Hudson County is welcome to the federation
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Hudson County is welcome to the federation

I read Joshua Einstein’s op-ed piece in last week’s Jewish Standard with great interest (“Hudson County needs a federation”).

He’s made a great case for creating a formal connection between Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Hudson County Jewish community. His argument makes sense. Northern Hudson County has been in our coverage area for many years, so we already have connections there. We now provide services to southern Hudson, including those services Einstein mentions, and more. So it all seems like a natural fit.

I was concerned, however, with his use of the word annexation.

The term has been very much in the news lately, with Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea. Because of that, and Joshua’s choice to use it in relationship to our communities’ joining together, I decided to double-check the meaning. One meaning of the word is to seize. Another is to occupy, and a third is to take possession of. The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey not only has no desire or reason to seize, occupy, or take possession of Hudson County – certainly not in the way the Russians have done all three in Crimea – but it would be the wrong thing to do for Hudson County. Any positive relationship between two parties, where there is no self-determination, is bound to be problematical.

The way I see it, the process by which the federation and the Hudson Jewish community might join together needs to begin in Hudson County, with HudsonJewish.org or a similarly organized group. The desire to join our federation starts when leadership develops and takes ownership of the process. It begins when those leaders work out the details of what matters to them, what direction they want to take, and what they want their Jewish community to look like. Once the Hudson community’s leadership determines how best to identify with the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, that will mark the point where and how we can begin the transformation of the relationship from one of two neighbors to one of a single community.

I’m not suggesting that they go it alone altogether. We’re here to participate and partner with them on the strategic elements needed to make a union possible, productive, and permanent. We, here at federation, do strategic planning as a matter of course, and we are happy to share our know-how with them.

After all, we already do, in many ways.

Joshua mentions some of the connections between us: the Russell Berrie Leadership Program, the Israel Film and Cultural Festival, our support of Moishe House and the United Synagogue of Hudson. But our association with Hudson County’s Jewish community is even richer and deeper. Through our Synagogue Leadership Initiative, Hudson families can take part in our One Happy Camper program, which provides $1,000 grants to children going to Jewish sleepaway camp for the first time; EZ Key, which provides free High Holiday tickets to families new to the community; Shalom Baby play groups, and all of our workshops, including our Principals’ Council, and technology and teacher training. The Conservative synagogues in Bayonne and Hoboken, as well as the Reform synagogue in Jersey City, already participate in these workshops.

For the rest of Hudson County, meaning Bayonne, Jersey City, Hoboken, etc., to be part of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, leadership there must create a plan that includes goals and strategies for how they will develop financial resources, to what and to whom funds will be allocated within the community, and what kind of connection they will develop with Israel and worldwide Jewry.

Building community takes resources. It takes development.

It takes some time, too.

Either way, self-determination by the organized Jewish community of Hudson County and its leaders must come first, before the two communities join in any formal agreement. We here at Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey believe in k’lal Yisrael – the whole Jewish people – and we are happy to explore all options with the Jewish community of Hudson County.

Kudos to Josh for his leadership in getting the ball rolling.

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