New hires, executive directors coming and going, lay leaders steering the ship, even a merger – Connecticut’s Jewish Federations are making changes to keep up with the economy, Jewish demographics, and the needs of those they serve. With one less Federation on the roster, we thought it was a good time to check in on these umbrella institutions that work to unify, educate, and motivate their respective Jewish communities.
We asked about changes and challenges, noteworthy programs and creative solutions. This is what we learned.
A merger in the works
UJA/Federation Westport Weston Wilton Norwalk and UJA/Federation of Eastern Fairfield County
UJA/Federation of Eastern Fairfield County is part of Jewish Center for Community Services (JCCS), a merged entity with the now-defunct JCC of Eastern Fairfield County.
The JCCS board and the board of UJA/Federation Westport Weston Wilton Norwalk (WWWN) have each approved a process leading to merger between the organizations.
The subject has come up now and again over the last 35 years, says Steven M. Friedlander, executive director of WWWN. The opportunity to consider unification surfaced most recently in June 2012, when the professional and lay leadership of the five Jewish federations in Fairfield County – Danbury, Eastern Fairfield County, Greenwich, Stamford, and WWWN – met with consultants from Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) to discuss greater collaboration and the possibility of merging.
As a result, the five federations embarked on a collaborative process, one outcome of which was the regional Israel @65 event in 2013, a collaboration between Danbury, Eastern Fairfield County, Stamford, and WWWN, along with the Jewish Federation of Western Connecticut in Southbury.
From that collaboration arose a natural opportunity for WWWN and Eastern Fairfield County to work even more closely together, says Friedlander, particularly since JCCS was in the process of selling its building on Park Avenue in Bridgeport.
“Once the JCC was scheduled to be closed last fall and the sale of the property to Jewish Senior Services had been arranged, there was even greater motivation to merge and blend resources between our two sister Federations,” says Friedlander. “Particularly in this day and age of economic challenges, this would provide more benefit to the communities we serve.”
Over the course of the past year, the WWWN staff has served both federations from shared office space in Westport and was recently joined by a former employee of JCCS. When the new Park Avenue campus is opened in two to three years, the plan is for the newly-merged federation to occupy permanent space there.
With the combined staff, the federation now serves a larger demographic, which extends from Norwalk to the Housatonic River. The two federation boards are is working on final stages of integration and legal merger under ongoing consultation with JFNA.
Three volunteer-led work groups dedicated to governance, operations, and fundraising and marketing have been formed from members of the two boards to complete the process. “They are now hard at work with their own specific agendas, which will be melded together to create a new structure,” Friedlander says. “By the end of the calendar year or shortly thereafter, we expect to be fully merged. This will result in a more efficient operation but also – and perhaps more importantly – merge our strengths to yield better service and more funds raised from amongst members of our Jewish communities.”
Friedlander assumed leadership of both federations and the merged entity on July 1, with the departure of JCCS president and CEO Steve Wendell, who was tapped to head the United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula in Newport News. Friedlander anticipates that new board and volunteer leadership will be formed by blending the most talented and motivated members of both existing federation boards.
Over the past year, the two federations organized several joint events, including the Lion/Pomegranate Women’s Philanthropy Event to benefit Project Kesher in the Former Soviet Union, an Israel celebration featuring a screening of Next Year Jerusalem (a documentary film about residents of the Jewish Home in Fairfield on a trip to Israel), and Cocktails for a Cause to benefit the Haifa Rape Crisis Center in Afula, Israel.
UJA/Federation WWWN’s literacy program, Books2Connect, was relocated this year to the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield. The Israeli Young Emissary programs, currently administered by each federation for its respective community, will be combined under a new model to serve the newly-merged catchment area.
Smaller but still active
Jewish Federation of Greater Danbury, CT and Putnam County, N.Y.
A year ago, when then-executive director Norman Greenstein retired, the Federation board considered merging with another Jewish federation or seeking a new director. Instead, the board voted to join the Jewish Federations of North America’s Network of Independent Communities, comprising 300-plus small Jewish communities across the U.S. As a result, JFNA has provided the Federation with fundraising guidance and direction.
The Danbury Federation has an active Jewish Family Service agency and runs a literacy program in local elementary schools, as well as a monthly book club and a Jewish studies group.
The Federation is also a sponsor of OcTORAHfest, a community-wide “Day of Jewish Learning and Unity,” co-sponsored by all community synagogues and open to the public. This year’s event is planned for Sunday, Oct. 26 at the Matrix Conference and Banquet Center in Danbury.
