From the office to the Table

From the office to the Table

Alan Sweifach looks back at his years at North Jersey's federation

Alan Sweifach faces new job but familiar challenges. Courtesy JFNNJ

When you work for a Jewish communal organization, the normal frustrations of the workaday world – the spreadsheets that won’t print properly, the deadlines that pile up, the nightmarish conversations with the phone company – are overshadowed by the twin thrills of helping people and playing a role in the grand arc of Jewish history.

For Alan Sweifach of Teaneck, the specific spreadsheets will change as he concludes an almost 12-year tenure at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and begins work at the Jewish Federations of North America in lower Manhattan on Monday. But the meaning will be the same. Having focused on community planning for the New Jersey organization, and particularly on the relationship between the federation and its affiliated agencies, Sweifach now will help the umbrella organization of federations plan for the needs of the global Jewish community.

Looking back on his time at the Paramus federation, Sweifach said he is most proud of helping local synagogues and agencies write homeland security grant applications, which have brought in $3.6 million to the community institutions.

He’s happy about the direct good the grants achieved in making the community safer.

And he’s also pleased that his grant-writing helped show the community “the value-added that the federation provides in the community, and why you need a strong federation to have strong agencies and institutions,” he said.

Sweifach came to the federation after working at the Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest New Jersey in East Orange, where he was involved in resettling refugees from the former Soviet Union. It was experience that proved invaluable in his connections with federation’s agencies.

“He’s loved by the agency execs and their leadership,” David Goodman, president of the federation, said. “He’s loved by the lay leadership. I’m really saddened we’re going to lose him in this community.”

“Alan’s gain through this job is going to be our loss,” said Paula Shaiman, who worked with Sweifach as a leader of both the federation and the Jewish Family Service of North Jersey. “But it will be wonderful to work with him in his new position.”

Sweifach began working for the federation in March 2001. The biggest change in the charity since then?

“It is becoming more donor-centric,” he said. “Part of it is out of necessity. For the younger donors, it’s not a given that people will give to Federation.”

Sweifach is a big believer in “the power of collective giving and collective action” – and is happy to have a chance to demonstrate it through his work.

Appealing to donor’s interests is fine, he said, but he cautions that “you still have to keep in mind what the community’s interests are – and sometimes they don’t coincide as much as you hope they will. You try to explain and you hope the message is compelling enough and you explain why you do what you do. You hope when you meet one on one with the donors and explain it to them that they will get it.”

Sweifach points to the power of collective action in resettling Jews from the former Soviet Union.

The federations “were able to act as a system,” he said. “We as a system identified a need, and we as a system moved two million Soviet Jews to Israel and to North America. Whether or not Akron, Ohio, for example – or any other community – resettled a single Soviet Jew, they were expected to raise the money and contribute toward this national effort. Those that did not resettle Soviet Jews were expected to raise the money and contribute toward this national effort. Those that did resettle Soviet Jews were helped through the system by the communities that did not.

“The question is, what are the next issues and topics that we as a system should be tackling on behalf of the Jewish people?”

That will be a central question he will help the federation system address in his new role as senior director for the Global Planning Table of the Jewish Federations of North America. Initially, the Global Planning Table will examine overseas projects funded by the federations, but Sweifach looks forward to it eventually discussing “needs here in which we can act as a system. Is it Jewish unemployment? Is it Jewish hunger? Is it the elderly? I think that’s what the Global Planning Table has the potential to do. There is a value to the system in taking collective action, not only to identify the needs, but to provide the funding. This will help us to raise the dollars and show the relevance of the system.

“I believe with all my heart there is relevancy for it, which is why I’m so excited about being a part of it.”

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