Jewish community through PJ Library, which has engaged 6,300 young people and their families through events and age-appropriate materials. The war has sparked a 30% increase in subscriptions  as parents seek a way to connect with  community, Antman said.   
     Jessica Volk, a PJ Library ambassador for Middlesex County, said the books and community events ensure that Jewish traditions are passed from generation to generation.
    “PJ Library is proud to make these connections possible,” she said.
    To ensure a thriving Jewish future, six years ago federation partnered with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation to establish the Life & Legacy Program, whereby local organizations, synagogues and institutions have donations earmarked specially to them. The program has so far brought in $15 million for participating entities, Antman noted, allowing donors  to “pass on Jewish values, [and] perpetuate cherished traditions and resources of Jewish life after they are gone.”
    Joel Weissglass, Life & Legacy lead at the Rumson Jewish Center, said being part of the program, including the training provided by federation, permits his synagogue and others to have a strong stream of income.
    To lessen partisan tensions within the Jewish community and build interfaith alliances, the federation rebooted its Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) almost five years ago.
    In light of the upswing in antisemitism generated by the war, JCRC member Jhanna  Even said despite the “deep disappointment” at the “virulent hate” directed at Jews since the start of the hostilities, JCRC would continue its outreach work.
    Federation Second Vice President Jeff Schwartz said as the meeting ended that  “since Oct. 7 it felt different to be a Jew in America. I  felt an existential threat, which is new to me,” but much as in the Hanukkah story, he was optimistic the community would overcome.
     “I don’t know about you, but I feel invigorated to fight,” said Schwartz after hearing about the ways federation was helping the community stand up to hate while providing its ongoing support of vital initiatives.   
    During the annual meeting, community leaders paid tribute to Israelis slain by Hamas terrorists. 

Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly  daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.




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