Jewish federations will merge to expand outreach, services

Staff Writer

Two major Jewish organizations in Middlesex and Monmouth counties have announced a landmark merger agreement that will establish the Jewish Federation of Middlesex and Monmouth Counties, effective Jan. 1.

The merger, which was announced Dec. 5, is the result of a two-year exploration and planning process, and represents the first time two Jewish federations of equal size have consolidated into one organization.

Ken Philbus, the Monmouth Federation’s selection to head the merger committee, said it was determined that a single Central Jersey organization would be better equipped to provide services, secure funding and establish more effective community outreach programs as one entity.

“There was a realization that together we could do a lot more than we could do separately,” Philbus said. “We want this to look like two plus two equals five.” Keith Krivitzky, the executive director of the Holmdel-based Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, will assume the position of CEO for the new organization. Susan Antman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County based in South River, will become the executive vice president.

Antman could not be reached for comment.

A press release issued by the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County touts the merger as a way to unite the organizations’ “complementary strengths.”

For example, the Middlesex organization has become particularly adept at building endowments, while the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County has had great success with its community outreach programs.

“In this case, what I think worked out really good in the merger process is the realization that there are things that are working in one organization that aren’t working so well in the other organization,” Krivitzky said. “If we’re able to keep an open mind and embrace what works well in each, regardless of ego or history or things like that, then things can get a lot better overall.”

Despite the aligned interests, addressing the cultural differences between the leadership of each organization was a challenge, according to Krivitzky.

“Anytime you try to bring together two organizations and cultures … there’s a lot of work,” Krivitzky said. “Because you’ve got history, culture and the way things have been done, change is hard.”

But Philbus, who was previously involved in business mergers, said the process was relatively smooth because the organizations share the same goals.

“We found that we were two groups of people with very similar values,” Philbus said.

According to Philbus, the executive board of the new organization, which is composed of both the previous Middlesex and Monmouth boards, has begun meeting to discuss branding and marketing strategies moving forward.

“Slowly but surely, we will cut the board down because it’s too large,” Philbus said, adding that the board would remain as is for 2015.

He said no specific plans for 2015 have been announced yet.

For Krivitzky, the merger represents an opportunity to bring the larger Jewish community of Central Jersey closer together.

In total, the Jewish population of both counties equals roughly 120,000 people.

“While change is hard, if you want to address evolving circumstances … change is also required,” Krivitzky said. “I certainly think that there’s a lot of potential … and opportunity in the future that we will be able to grasp and do stuff that we wouldn’t be able to do right now.

“It’s a good thing.”