July 17, 2023

A Lesson Well-Learned

Goldberg and Ethiopians

A conversation with new Federation President Michael Goldberg about what keeps him up at night, who inspires him, and what he hopes to accomplish during his three-year term. 

Michael Goldberg, the new president of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ as of July 1, 2023, recently participated on what he refers to as an ‘ancient’ journey, accompanying Ethiopian Jews on their emigration to Israel. What was most compelling to him, he describes, is trying to see the journey through their eyes. They were going from one place – the only home they’d ever known, with an ancient history – to a brand-new uncertain life in a completely foreign land. 

This trip filled Goldberg with so many emotions and questions. Would these people be happy in their new communities? Would their children lead successful lives? What about those who were left behind – who don’t meet the criteria to make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel)? 

These are the types of questions that keep him up at night. 

He’s experienced anxiety and depression, Goldberg explains. “If I see something that bothers me, I can’t get it out of my mind. I need to take care of the issue so I can have peace of mind. Being able to help others is what gives me peace of mind and helps me sleep better at night.” 

That’s the driving force behind his decision to step up and volunteer to take on leadership roles in his Jewish community. 

Michael Goldberg is a lifelong member of the Greater MetroWest community. He was born in Newark and lived in Orange until his family moved to Livingston in 1966, where he still lives, and raised his own family with his wife Terri. All his family lives in this community. 

“I was always familiar with Federation, was a donor, went to events.” he explains. “I always wanted to be involved.” He was taken by surprise when, in 2019, then President Scott Krieger and UJA Campaign Chair Ira Steinberg invited him to meet for coffee at Starbucks and asked him to consider serving as the next campaign chair.    

“I was always told: If the community asks you to do something, you say yes.” So, he said yes. Now, four years later, he’s taking over the top leadership position from David Saginaw. 

Despite serving as campaign chair, Goldberg admits that he’s not always comfortable asking for money. “I like to tell stories, to share my experiences about why giving is important to me. I’m confident that once people hear the impact they can make through their support, they’ll come to the same decision.” 

Goldberg attributes many of his life lessons to his grandfather, whom he remembers fondly for his storytelling. His grandfather emigrated from Poland in 1928, settled in Maplewood, worked in Newark as an attorney, and taught Hebrew school to make some extra money. 

“My grandfather never told me what to do, he always told me a story, so I would remember it. He shared with me many stories about times when he had to make an important decision. Sometimes it was the right decision and sometimes it wasn’t, but he learned from it. Either way, what I learned from my grandfather is, if you don’t do anything, you won’t make any progress.” 

He’s confident that the decision to serve as president is the right one, that the role will bring unique challenges, and that it will lead to positive progress. He described some of his priorities. 

He has tremendous respect for the pioneers who built the state of Israel and is committed to being part of helping Israel and its people thrive. Michael and Terri were bus captains on Federation’s CommUNITY Mission five years ago and were particularly struck by the contributions of Israeli society to the fields of technology and medicine. “Until you actually go and see it, you can’t imagine why every bit of land they fight for is so necessary.” 

He is incredibly excited to be leading our Federation through its Centennial celebration. “This is an opportunity for us to express our pride in our Jewish culture, our achievements, and our diversity. I hope that, through this celebration, we will all have a better understanding of what it means to be Jewish and to be there to support one another. Instead of focusing on our differences, we need to highlight the common threads we share.”  

He is proud of Federation’s commitment to creating a more welcoming environment for all Jewish people in our community and hopes to see people feel inspired to engage – or re-engage – in ways that are meaningful to them.  

“When I was growing up, we used to walk outside the house and there were friends all over the neighborhood. We lived in a community where you were free to wander,” Goldberg says. “I’m not naïve; I know times have changed, but I want us to feel safe within our own community. Federation is the only place that can provide that network, that safety net, so people know they won’t be forgotten and won’t lose track of where they came from.” 

“Federation has put me in a position where I can tell my stories. I’ve learned so much in the past few years about the incredible work of this organization – especially during Covid. I’ve asked myself: If Federation didn’t exist, who would be taking care of the people in our community? I’m inspired by being able to make a difference in people’s lives.” 

One of his grandfather’s favorite lessons was that you should walk down the street and hold your head high, never being afraid of your next encounter. Clearly, it was a lesson well learned.