By N. Richard Greenfield ~
Last week two major New Jersey Federations announced plans to merge into one operating entity. The larger of the two, UJC MetroWest has 90,000 members and already is the product of a previous combination of two other entities; and the smaller, the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, boasts 35,000 members. This makes the combined new Federation 135,000 strong — a number not far from the size of our Jewish community here in Connecticut. It again brings to mind our over-federated condition.
With five of our Federations in Fairfield County and four more in the rest of the state, nine is too big a number. On the positive side, each has its own administrative structure that is completely focused on its own area. But each Federation also has the same set of problems large and small that hold it back. Each is also experiencing a smaller campaign, resulting in lower funding levels for the its constituents in spite of an increased need for the Federation’s resources. Each population too has seen its members move from vibrant cores into a large number of smaller satellite communities. Today, Connecticut’s Jews live everywhere, and this fragmentation affects our synagogues, schools and other Jewish institutions which all struggle with problems of funding, continuity, and membership.
Merging is no panacea, but seeking a different dynamic might instill a new urgency and perspective. What is clear is that it is time, at the very least, to evaluate the current structures and, where warranted, move ahead towards a better model.
Cost savings always top the list of reasons that organizations come together, and we don’t doubt that savings could be affected, at least initially. More important for Federations today, however, is to attempt to increase their size and effectiveness where possible. Increasing the critical mass of members, volunteers and operations might be done all at once or gradually, and some Federations and organizations might consider combining their outreach efforts as well as working on joint programming. Others might seek solutions now beyond their reach because of their current size or location.
Regardless of the outcome, it is time for Jewish Connecticut to evaluate what it has in place; think about what might work better; and find a way to get it done. Whether or not a merger of any of the nine Connecticut Federations happens, options should be weighed and potential benefits and drawbacks measured. A state two or three or even four Federations instead of nine would, in our mind, provide our community with a fresh start and a chance to build a healthier and more vibrant Jewish Connecticut.