At its 68th annual meeting and election of officers and Board of Trustees in May, the Jewish Federation of Greater Danbury, CT and Putnam County, N.Y. elected four co-presidents to lead the board. Rabbi Jon Haddon, Jean Haddon, Laurie Kilchevsky, and Dr. Alvin Goldman are all past presidents of the organization.
Redoubling efforts to engage a younger generation
Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven
Sydney Perry is no lame duck.
As she enters her next contract period as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven – which she has decided to make her last – Perry plans to turn her energies to the efforts she sees as essential to ensuring a strong Jewish future: engaging more community members through the annual fundraising campaign and new affinity groups. “Like other communities, we will lose donors to death; like other communities, we are struggling to attract young people,” she says. In an effort to expand its reach, this year, Federation established a Young Women’s Circle; a Cardozo Society affinity group for Jewish law professionals and students; a Maimonides Affinity Group for health professionals; and a book club for 20s and 30s.
At the combined annual meeting last month of the Jewish Federation, Foundation, and JCC, Perry lauded the significant progress by three of the Federation’s constituent agencies.
“Tower One/Tower East is continuing to provide the very best care and programming to its residents while strategically planning how to respond to an aging community who lives longer and more actively,” she says. “The Jewish Family Service has become a truly rebuilt and re-energized agency since 2008, when Executive Director Jonathan Garfinkle arrived.” In addition, Camp Laurelwood in Madison, Connecticut’s only Jewish overnight camp, worked its way out of financial difficulty and upgraded its facility with the help of the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven and individual donors.
The Federation will also concentrate on educational efforts, working with area synagogues to redesign supplemental Jewish education for teens on a communal model. With the upcoming relocation of the Jewish High School of Connecticut from the JCC building to Stamford, Perry plans to continue to support the two area day schools, Ezra Academy in Woodbridge and Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy in Orange.
The high school’s move “is a tremendous loss to us and for the trajectory of a maximized Jewish educational experience in our community,” Perry says. “This loss is sorrowful, but the loss of either of our two day schools would be tragic. And I do not use that word lightly. Not everyone will choose day school education, but we need to have excellent and thriving schools to be a community in which Jews wish to live and grow their families, providing them with the knowledge and the desire to be active Jewish adults.”
Expanding community brings new personnel and programming
This year, the biggest change at UJA Greenwich is in its staffing.
Shelly Katz was just hired as director of development, after leaving the executive director position at Jewish Federation of Western CT in March, which she took in 2011.
“UJA always has a focus on development; as our community grows, our focus intensifies,” says Executive Director Pam Ehrenkranz. “We want to develop a strong sense of community, a place where people can explore their Jewish identity and, of course, develop a sense of commitment to Jewish philanthropy and connection to Israel.”
Lydia Fan joins the JCC Greenwich staff as marketing and communications manager.
Staff-member Tracy Daniels, who has served since 2007 as coordinator of PJ Library and Young Families at UJA Greenwich, assumed the additional role of Women’s Philanthropy director this month. During her tenure, she has launched Interfaith Conversations in collaboration with Jewish Family Services of Greenwich, a monthly discussion group for women in dual-faith marriages.
PJ Library – which serves children ages 2 through 7 – will launch a monthly drop-off “Sunday Funday” group activity for school-aged participants, a collaboration between UJA Greenwich and JCC Greenwich. The program will combine PJ Library books and related tikkun-olam projects, says Leah Schechter, JCC Greenwich community engagement and events manager.
“This is a way to get that older group of kids from all different Jewish backgrounds, who are in school and starting to feel part of a community, to get to know each other, have a regular group, and grow with PJ Library into the next phase,” she says. “We want UJA and JCC Greenwich to be the meeting place for doing good and bringing the community together.”
United Jewish Federation of Greater Stamford, New Canaan and Darien
UJF’s new tagline “Better Together,” sums up the organization’s efforts over the past year, says CEO Jim Cohen. “Federation is the glue for the community, the table at which the entire community can sit,” he says.
That’s the concept behind UJF’s new Herzl Initiative, a community-wide legacy campaign seeded with a $1 million gift, which ties donors more to the impact of their gifts by allowing them to specify which beneficiary area to support – sustaining the programs of UJF, partnering with local agencies, and helping global Jewry.
That’s also the concept behind a new grant-writing training program for community agencies and organizations. “Everything we do is to support the notion of strengthening the Jewish community,” Cohen says.
To expand its reach, UJF created a new position for a director of marketing and outreach. UJF and its board formed a special committee to identify and execute collaborative programs with UJA/Federation Westport Weston Wilton Norwalk.
In April, UJF hosted an annual community-wide Yom HaShoah program in an unprecedented Seder format, and was host community for the 36th Annual Connecticut Holocaust Commemoration Day at the State Capitol.
