Wednesday, December 07, 2022

On July 1, Dan Shlufman became the new president of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, taking the reins from Lee Lasher of Englewood. Shlufman has been Jewish Federation’s longest serving officer, having joined the board in 2006. A real estate attorney and mortgage broker, he became active in the organization after moving to New Jersey from Manhattan in the late 1990s when he was looking to meet people and create social, business and philanthropic connections. Dan saw an ad for a men’s mission to Israel with the Federation and signed up. The trip helped him establish many new contacts and increased his commitment to the Jewish community. After the mission ended, the incoming president asked him to join the board. Since then, he has held many positions within the Federation, including vice president, treasurer and, most recently, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC).
At the JCRC, he was exposed to the most challenging concerns facing Jews today, and this helped prepare him to become president of Federation.

“In my work in JCRC, I approached things from a policy perspective when dealing with politicians, responding to antisemitism, and addressing other issues important to the Jewish community,” he said in an interview at the Jewish Link office. “I have spoken at many events and rallies where, unfortunately, we have had to condemn a terrorist attack or antisemitic incident either here or in Israel. In 2019, two days after the attack in Jersey City, politicians called Federation to ask what the Jewish community in Jersey City needed and how they could help with safety. “I attended a meeting with then President Roberta Abrams and CEO Jason Shames to discuss the issues directly with elected officials and law enforcement. This is one of the most important roles of Federation—representing the community in times of crisis and advocating for issues important to our community.”

Shlufman said that “Federation doesn’t try to compete with other Jewish organizations—we work hand in hand.” The role of Federation is to be the organization that understands where funding is needed to address unmet needs and to provide much of that funding. “Some organizations may be the direct providers of services. But Federation has the community knowledge, connections and process that allows us to allocate funds based on need. No other organization has the breadth of knowledge and resources that we do.”

Federation’s flexibility to pivot as needs change is extraordinary. “When the war in Ukraine erupted, Federation started raising money within 24 hours, and the community responded generously—and actually is still responding,” he explained. With a comprehensive infrastructure of expertise on the ground and the resources to ensure that money is allocated quickly and appropriately, Federation can respond to international, regional and local needs in the Jewish community quickly. Federation raised nearly $900,000 to send to help Ukrainian refugees. The day before our interview, Federation’s board allocated funds to provide meals and mental health services for 1,500 refugees who settled in Federation’s sister city of Nahariya. Shlufman said, “We always say that the reason we can respond quickly when a crisis hits is that we are there every day, 365 days a year, building relationships, resources and infrastructure.

Federation also does a lot of work in the broader community. Every March, there is a food drive that donates 25,000 pounds of food to local food pantries, and every August, Federation packs and distributes 3,000 backpacks to kids who are less fortunate.

The local Federation is part of a national Federation system. This allows Federation to leverage its voice when building important relationships with government officials and sharing the issues that are important to the Jewish community. As an example, Federation chapters throughout the U.S. supported legislation making it illegal for companies to discriminate against Israel. It was Federation who was in contact with the New Jersey treasurer’s office, who ultimately divested several million dollars from Unilever because of Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling in parts of Israel.

Shlufman feels strongly that Federation serves Jews of all stripes. “I care about Jewish survival and continuity, and I want to bring the Jewish community together,” he said. “For me, one of the reasons I remain involved in Federation is that I understand the sensibilities and differences in our community but at the same time firmly believe that what we share is far greater than what divides us. Federation wants to meet people where they are—and it does. We may not always agree on how to pray or observe, but we all agree we want our kids and our families to live safely and peacefully.”

Last year, Federation embarked on a large survey conducted by a third-party consultant to learn more about the issues our Jewish community is most concerned about. The information gathered will be used as a basis for developing a strategic plan. Results are expected by the end of the year. “We think we know the challenges—antisemitism, food insecurity, mental health issues, building and strengthening Jewish identity, and supporting Israel—but we wanted to know what people in the community care about, who they are, and how they want to connect to us and to each other.”

Some of the issues most important to the Orthodox community are the safety of schools and shuls, as well as the spiraling costs of day-school tuition. Federation supports initiatives in these areas. Federation has a full-time director of security, Tim Torell, who works with other institutions to keep them safe, provides risk assessments and trainings like Active Shooter and Stop the Bleed and works with law enforcement when issues arise in our community. For shuls and schools in the area, he sets up security training sessions and helps them write grants for funding.

Even though Shlufman’s term has just begun, he knows what he wants to accomplish and what his legacy should be. “In two years, I want to leave the community stronger, more connected and safer than it is today,” he said. “I also want to increase our philanthropic base. We can do great things, but we can’t do anything if we don’t have the resources. That’s why we believe it’s important that Federation is a part of everyone’s Jewish philanthropy in addition to your shuls, day schools and various individual Jewish or Israeli charities.”

It is not an easy time for people, given inflation and a volatile stock market. At the same time, the needs in the community are greater than ever. Shlufman is optimistic about younger people getting more involved, because the younger generation is very committed to helping others and that’s what Federation does. Looking ahead, Federation has many programs focused on engaging the next generation.

You can meet Shlufman at the upcoming Second Annual Jewish Federation Glatt Kosher Food Expo at Englewood’s Congregation Ahavath Torah on November 7. This year the event is co-sponsored by The Jewish Link. “Last year’s food expo was very successful,” he noted. “We have such a robust Orthodox community and last year everyone enjoyed the food and wine vendors, and this year will be better than ever. Come out for the good food and drinks, and to raise money in support of our community.” For more information, visit www.jfnnj.org/foodexpo.

By Bracha Schwartz

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