Local women to serve on state federation board
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Local women to serve on state federation board

Two veteran community leaders will serve as officers of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations for the upcoming year.

Ruth Cole of Ridgewood has moved up to NJSAJF president-elect for ‘008-09. Susan Penn of Alpine has been named a member at-large of the Executive/Operations Committee, a position with a one-year term.

Cole has been involved in NJSAJF for a number of years and was in line for the position, said Jacob Toporek, NJSAJF’s executive director. She is expected to become president the following year.

The role of the president-elect is to serve, along with the other officers, on the Executive/Operations Committee, which handles daily association business, reporting several times a year to the board of directors. The 50- to 60-person board is composed of the executive directors and co-chairs of each of New Jersey’s 1′ Jewish federations and the directors and volunteer leaders of the state’s four Jewish Community Relations Councils.

Toporek first met Cole, he noted, when he interviewed for his job and she was on the Search Committee. "With her long history of involvement in the Jewish community and the state association, NJSAJF can only benefit from a person with that level of experience," Toporek said.

Penn was nominated for her position by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s executive vice president, Howard Charish, and Joy Kurland, director of the federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council. "Both felt she was the type of individual whose service would benefit the state association because of her background in issues that concern government affairs and her interest in government and policy-making," said Toporek.

Among her many positions at UJA-NNJ, Penn was a member of the federation’s "Aging Pillar," set up to address challenges facing the community’s senior adults. As a past chair of the JCRC, Penn gained experience in building relationships with government officials and learning about issues that affect local Jewry. Penn has also been instrumental in building the senior adult program at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades and working to expand funding for seniors for transportation and other needs, such as the development of naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs).

As a member of NJSAJF’s Government Relations Committee, Penn chaired the association’s mission to Trenton in May. "She came with a number of ideas of how to organize the mission and saw to it that the day ran smoothly," noted Toporek. "Her assistance was very helpful."

That day, the group met with state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (Dist. 37); Assemblyman Gordon Johnson and Assemblywoman Valerie Vinieri Tuttle (Dist. 37); Adam Zellner, policy adviser to Gov. Jon Corzine; Heather Howard, commissioner of the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services; and Israel’s deputy consul general in New York, Benjamin Krasna. Afterward, they attended the governor’s signing of a proclamation celebrating the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel and the opening of an exhibit NJSAJF helped put together on Israel@60, sponsored by the New Jersey-Israel Commission.

As for Penn’s ongoing role in NJSAJF, Toporek commented, "She is totally involved in the conversation to figure out direction and policy for the state association, helping to set our agenda for the upcoming year."

That agenda, he noted, will be focused in the short term on trying to obtain supplemental funding for services for Holocaust survivors, supporting legislation introduced by lawmakers Weinberg, Johnson, and Huttle. "We’re hoping to be able to move that forward this fall," said Toporek.

Longer-term priorities for NJSAJF, he said, are identifying permanent sources of funding for NORCs and "keeping an eye on some issues involving the Jewish community, such as hate crimes and discrimination and possibly getting involved in health care, immigration, and seeing to it that nursing homes have adequate funding through Medicaid."

Referring to the role that Cole, Penn, and the entire slate of officers elected this week will play, Toporek said in a press release, "The state association officers will help us build bridges with those who determine public policy and with other community-based organizations that share our concerns. Their good counsel and guidance will ensure that federations have an enhanced public voice as we attempt to better serve populations in need and to fulfill the overall mission of the Jewish federations."

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