There are changes on the educational front, both for youth and adults. UJF is moving away from creating and supporting its own programs and doing more to strengthen the myriad of educational offerings throughout the Greater Stamford community, Cohen says. Leveraging what it does best, UJF will host several major programs over the course of the year to bring the community together and have greater impact on a larger population.
Jewish Federation of Western CT
The Jewish Federation of Western CT occupies the Walzer Family Jewish Community Campus in Southbury, together with its component organizations, the Brownstein Jewish Family Service, the Foundation, the JCC of Western CT, and the William and Audrey Walzer Alef Bet Preschool. The campus is also home to B’nai Israel of Southbury, part of an LLC with the Federation and co-owner of the building. Until last month, the campus housed Beth El Synagogue, which has relocated to larger quarters in Woodbury.
The Federation was led from 2011 until March by Executive Director Shelly Katz, who is the new director of development at UJA Greenwich. At its annual meeting in June, the board decided not to hire a new executive director, but rather to put the organization’s management into the hands of several lay leaders, says new Board President Lisa Miller.
“Due to a changing population and other factors, we’re looking at down campaigns over the last couple of years and are working on forming committees to reevaluate [our fundraising],” says Miller.
Several adult programs are in the works over the summer, planned by chaplain Rabbi Dana Bogatz of Brownstein Jewish Family Service, as well as the Alef Bet day camp.
Expanding the tent
Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford
This year saw the departure of president and CEO Cathrine Fischer Schwartz and the recent hiring of an interim executive director.
The Federation’s volunteer ranks have been growing, thanks to a new volunteer-engagement program that aims to pair every volunteer with work that fits with his or her personal schedule and expertise. Over the past six months, the Federation has connected more than 200 community members with volunteer work as varied as helping to create academic research partnerships with Israel to helping to ready 10 community gardens for the growing season, which yield thousands of pounds of fresh produce for area food pantries.
The Federation sharpened its focus on youth engagement in two areas. Incentive grants allowed 47 children and teens to experience Jewish overnight camp for the first time this summer, through the national One Happy Camper program. A newly formed Camp Committee is planning two communal camping events. A new Jewish education initiative, “The WOW! Project,” will provide flexible learning opportunities for third to fifth graders, with a kickoff event planned on Wednesday, Aug. 20 at Westmoor Park in West Hartford.
The upcoming “Rosh HaShanah in a Bag” project will have volunteers meeting shoppers at several supermarkets throughout the region to provide holiday resources and information from Jewish community organizations.
The federation helps support Moishe House West Hartford, which opened its doors to the community in June 2013. Its mission is to serve as a welcoming home for Jews in their 20s, many of whom are not synagogue members and are seeking alternative ways to explore their Jewish identity. The house has four residents and holds several programs each week, (and more on holidays) including Shabbat dinners, educational events, discussion forums and meet-ups such as “Jews Who Brew.”
The Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Hartford has been working in three major areas: Connecticut-Israel business opportunities, interfaith relations, and social justice.
The annual Connecticut Israel Technology Summit, co-sponsored with MetroHartford Alliance, and a business mission to Israel led by the two organizations in December, have led to several Memoranda of Understanding between the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development and Israeli institutions. The department has included Israel on its list of four countries to develop stronger ties with, and is hiring a consultant in Israel to build more opportunities for foreign direct investment.
JCRC has also worked to expand interfaith connections, particularly with the Christian and Muslim communities in downtown Hartford.
Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut
At press time, executive director Jerry Fischer was in Israel leading a community mission and unable to respond to the Ledger’s questions. However, Fischer reported to his community on the past year at JFEC’s annual meeting in June. New developments over the last year, many funded by individual donations from community members, include:
• BBYO chapter for JFEC’s Senior Youth Group
• The Hendel Leadership Fellows to develop a new generation of JFEC leaders
• 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht program held at Connecticut College featuring a film, personal testimonial by two German-Jewish survivors, and presentations by college faculty
• 20th Annual International Film Festival of Eastern Connecticut
• Concert by Shir Ba’Emek adult singing group from Afula, Israel, hosted by local families
• Inter-congregational Shabbaton featuring Kabbalah scholar Danny Matt
• The new Zachs Family Hillel House opened at Connecticut College, to serve U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadets as well. This follows 30 years of JFEC’s funding and administration of the Hillel program; JFEC will remain involved in Hillel.
• Missions to Israel: Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly; Coast Guard Academy spring break for cadets, faculty, and staff; and Jewish community in honor of the upcoming retirement of Rabbi Abraham Rosenberg to Temple Emanu-El in Waterford.
• Nickie Padilla was appointed coordinator of the Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Holocaust Resource Center.