The annual Vanguard event of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County kicked off the annual campaign on a hopeful note amid a continuing economic crisis.
“The commitment of this community is extraordinary,” said event chair Lee Livingston in reference to the $1,158, 407 brought in during the Aug. 11 event.
The gathering was held in the historic barn located on the East Brunswick farm of Mike Baker and his family.
“In a day when there are so many excuses to cut philanthropic giving, our community steps forward and is increasing its donations from over a year ago,” said Livingston. “The feedback we are getting from everybody is that it was the best night they have spent in a long time — from the venue, to the caterer, to the incredible speaker.”
Attendance was gratifying, too, he said: “around 100 people who truly care about the community.”
The evening featured a presentation by Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger. The German-born son of a Nazi tank commander honored by Adolf Hitler, he converted to Judaism and wrote about his “transformation” in a book, A German Life.
Last year’s Vanguard brought $1,152,250. The event, for those who have given $5,000 or more to the federation’s annual campaign, kicks off its fund-raising year.
The federation’s fiscal year ended June 30 with a campaign that took in $2.28 million, down 3 percent from last year.
“Vanguard really gets the campaign rolling, and it was a success,” said federation president Arlene Frumkin of Kendall Park. “The theme was ‘transformation’ — and that’s what it was….”
“As we move ahead, we are looking to transform what we are so we can serve our community based on the results of our strategic needs and marketing survey. We are taking those findings and responding to donors and our fellow Jews.”
Federation associate executive director Susan Antman said beyond the total collected, 80 percent of pledges made were equal to or exceeded last year’s.
“That sets a very optimistic tone as we begin our campaign,” she said. “We’re very excited that the community understands we are implementing programming and policies that are important to them while continuing to serve the needs of the Jewish community all over the world.
“We are also grateful that in this economic crisis, those that are able to have generously risen to the occasion to help others who have been adversely affected.”
Honored at the event were Jeffries and Rona Shein of Long Branch, longtime supporters of the federation, and the Marion and Norman Tanzman Foundation — one of the largest contributors in its own right to the Middlesex federation — established by Rona’s parents. Its most recent endeavor is the Tanzman Fellows program, which is cultivating young Jewish community leaders.
Retired superior court judge Barnett Hoffman — a childhood friend of Jeffries’ — spoke of their years as classmates at Roosevelt Junior High School and at Congregation Ahavas Achim, both in New Brunswick.
In a speech punctuated with humorous anecdotes, Hoffman recalled their childhood exploits, Shein’s early jobs, his military service, and meeting his wife, “who is every bit as smart and dedicated as her husband.”
Hoffman said the Sheins “deserve to be honored because they are the most wonderful people I know. It’s not about writing a check, but what that check does — how it helps the Jewish community. They care about the past, they care about the present, and they care about the future.”
As he accepted the award, Jeffries Shein noted that “without the Jewish federation we really don’t have a community.”
Wollschlaeger, who described himself as “a proud Jew,” offered praise to the federation for “maintaining Jewish identity, helping our children maintain their Jewish identity, and helping those in the sunset of their lives to live with dignity.”
“I hope you move forward in a position of strength,” said Wollschlaeger, “and yasher koach for what you do in the world.”