Building a stronger community future through advocacy

Building a stronger community future through advocacy

As I enter the final months of my three-year term as president of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, I want to share some thoughts with you.

I am grateful for the years of service and leadership positions I have held, as they made me deeply aware of the dynamic that is the Jewish community. I have experienced first-hand the unique energy of engagement from community members and activists, who give freely of their time, talents, resources, and efforts to improve the lives of others. I have sensed the compassion these caring people feel for the concerns of those with whom we share our life experiences.

I admire their willingness to take bold and innovative action in collaboration with others as we pursue solutions that benefit the community and individuals alike. Indeed, the success of a significant number of State Association initiatives through the last year is a testament to that dynamic and commitment.

As I highlight the State Association’s various accomplishments below, it might be difficult to quantify the State Association’s dollar-for-dollar return to individual federations and members of our community. Most of the advocacy, networking, education, and government affairs functions in Trenton and Washington are carried out on behalf of the family of Jewish federations and their affiliated and beneficiary agencies.

There is little doubt, however, that the ultimate beneficiary is each member of the Jewish community. Let me share with you an overview of those concerns that the Association has addressed and endeavored to alleviate, including attacks on Israel’s legitimacy, anti-Israel activities on New Jersey college campuses, senior services for those aging in place, senior health care, transportation and nutrition needs, programming for those with cognitive and physical disabilities, and other challenges.

We are playing a pivotal role in ensuring that proposed federal and state guidelines do not place a greater burden on the capacity of our direct service providers, our nonprofit safety net agencies, so they are not hampered by bureaucratic red tape but instead buoyed by capacity building policies.

The following is a sampling of other accomplishments this year, as we worked to meet the many challenges facing our communities:

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was typical of the role the State Association played in assisting community agencies in providing direct assistance to its individual members. Serving as liaison with the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, the State Association was, and continues to be, the conduit for New Jersey’s emergency management alerts. At the same time the State Association worked to identify funding and guidance resources available from national and statewide nonprofits and other assistance organizations. Using its community network of partners in the Jewish and multifaith-based community, the State Association aggressively advocated for a quick response from Congress in delivering aid to the state’s victims of Sandy’s wrath.

Working with federation community, the Stop Iran Task Force of the CRC of MetroWest/Central New Jersey, and faith-based groups, sanctions against Iran were enacted that prohibited any governmental contracting unit from entering into a contract with entities unless first receiving a certification that the entity is not doing business with Iran’s energy sector.

In conjunction with our federation community relations network and leading interest groups, the State Association played a significant role on behalf of Jewish nursing homes. Our advocacy efforts resulted in restoring more than $60 million in the FY 2013 state budget for Medicaid reimbursement for nursing home patients. Those funds had been cut in previous budgets.

Reaching out to other faith-based groups, the State Association helped in the initiative that resulted in the restoration of 50 percent of the cuts in technology services funding to non-public schools in the state’s FY 2013 budget. Those services had not been funded for three years.

In conjunction with the state’s federations, the State Association supported student efforts to counter anti-Israel activity at Rutgers University and other college campuses. It led the way to Rutgers’ creation of a standing advisory committee on Jewish Student Life.

To unify and strengthen the community’s voice on policy, programs, and funding for people with special needs and the developmentally disabled, the State Association created and administered a new Jewish community working group on special needs.

Three leaders of the federation community joined Governor Chris Christie on his trip to Israel. The State Association had secured Christie’s commitment to the trip before the last general election. It reflects the State Association’s higher profile and closer relationship with the governor’s office.

Israel advocacy remains a top agenda priority for the State Association. As support for Israel’s Pillar of Defense response to victimization by missiles from Gaza, the State Association secured statements from our two U.S. senators and all members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation in support of Israel’s right to defend itself.

When synagogues in Bergen County were firebombed, the State Association assisted by coordinating the response in various federation communities through programming support, liaising with government officials, and reinforcing the relationship with the State Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

Our nonprofits’ and charities’ viability is another of the State Association’s priorities. That concern led the Jewish and New Jersey nonprofit community advocacy effort that resulted in the state’s Division of Consumer Affairs’ decision to forgo submitting a formal rule change proposal that would have required burdensome reporting requirements in the area of designated giving.

The State Association also was instrumental in securing a commitment from the governor’s red tape review commission for a monthly meeting on the rules, policies and statutes that might hinder nonprofits from doing business in New Jersey.

Although these are just a sampling of our activities, the list provides a broad plate of Jewish community interests and opportunities for involvement. Our community’s willingness to be engaged provides the dynamic to move our agenda forward. And it is that dynamic that has raised the State Association’s profile in the eyes of state government officials, faith-based leaders, and interest advocacy groups. It is the dynamic through which we will continue to move together from strength to strength.

I am confident, too, that with the strong professional leadership and dedication of our executive director, Jacob Toporek, our collective efforts, as we work with our wonderful community members and leaders, will allow us to build brighter futures for all who seek our help.