The office in Scotch Plains may be the same, but the plaque on the door has a new name: On July 1, the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations was replaced by a new entity: the Jewish Federations of New Jersey (JFNJ).
Joshua Cohen, director of government relations and external affairs of the new body, previously served as director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey regional office. He is quickly finding out what his new position entails.
“The first two weeks are always making sure the phones and e-mail work — along with meetings. I’m getting it going,” said Cohen, who was involved in assuring a smooth transition from the State Association and its longtime executive director and veteran lobbyist Jacob Toporek, who served in the role for 12 years.
One of Cohen’s first duties was to analyze the FY2020 New Jersey Budget that was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy June 30 and came into effect July 1. Cohen will continue pursuing the aims of Toporek, whose work helped the State Association represent the Garden State’s estimated 500,000 Jewish residents.
“Overall, we are grateful for how the Jewish communal priorities were represented in the budget. In what was a contentious budget year, we came out largely unscathed,” said Cohen. “As you know, Gov. Murphy signed a $38.7 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2020. The governor line-item vetoed $48.5 million in legislative priorities and put a hold on $235 million of spending.”
That $235 million hold affects many nonprofits, but spared crucial funding important to the Jewish community; Toporek’s lobbying efforts were widely credited for laying the groundwork during the Legislature’s spring budget hearings and discussions for maintaining funding for items of concern to the Jewish community.
“We were very pleased to be spared that fate for two critical appropriations that we led advocacy on: the Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program (HSAP) and the NJ Nonprofit Security Grant Pilot Program,” said
“The $400,000 appropriated for HSAP is the seventh consecutive year of funding for HSAP by the state, and totals $2.6 million,” he said. “We are grateful to the governor and legislature for their long-standing commitment to care for Holocaust survivors residing in our communities.”
Given the increased challenges to the New Jersey Jewish community, such as the appearance of swastikas in several New Jersey school districts, security is a major issue for the Garden State Jewish community, a subject Cohen knows better than most, given his previous position at the ADL.
“In light of increased numbers of reported hate crimes and anti-Semitic incidents at near-historic levels, we led a coalition of interfaith partners to pursue an additional $1 million for the Nonprofit Security Grant Pilot Program,” he said. “Additionally, at our behest, we had advocated that a core function be added to eligible grants to include ‘target hardening’ along with security personnel.”
JFNJ is serving as the coordinated voice of the organized NJ Jewish community to foster relationships between and within the Jewish community, the NJ community at large, and the people and government of Israel. In addition, JFNJ is leveraging strategic partnerships with non-profit groups across New Jersey, coordinating the efforts of the five leading Jewish federations: Greater MetroWest NJ; Northern New Jersey; Heart of New Jersey; Jewish Federation of Somerset, Hunterdon & Warren Counties; and Southern New Jersey.
Another New Jersey legislative item certain to appear on JFNJ’s radar in the coming months is the bipartisan legislation to prohibit anti-Semitism in public schools and institutions of higher education statewide. It was introduced June 20 in the State Senate by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Dist. 3) and Sen. Robert Singer (R-Dist. 30).