UJA-NNJ begins transition after long-time leader retires
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UJA-NNJ begins transition after long-time leader retires

Monday marked the first day in 2011 at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, and also the first day without Howard Charish, its executive vice president who retired at the end of last month after eight years with the federation.

David Gad-Harf, the interim executive vice president, and Robert Hyman, the interim associate executive vice president and chief operating officer, have assumed the leadership of the federation while a search committee looks for Charish’s successor. They began the transition Monday morning by asking the federation’s employees what characteristics described Charish’s term and what they wanted to continue.

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David Gad-Harf Courtesy UJA-NNJ

“As a staff we committed to finding ways to keep Howard’s qualities alive in UJA,” Gad-Harf told The Jewish Standard. “For me it was very cathartic.”

Those qualities included nurturing people, optimism, lightheartedness, dedication, enthusiasm, and surprises for the staff.

“He would just surprise us with hot soup in the cold winter or cupcakes as a treat,” Gad-Harf said. “He loved doing that and we loved it as well. We decided this should be embedded within our culture as an organization.”

The change in leadership comes as the federation is looking toward a change in direction. Its new strategic plan calls for more collaboration among Jewish communal organizations. The federation, Hyman said, should be “the convener to bring the agencies together.” The federation will also encourage Jewish institutions to apply for funding for specific projects through an innovation fund still in development, Gad-Harf said. Once up and running, that fund will focus on projects outside the federation’s typical sphere but still within the Jewish community, according to Gad-Harf. The main role of the federation, he continued, should be to bring the community together, and so UJA-NNJ leaders will also look to build connections between what Gad-Harf called the “fractured” and “decentralized” North Jersey Jewish community, which will include reaching out to institutions that have not previously been federation beneficiaries.

“What we’re doing is announcing to the community that the impact the federation can have and should have goes beyond the dollars to institutions,” Gad-Harf said. “We need to play a role in strengthening the infrastructure of Jewish New Jersey.”

Gad-Harf and Hyman’s swift assumption of leadership appears to be well-received. Miriam Allenson, UJA-NNJ’s director of marketing services, called the transition seamless.

“There was no – on the staff level – feeling of nervousness,” she said. “It means our work goes on and it goes on in a positive direction.”

The lay leadership, meanwhile, has launched a nationwide search for a new executive, with help from Jewish Federations of North America, the federation system’s umbrella organization. UJA-NNJ president Alan Scharfstein said he expects to have someone in the position by June.

“We want a candidate who understands and is supportive of what we’re doing, but we’re not looking for one who comes from the same old mold of doing things the way federations have done them for half a century,” he said. “We need somebody who can speak to our younger donors, involve a larger group of people in federation activities, who’s willing to look at redefining the role the federation plays in the community and can display a sense of excitement and dynamism.”

Jayne Petak, who is co-chairing the search committee with Jules Eisen, said that it has drafted a position description, which it will soon begin circulating. JFNA, in the meantime, is placing ads and headhunting for UJA-NNJ. The committee is looking for someone with a strong business background and passions for excellence and the Jewish community who will motivate the professional and volunteer staffs, Petak said.

Charish oversaw the merger of the UJA of Bergen County and the Jewish Federation of North Jersey, as well as the move to UJA-NNJ’s current headquarters in Paramus. In recognition of his work, the federation’s lay leadership is instituting an annual award in Charish’s name. Starting in June, the federation will award a stipend at its annual meeting to a successful and committed Jewish professional from the community.

“It helps support one of Howard’s passions, to make sure that those who devote their lives to the service of our community be appropriately rewarded,” Scharfstein said.

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at Josh@jewishmediagroup.com.

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