In a celebration of Hanukka and the first year as a merged entity, the Jewish communities of greater Middlesex and Monmouth counties came together to celebrate its accomplishments, explore ways to address unmet needs, and recognize people who helped get the merger off to a successful start.
About 150 people attended the first annual meeting of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ, held Dec. 9 at the Grand Marquis in Old Bridge. Guests heard about federation partners that care for seniors, Holocaust survivors, children, and others locally, in Israel, and overseas.
Life and Legacy chair Michael Wasserman of Highland Park announced a federation partnership with the Massachusetts-based Harold Grinspoon Foundation that will help local institutions create endowments and attract bequests to strengthen and enhance Jewish life (see sidebar).
With “new relationships and friendships based on shared goals,” the federation, said its president, Mitch Frumkin, has “engaged thousands of Jews who were not previously connected to the federation or the community in social, educational, and philanthropic ways.”
He said the merger, which took place last Jan. 1, was not designed to produce a financial benefit in the short term; nevertheless, the $4.5 million entity freed up $150,000 by combining functions.
Community impact committee cochair Adrienne Ross of Kendall Park said that 35 percent of federation funds are allocated toward programs for the vulnerable, including the delivery of 43,000 kosher meals-on-wheels throughout Middlesex and Monmouth counties each year. She spoke to the profound meaning she gets from her work on behalf of the federation and community.
Shirley Sommers of East Brunswick spoke of federation’s support of the Jewish Social Service Committee of New Brunswick and Highland Park, Inc., which for 100 years has been providing food, rent, mortgage, and rent assistance to desperate community members in Middlesex County.
Elizabeth Binstein of Metuchen, a junior at Rutgers University studying social work, addressed the gathering, lauding federation support for programs “that have instilled a love of Jewish values and helped me become the person I am and the person I will become.” These include the former Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley, federation’s JTeam for teen philanthropists, Rutgers Hillel, Rutgers Jewish Xperience, and Birthright.
Sheri Guttman of Manalapan praised the federation-supported PJ Library, which delivers a Jewish-themed book each month to her young daughters. “Our family is proof that PJ Library inspires young people to embrace their Jewish identify.”
Since the merger, she added, the federation has held “20 PJ events [that] brought together Jewish families of all kinds to make the community vibrant and welcoming for everyone.”
Roseanne Koenigson of Edison spoke of her experiences as chair of the federation-supported Peace of Mind program, which brought 17 Israeli combat veterans to Highland Park and Edison for a week of respite and trauma-related group therapy, sponsored by synagogues of all denominations. Plans are under way to bring in another contingent of IDF vets next fall, and the federation is funding therapy workshops for over 20 army units in Israel. Koenigson said, “The Jewish communities in Israel and the heart of New Jersey are both fortunate to have ‘peace of mind.’”