New Mexico’s cash-strapped, lawsuit-plagued Jewish federation announces closure

After a series of legal and boardroom battles, the Jewish Federation of New Mexico announced that it is shutting down.

Downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico (photo credit: DEBERNARDI/CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico
(photo credit: DEBERNARDI/CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

After a series of bitter legal and boardroom battles within the Jewish Federation of New Mexico over the past two years, the 75-year-old community organization announced Friday that it has collapsed under the weight of the discord and will shut down.

“The main task we face is an orderly shutdown of the organization,” the federation’s newly chosen president, Robert Efroymson, announced in an email sent out to the community.

Confirming the previous reporting by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Efroymson said the federation’s budget and programs have all but ceased to exist. 

“We are almost out of money,” he wrote. “We have no employees. Critical insurance has been canceled. We cannot fulfill the purposes for which the organization was founded.”

In New Mexico, as with every state or metropolitan area served by one of the 146 Jewish federations in North America, the organization operated as a critical convener of Jewish life and distributed charitable donations to an array of local causes.

The New Mexico State Capitol in Santa Fe. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)The New Mexico State Capitol in Santa Fe. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A program supporting local Holocaust survivors is now under the management of the local Jewish community center, said Efroymson, adding that the Hillel chapter at the University of New Mexico, previously a major grantee of the federation, is accepting donations directly.

Efroymson appeared to rule out the possibility of rebuilding the federation from scratch. He said the federation has been hobbled by unspecified actions taken by previous leaders, including the federation’s former executive director Rob Lennick, who has since been hired as the head of the Jewish Federation of Volusia and Flagler Counties in Florida. 

“Decisions made by the prior leadership of the organization have placed us in a very poor position,” Efroymson wrote. 

He vowed to detail which decisions and how they contributed to this moment once the federation’s new board has completed a probe into the matter. 

“I would like to say more about how we came to this pass,” he wrote. “The truth is that there is much we still don’t know. One of the chief tasks the board has undertaken is to conduct an independent accounting review so we can report to the community what has happened.”

Lennick, who was ordained as a Reform rabbi, is not a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the professional association for rabbis of Reform Judaism, according to a spokesperson for CCAR.

Two employees sued the federation for misconduct

In March, JTA revealed that two employees had sued the federation alleging misconduct by Lennick, and that about half the board resigned following a related alleged breach of trust by the federation’s executive committee, with an additional four board members staying on only seek redress by taking matters to court.

Responding to a request for comment, Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, wrote in a statement, “We are saddened by the situation that led the Jewish Federation of New Mexico to make this decision, but believe it was the correct choice under the circumstance. More importantly, we commit that we will do everything we can in partnership with the Jewish community there to rebuild the kind of Federation they need and deserve so that their community can flourish.”

A JFNA spokesperson added that his organization, the national umbrella group for all Jewish federations, worked locally to help maintain continuity for as many “core programs” as possible.