UJA-NNJ head moving on to ‘next chapter’
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UJA-NNJ head moving on to ‘next chapter’

Voices from the next generation

Howard Charish, reflecting on his years as executive vice president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, said that graduates of the Berrie Fellows program are already doing valuable work in the community and will help to frame the Jewish future.

The Jewish Standard spoke with some of them.

Paramus resident David Goodman, who was in the Berrie program’s first cohort, said that it “brought him in touch with peers who were as passionate as I was about Jewish communal service.”

Goodman, who has been involved in the field “from a fairly young age,” was recently presented with the Marge Bornstein Award – what he called “a kind of life-achievement award.” He is 46.

The community activist said that what he found most powerful about the Berrie program was learning the history of Jewish leadership and “characteristics of Jewish leaders that go back to the Torah.”

“We’re just another generation of leaders,” he said.

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Laura Freeman, left, David Goodman, and Stephanie Goldman-Pittel

Goodman is spearheading the implemention of UJA-NNJ’s recently adopted strategic plan.

“We’re changing how federation operates,” he said. “One of the things we want for the future is for federation to be perceived as adding value to the community … not just through the giving out of money, but [figuring out] what other ways we can make the umbrella organization of the Jewish community have relevance in today’s world.”

“It’s quite a challenge,” he said, “but the community is up for the challenge.”

Goodman, the immediate past president of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey and a current vice president of UJA-NNJ, said he learned from his role in searching for an executive director for JFS that “you choose the best candidate for the position, that it doesn’t have to be age-related.”

“Howard has done a great job,” he said. “I’m sorry he’s leaving. But … I understand. Maybe he just felt that he came in with a vision and now he’s accomplished it and is ready to move on. It’s great to leave when you’re on top.”

Berrie Fellow Laura Freeman, Wyckoff resident and president of the town’s Temple Beth Rishon, said the Berrie program took her from being a “Type A leader to a Type B leader – from someone who manages meetings and puts out fires to one who is looking to make a difference, to create a vision and galvanize teams of people to work towards it – one who plants seeds that will grow long past her own leadership cycle.”

“The Jewish landscape is changing,” said Freeman, “minute by minute. The most important thing a new [federation] director needs to know is that the skills and commitment that took us to where we are are not the same as those that will take us to where we need to be tomorrow. It’s a daunting task.”

Freeman, who said she was surprised to learn that Charish will be leaving, said his replacement will need to be “a visionary and a risk-taker. He’s got a lot of challenges, balancing yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”

Among the biggest of those challenges is “getting secular Jews to understand their role in perpetuating Jewish life and their responsibility to help Jewish life.”

Secular Jews “structure their whole life on choice,” she said. “They’re hard to engage.”

Still, she said, a successful federation leader can build an organization that will accomplish this task, helping such Jews “understand their role in sustaining the community.”

Stephanie Goldman-Pittel, a Berrie Fellow in Cohort 2 and a resident of Norwood, echoed Charish’s contention that Berrie graduates are “all doing such wonderful things. I feel blessed to be part of that community,” she said.

As an example of the Fellows’ communal involvement, she cited Michael Starr, who is heading up federation’s Synagogue Leadership Initiative and chaired the committee that drafted the organization’s new strategic plan.

Characterizing that plan, she said “the key word is accountability … having the organizations we fund be accountable for the projects they’re going to implement.” She noted that other organizations she serves, Jewish and non-Jewish, seem to be striving for the same goal.

As regards the qualities needed in a leader, “my thought is to get someone who is a great listener. That’s a very important quality.”

Commending Charish as “a brilliant speaker and someone who has footholds in all areas of the community,” she said she would seek someone “who is basically open” and pays attention to other people’s points of view.

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