It was a budget-cutting move that didn’t work out.
Two years ago, three Jewish federations – UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey – announced that they were combining their community relations councils under one umbrella. It was seen as an effort to respond to a funding crisis, particularly at the MetroWest federation, which covers several counties in this state and which reduced 13 positions, including that of the executive director of its community relations council.
Now, the federations have announced that the organizations will go their own ways as of June 30.
Joy Kurland, who served as director of the combined regional JCRC, will return to her previous position heading the UJA-NNJ JCRC. She has been dividing her time between the UJA-NNJ offices in Paramus and the MetroWest offices in Whippany.
Factors in the break-up, which follows a joint evaluation of the regional JCRC, include “demographic realities, differing communal priorities, and significant organizational changes,” according to a press release jointly issued by the three federations.
“A lot of the programmatic things we did on a regional basis were very successful, but it wasn’t clear that the effort to do them on a regional basis gained enough to offset the time of the staff spent trying to coordinate across a geographically diverse region,” said Daniel Kirsch, who chairs the regional JCRC.
Organizationally, the MetroWest federation is in merger talks with the central New Jersey federation. UJA-NNJ is in its own transition, as it completes a strategic planning process and searches for a new chief executive.
Kirsch said that future projects, like some of the successes of the regional group, such as joint lobbying days in Washington and Trenton, could be coordinated at the state level by the New Jersey Association of Jewish Federations. Planning on Israel advocacy and training on interfaith relations were also successful at the regional level, he said.
Some of this joint work can be coordinated through the new Israel Action Network that is operating through the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, he said.
While the JCRCs coordinated under the regional umbrella, the federations maintained their local JCRC committees and staff.
Kurland said that while the partners shared an agenda on “Israel and international affairs and government affairs,” UJA-NNJ has additional priorities and programs that aren’t shared by the other federations.
“Here in northern New Jersey we have a major tikkun olam effort. We have a standing committee on tikkun olam and it has major initatives: Mitzvah Day and Bergen Reads. Those major JCRC efforts are not replicated under the CRC of MetroWest,” she said.
“We have focused a lot of effort on building coalitions on intergroup relations. We have a 25-year-old interfaith coalition with eight different faith groups. We have an evangelical-Jewish dialogue, Black-Jewish dialogue, a Latino-Jewish dialogue. Due to staffing restraints, they weren’t able to do that in MetroWest,” she added.
And a third priority – intra-Jewish dialogue and civility – was also not shared, she said, though it was “very much at the forefront” of the local JCRC’s activities.
Besides Kurland, the UJA-NNJ JCRC has a full-time administrative assistant, a part-time associate director who oversees the Bergen Reads literacy program, and a part-time project coordinator in charge of Mitzvah Day and volunteerism.
Kirsch said that the merger effort wasn’t a mistake.
“Sometimes things don’t work out, but it doesn’t mean that they’re a failure,” he said.