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Patty Shwartz: From Hebrew school to federal bench

Obama’s nod for 3rd circuit called ‘awesomely hardworking’

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In October, when President Barack Obama nominated New Jersey Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, he commented that the East Rutherford resident “has a long and impressive record of service and a history of handing down fair and judicious decisions.”

Obama, however, may not have been aware of just how long her “impressive record” is. Shwartz’s sister and childhood friend both told The Jewish Standard that the 50-year-old judge always displayed a quick mind and an acute sense of fairness.

“Patty was always very social, very smart and quick-witted, very respectful, and never mean-spirited,” said her older sister, Nancy Brown, an emergency room nurse at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson. A third sister passed away in 1997, and the family also includes two brothers.

Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz was recently named to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Courtesy Judge Patty Shwartz

All the children helped out after school and on weekends at their parents’ fur and women’s clothing shop in Paterson. Their father, Harold (“Hesh”) Shwartz, inherited the business from his own father, who had founded it in 1905. Their mother, Jean, worked alongside her husband for 50 years until the shop closed when the elder Shwartz daughter died.

“We were all brought up the same way, with the same work ethic,” Brown continued. “I wish my mom and dad were around to see Patty’s accomplishments; they’d be busting. Dad was very bright and [he and Patty] used to hold intellectual conversations and laugh together. When Patty laughs, you can’t help but laugh. It’s so infectious.”

The judge herself was unable to speak for attribution, explaining that “once a person is nominated, a person typically declines to participate in interviews out of respect for the process.”

It is no secret, however, that Shwartz grew up in an exceptionally close-knit Jewish family in Pompton Lakes. At her 2003 swearing-in ceremony as a magistrate judge on the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, she expressed gratitude to her parents, who were still alive at the time.

Both Brown and Warren County resident Michael Weiner, who went to Hebrew school with Shwartz at Congregation Beth Shalom in Pompton Lakes, were happy to shed some light on the personality of the woman nominated to serve on the second highest court in the United States.

Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said he and Shwartz were friends from the age of three, when his family moved into her neighborhood. “I knew Patty was going to make her mark on the world,” he said. “She always had a clear moral compass, even as a kid.”

As a Sunday school teacher at his local synagogue, Weiner said he can now truly appreciate Shwartz’s demeanor at Hebrew school. “Patty’s disposition is such that she would have a smile even during Hebrew school. Back in third or fourth grade, it’s hard to smile when you go into Hebrew school, but she always did.”

Brown added that her sister was the only one of the Shwartz girls to publicly mark becoming a bat mitzvah. “We all grew up with the [Jewish] customs and culture, and we went to temple as a family, but Patty was the only girl to be bat mitzvah.”

The siblings also attended Camp Veritans, a YMHA-sponsored program, in Wayne every summer. “That was the best,” said Brown. “We were dropped off by bus and couldn’t wait to get to those cabins. We played and swam, did sports and arts, and sang and danced. We all enjoyed it.”

She described her sister as a devoted aunt to two nephews and two nieces. “Patty is the glue that holds everyone together. We see each other every weekend. She’s a wonderful human being,” said Brown.

Shwartz was a cheerleader at Pompton Lakes High School. She received her B.A. from Rutgers University and was named the Outstanding Woman Law Graduate of her class at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she was editor of the Law Review. She worked as an associate at Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz before serving as a law clerk to the Hon. Harold A. Ackerman of the United States District Court for New Jersey from 1987 to 1989.

Shwartz then joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, where she prosecuted a wide range of criminal cases. Since becoming a magistrate judge, she has handled more than 4,000 civil and criminal cases.

Upon her appointment in 2003, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie (now New Jersey’s governor) told The Record that Shwartz was “the hardest-working, most fair person” he had come across on the job and that she “really does care about making sure we do our job in a way that makes justice a reality.”

In 2008, Shwartz was ranked highly by federal court law practitioners in a survey about federal magistrates. One respondent described her as “awesomely hardworking.”

She is quite active locally, especially with students. She frequently speaks with visiting school groups and participated at a Pompton Lakes High School career day, as well as a program at Golda Och Academy (formerly Solomon Schechter Day School) in West Orange. During the 2006-2007 school year, she was a workplace mentor to a senior at Bergen Academies in Hackensack. She also teaches an evening skills course as an adjunct professor at Fordham University School of Law.

The next step in her nomination process is to appear before a Senate Judiciary Committee panel sometime in January.

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A rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.


The converso’s dilemma

Local group goes to New Mexico to learn about crypto-Jews

Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day — perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear — you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago.

For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The topic — “New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews” — continues to fascinate both Jews and non-Jews, as evidenced by the religious identity of the attendees. Among those participating in this month’s session — there are 10 such programs held each year — were five residents from our area, including this author.


How to learn Hebrew

Confronting American Jews’ linguistic illiteracy, many programs offer help

Can you read a Hebrew newspaper or order a meal in an Israel restaurant? If you’re like the vast majority of American Jews, the answer is no.

“Half of Jews (52%), including 60% of Jews by religion and 24% of Jews of no religion, say they know the Hebrew alphabet,” according to last October’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the famous study released by the Pew Research Center.

“But far fewer (13% of Jews overall, including 16% of Jews by religion and 4% of Jews of no religion) say they understand most or all of the words when they read Hebrew,” the report continues.

Alarmed by this finding, the World Zionist Organization, the Israeli Education Ministry, and several partner organizations recently launched the Hebrew Language Council of North America to help more Jews become conversant in the language of their literature, lore, and land — as well as the language of their peers in Israel.



Israel launching drive to void Goldstone Report

WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would launch an international campaign to cancel the Goldstone Report after its author, ex-South African Judge Richard Goldstone, wrote in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that Israel did not intentionally target civilians as a policy during the Gaza War, withdrawing a critical allegation in the report.

Netanyahu said he had asked his security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, to establish a committee focused on “minimizing the damage caused” by the report.


Facebook and Zuckerberg does an about-face and deletes Palestinian page calling for a Third Intifada

Following widespread criticism, a Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada against Israel was removed on March 29. On the Facebook page, Palestinians were urged to launch street protests following Friday May 15 and begin an uprising as modelled by similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan. Killing Jews en masse was emphasized.

According to the Facebook page, “Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews.” The page had more than 340,000 fans. However, even while the page was removed, a new page now exists in its place with the same name,  “Third Palestinian Intifada.”


Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

WASHINGTON – The 8th District in southern Arizona represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comprises liberal Tucson and its rural hinterlands, which means moderation is a must. But it also means that spirits and tensions run high.

Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

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