By Judie Jacobson
HARTFORD – On Wednesday, Sept. 13, the Jewish Federations Association of Connecticut – better known as JFACT – will host a reception at Beth El Temple in West Hartford to pay tribute to the agency’s former executive director, Robert Fishman, who left the agency in January after 23 years of service; and, at the same time, to formally welcome Michael Brown, who took over as JFACT executive director in March.
JFACT, the government and community-relations arm of the Jewish Federation system in Connecticut, represents the state’s seven Jewish Federations, four Jewish community centers, eight Jewish Family Service agencies, and two Jewish nursing homes in the state. JFACT lobbies for legislation that is of interest to Connecticut’s Jewish community of approximately 130,000 and promotes statewide advocacy on behalf of Israel.
“Bob will be very much missed for his ability to advance the causes dear to our community. He leaves a long and proud legacy of service,” JFACT President Allan Hillman told the Ledger in March.
Included in that legacy is an annual Holocaust commemoration held at the State Capitol. Largely a result of Fishman’s efforts, the commemoration is believed to be the first such Holocaust remembrance event hosted by a state in its capitol building.
In addition, says Cary Lakenbach, JFACT treasurer and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, “Bob has been a spirited advocate for the Jewish community throughout the state, building countless relationships that helped secure over $6 million in funding for critical programs, such as the settlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union in the 1980s and 1990s.”
Fishman has also worked with interfaith groups on behalf of children and the elderly, and security for synagogues, Jewish day schools, and JCCs throughout Connecticut. His work in the Connecticut General Assembly with the Neighborhood Association Act (NAA), a tax-credit program, ensured substantial new funding for Jewish Family Service agencies, JCCs, and elderly housing, as well as synagogues and day schools in the seven Connecticut regions represented by Jewish federations. Similarly, under the Urban Act, Fishman was instrumental in securing bonding grants for renovations in the JCCs in Bridgeport, West Hartford, and New Haven, and for a synagogue in Waterbury.
JFACT has hosted two trips to Israel for Connecticut legislators – the first, with then-governor Lowell Weicker and his commissioner of Economic Development, along with State legislators including Rep. John Larson and the Senate president. The mission led to the establishment of CONNIX, the Connecticut-Israel Exchange (Commission), which encouraged and supported trade between Israel and Connecticut. (Later de-funded by Governor John Rowland, CONNIX was ultimately discontinued.)
Fishman left JFACT to become a development officer at the Oakhill School and to assist the Connecticut-Israel Opportunity Fund.
Michael Bloom hopes to build upon his predecessor’s legacy.
“Bob Fishman has been a dedicated advocate for the Jewish community for almost three decades. My goal is to build upon the strong foundation that he has laid and to grow our advocacy efforts at the local, state and federal level,” Bloom told the Ledger last spring. “It is my hope to continue to move the needle on issues crucial to the Jewish Federations across Connecticut and the Jewish Service agencies which provide critical services for the entire state of Connecticut.”
Before joining JFACT, Bloom served as a policy and outreach associate for the Senate Democratic Caucus at the State Capitol.
Born in Brookline, Massachusetts and raised in Gaithersburg, Maryland, he returned to New England when he attended the University of Connecticut. He first became involved in politics in 1998 when he worked on the campaign of Ellen Scallatar of Woodbridge, who ran for Secretary of State against Susan Byciewicz. After Scallatar lost in the primary, he worked on the re-election campaign of Don Williams, a state senator in northeast Connecticut, which led to a job on the Connecticut Judiciary Committee. He later worked on the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign, and then on the campaign of State Senator Gayle Schlossberg.
In 2005, Bloom married West Hartford native Allison Miles and the couple relocated to Boston where he worked for Massachusetts State Senator Jarrett Barrios, and then for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, becoming the director of the Massachusetts Association of Jewish Federations.
In 2009, when he and his wife were looking for a community to settle down in and raise a family, they settled on West Hartford.
“It had a strong Jewish community and we had family here. My wife grew up in West Hartford. It was close to the Capital. It hit everything on the checklist.”
He worked for several Hartford lobbying firms, then in 2012 landed a job working for Senator Carlo Leone in Stamford. It was while working in the policy department of the Senate Democratic Caucus this past year that he learned about the position at JFACT.
“To have the opportunity to wake up every day and advocate on the behalf of your community – your faith – is a tremendous opportunity and one that I couldn’t pass up,” he says.
Hillman says Bloom “possesses every quality we have sought. This is excellent news for the Connecticut Jewish Community as we move in unity to promote the interests and basic values that make us Jews.”