Gerrie Bamira received accolades from community members, lay leaders, rabbis, and even her two young grandchildren during a gala to thank her for her years as executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.
The champagne gala, held June 11 at the Metro Top Tower in Iselin, drew 220 people. A highlight of the event was the performance of the Israeli Scouts Tzofim Friendship Caravan. Bamira, who is retiring after 14 years as head of the federation, was taken by surprise when two youths in their Scout uniforms came running down the aisle holding large Israeli flags.
She was also presented with a memory book filled with recollections and expressions of appreciation from community members and letters of recognition from state and federal political leaders.
Her grandchildren Jacob, 11, and Geri, seven, came forward to read poems about volunteering at the federation and watching their grandmother perform acts of tzedaka, and finishing with, “We love you Grandma.”
Bamira said that although she was aware of the program, planners managed to keep the details secret.
Bamira spent 28 years working in the federation system, the last 18 in Middlesex, and will retire June 30. Federation associate executive director Susan Antman has been appointed to succeed her.
Rabbi Bennett Miller of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, a life member of the federation’s board, emphasized Bamira’s commitment to uniting the many disparate parts of the community, including its rabbis. She did so, he said, “with an overflowing heart and incredible generosity.”
Miller said it has been a privilege to be associated with Bamira. “On behalf of all the people here, for all the members of federation and the entire community throughout Middlesex County, we thank you,” he said.
Former federation president and event cochair Lee Livingston focused on Bamira’s dedication to the federation cause and its “impact on families, children, and grandchildren” for generations yet to come.
Livingston recalled that Bamira “never took no as an answer” and talked about how she turned around the phrase “give until it hurts” to “give until it feels good.”
“You made this a truly caring community and your vision was so positive people were happy to buy in,” he said.
Another former federation president and event cochair, Marlene Herman, pointed out that, in lieu of gifts, Bamira had asked that an endowment be established at Woman to Woman: Jerusalem Shelter for Battered Women, with which the Middlesex federation has a longstanding relationship.
Such generosity, said Herman, marked Bamira’s entire tenure.
In her remarks, Bamira recalled her return to the United States after spending 10 years in Israel with her husband, Yossy. She described dropping her children off at preschool at the former Jewish Community Center in Deal, when she saw a sign for the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County. She went into the office, had a long conversation with a federation representative, and came out hours later thinking, she said, “Wow, so this is what the Jews in the United States are doing for Jews around the world.”
She then became an active federation volunteer before being hired as a staff associate in Monmouth in 1986, rising to become director of its community relations council and then campaign/associate director.
In 1996, Bamira was hired by Middlesex federation as director of endowments and planned giving, and four years later was appointed executive director.
“I’ve loved and been inspired by the people I’ve met during my time at federation, and I’ve been so lucky to engage in tikun olam,” repairing the world, said an emotional Bamira. “When I arrived 18 years ago, you embraced me, allowed me to be challenged and learn from you, and I’ve learned so much. I’m here and ready to volunteer and give back wherever needed.
“From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Middlesex.”