New Jersey federations merge advocacy groups
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New Jersey federations merge advocacy groups

The Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey will soon merge with the Community Relations Council of neighboring United Jewish Communities of MetroWest to create a regional advocacy group.

Joy Kurland, director of the local JCRC for 19 years, will head the new organization, while Lori Price-Abrams, director of MetroWest’s CRC, will be among 13 staffers whose jobs have been eliminated at that federation, which encompasses Morris, Essex, northern Union, and Sussex counties. The two organizations will conclude their programming by June and then meet to determine its joint mission and lay leadership. The Regional Community Relations Council, as it’s being called, will begin operations on July 1.

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Jewish Community Relations Council director Joy Kurland will lead a new Regional CRC composed of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and UJC of MetroWest.

“It’s a beginning process,” Kurland said. “Once we reach the end of June we’ll begin to develop the ability to convene key leadership and plan for what this will entail.”

The move comes as both federations look to cut costs in the face of tough economic realities. Earlier this year UJA-NNJ instituted a salary freeze and reduced the hours of some staffers in the finance, Jewish education, and Israel engagement sectors. Other staffers, meanwhile, have been laid off.

“In these economic circumstances we have to look for ways to work together and focus on the key issues,” said Daniel Kirsch, chair of UJA-NNJ’s JCRC. “Obviously this is all very new to us and to MetroWest.”

Kirsch, who was recently nominated for another term as JCRC chair, plans to remain active with the new group but will not presume leadership.

“We’re going to have to work collaboratively and see what’s best for both organizations,” he said. “The more involvement we have by both the lay leadership and professional staff in figuring out a model, the better off we’ll be.”

“Our federation and the MetroWest federation are going through a process of downsizing and restructuring,” said David Gad-Harf, UJA-NNJ’s associate executive vice president and COO, “forcing us all to think about how can we continue to address the different kinds of issues we need to address in the best way possible.”

MetroWest approached UJA-NNJ earlier this year about the CRC merger as a solution to some of its own budgetary problems.

“We had a process looking at what types of changes we might need in our community to ride out both the immediate financial crisis this year as well as the longer term challenges in Jewish life in general,” said Arthur Sandman, associate executive vice president of MetroWest. “This was one of the recommendations they made.”

Sandman hailed the move as necessary but acknowledged the trade-offs, particularly those affecting his federation’s staff. Price-Abrams has worked with the CRC for 11 years and headed the organization since 2003.

“It was a very painful decision for us to lose someone who’s served our community with as much distinction as Lori has,” Sandman said.

“We’ve certainly enjoyed for many years in MetroWest having a full CRC staff to ourselves and a committee that’s responsive entirely to MetroWest,” he continued. “At the same time, many of the issues that we deal with are issues of common concern and in some cases even require concerted action by many communities around the state.”

Kurland pointed to the collaborative nature of the CRCs representing the state’s 12 federations. Candidate forums on the gubernatorial and congressional level are one example of overlapping programming.

“We at UJA-NNJ feel good about this because it gives us the ability to retain our professional staff and retain the commitment of our various volunteer leaders,” Gad-Harf said. “What it does for us is expands our reach to work in partnership with MetroWest volunteers and professionals and hopefully become more effective.”

UJA-NNJ leaders praised Kurland’s accession.

“We have in Joy a seasoned, experienced, savvy professional who not only has the confidence of our JCRC and federation but that of MetroWest,” Gad-Harf said.

United Jewish Communities, the New York-based umbrella group for the North American federation system, has shown interest in cost-cutting measures and consolidation in New Jersey, said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the N.J. State Association of Jewish Federations. The association was not involved with the CRC merger, though, he said. He predicted some difficulty in balancing the needs of the two communities but praised the leaders of both federations.

“It’s the individuals that made it work,” he said. “I certainly have no worries about reaching out to Joy and whoever her staff will be to make those things work.”

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