I am honored to have been appointed to the board of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey along with Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of the United Synagogue of Hoboken.
The federation should be commended for its inclusive outreach effort in southern Hudson County. From its inclusion of area residents in the Berrie Fellowship program and its Birthright trips, to its support of the Moishe House, to its annual amazing Israel Independence Day celebration and its partnership with local Jewish institutions, the federation has shown it has a vision that includes southern Hudson County.
Southern Hudson County is comprised of the Jewish communities in Bayonne, Jersey City, and Hoboken, which are the only three municipalities now outside the Jewish federation system in New Jersey. While the Jewish experience in Hudson County (north and south) was ephemeral in the past, today’s Jewish population in Hoboken and Jersey City has put down strong roots, and the community in Bayonne is likely to grow as well if the rumored 2017 ferry comes to fruition.
From empty-nesters to young adults, from young families to Israeli immigrants, hipsters, and chassids, the the Jewish community in southern Hudson County has grown at an incredible rate in the last decade.
From the United Synagogue of Hoboken (led by the intellectually stimulating Rabbi Scheinberg) to the growing Chabad of Hoboken and Jersey City, from independent Rosh Chodesh groups to Mesorah NJ, from Moishe House to the Jewish Young Adults of Jersey City, from the Bayonne JCC to the PJ Library, Hebrew schools, and more, Jewish life is booming here.
None of this would have happened without the dedicated efforts of volunteer leaders who worked long and hard for no compensation. Those leaders include Marni and Russel Kreigel of the UJA campaign of Hoboken and also such dedicated clerical leadership as Rabbi Debra Hachen of Congregation Beth-El of Jersey City and Rabbi Jacob Benzaquen of Temple Emanu-El of Bayonne, who have gone above and beyond their role as clergy to help grow the community.
Recently, two community leaders, Adam Weiss and Joyce Boll, organized community meetings to explore what the future of Jewish life in southern Hudson County should be. At the meetings we discussed: Are we satisfied with the current system, which some call piecemeal? Do we want to form our own federation? Should we join a nearby federation?
While I can speak only for myself, the zeitgeist of the meetings was clear. We want to be part of a larger federated Jewish community.
Both the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest expressed interest in being partners with us in the development of the southern Hudson Jewish community. The national federation umbrella, the Jewish Federations of North America, sent a professional consultant, Debra Stein, to facilitate the discussions, help communicate our ideas, and further the dialogue between the two federations and the community in southern Hudson County. Recently, MetroWest’s board decided to cease pursuing our area. In the last few years it has merged with two other federations. While it is a missed opportunity for it, the decision is understandable.
Fortunately, JFNNJ has decided to pursue working with us to grow and enrich Jewish life in the area. Considering that JFNNJ already includes the northern half of Hudson County, this makes sense. The JFNNJ’s board and officers, including its president, Jayne Petak, and its CEO, Jason Shames, understand the benefit of having all of Hudson County within the federation.
The JFNNJ and southern Hudson County leaders are working to create a mechanism to incorporate southern Hudson County in the federation. Guiding the transition from independent communities to the partnership that is a Jewish federation is the first goal for the southern Hudson community leadership, but leaders across all of Hudson, both north and south, both during and after the process, must remain active and empowered. They must continue to act as the stakeholders the community needs them to be.
This is a truly rare win-win scenario. The JFNNJ is stepping up to the plate by building upon, working with, and empowering those who invested countless hours and effort into building the community. At the same time, Hudson County will gain from the professionalism, experience, and resources of a well-led federation.