Joshua Cohen has been hired to helm the Jewish Federations of New Jersey, the new public affairs arm of five of the state’s leading Jewish federations.
The Jewish Federations of New Jersey replaces the State Association of Jewish Federations, which Jacob Toporek has led by since 2007, and which will close up shop on June 30.
“Jewish Federations of New Jersey will focus on government relations, fighting anti-Semitism, Israel advocacy, state-wide collaboration, and security coordination,” said Jason Shames, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. “New Jersey has 500,000 Jewish residents, and it’s important the federation takes an active leadership role in protecting their interests.”
The JFNNJ is one of the federations that will support the new organization.
Mr. Cohen previously was the director of the New Jersey regional office of the Anti-Defamation League. “Anti-Semitism is on the rise,” he said. “Hate is increasing. Israel’s safety and well-being is challenged.”
In this environment, the federations “are providing leadership and strong partnership with elected officials, law enforcement, and policy makers,” he continued. “Jewish Federations of New Jersey will serve to coordinate relationships for the organized Jewish community.” These include relationships to the state government, to the New Jersey general community, and to the government of Israel. “In addition, the Jewish Federations of New Jersey will leverage strategic partnerships with non-profit groups throughout New Jersey,” he said.
He said the group will fight anti-Semitism and BDS, while promoting ties between New Jersey and Israel.
Mr. Cohen, who is married and has two children, lives in Union County. He was born in Englewood, and grew up in Rockland County. “Until I was about nine I lived in Monsey,” he said. “Then we moved to Pomona.” After graduating from Ramapo High, he lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a year, and then studied political science at the State University of New York at Albany. After graduation, he first worked outside Boston, before deciding to move to New York. “I wanted to work in the non-profit community for a little while and then go to law school,” he said.
He started working in the government relations department of the UJA-Federation of New York. “Four months into working there, I realized this is the job I wanted,” he said. So much for law school. “It spoke to my personal and professional values. The idea of being on the front lines to enhance the quality of life for the Jewish community and beyond. To have that kind of impact on the community was an amazing experience.”
In New York, he was part of a team of seven or eight professionals. In New Jersey, he’ll be a one-man office. “I’m grateful for this opportunity to join this exciting endeavor,” he said.
Jacob Toporek has been the executive director of the State Association of Jewish Federations for nearly a dozen years. “We’ve accomplished a great deal,” he said.
The State Association will hold its final board meeting later this month. “There have been a lot of high points,” Mr. Toporek said. “From Iran sanctions to anti-boycott legislation to security grants.”
As for the new grouping, “I hope whatever is being created has the same positive impact on the Jewish community,” he said.
Marlene Herman of Edison, the president of the State Association, said she doesn’t understand the need for the reconfiguration. One difference between the old State Association and the new Jewish Federations of North Jersey is that the new body does not have its own board of lay leaders running it and setting its priorities. Instead, Mr. Cohen will report directly to the executives of the five participating Jewish federations.
“I’m always worried when you have to make something new when the old isn’t broken,” Ms. Herman said. “The aims and goals seem to be the same as what we’re doing now. They’re changing some of the nomenclature.”
Looking back on her years as a leader of the State Association, Ms. Herman said the highlights were attending bill signings with governors Chris Christie and Phil Murphy.
One possible difference between the old and new groups is the new emphasis on responding to anti-Semitism. “Our board has had the idea that we refer those cases over to the ADL,” Ms. Herman said said.
Ruth Cole of Ridgewood led the State Association as president from 2011 to 2013. “We had a board and assignments each of us were working on,” she said of the group’s structure.
Ms. Cole praised Mr. Toporek. “Jac was well known in Trenton before coming to the State Association,” she said. “He had entree to a lot of people he could talk with.”