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Norpac doesn’t take sides

 
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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach doesn’t understand why Norpac, his local pro-Israel group, isn’t taking his side in his congressional race against Democrat Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. in New Jersey’s redrawn 9th District.

Boteach has hammered Pascrell over two issues regarding Israel: Pascrell’s signing in 2010 of a letter calling on President Barack Obama to press Israel to alleviate its blockade of Gaza, and Pascrell’s support for Mohammad Qatanani, head of the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson, who has been fighting efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to deport him for alleged ties to Hamas.

“You would expect Pascrell to ask Qatanani to repudiate Hamas,” Boteach said.

Government prosecutors, relying on Israeli military officials, said that Qatanani had confessed to belonging to Hamas. Qatanani denied the membership, saying he didn’t understand the Hebrew-language document he signed under Israeli military detention. An initial immigration court ruling clearing Qatanani and permitting him to stay in this country was overturned by an appeals panel, which sent the matter back to the lower court for reconsideration. The next hearing is scheduled for November.

Boteach has proffered a collection of quotes by Qatanani from addresses given in his mosque in recent years, in which he called the creation of the State of Israel “the greatest disaster which occurred on the face of the earth,” denied the presence of a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, and said of Israel that “it’s all the Muslim land.”

Qatanani’s highest profile political supporter is not a Democrat, however, but Republican Gov. Chris Christie. In the Jewish community, Qatanani was defended in this newspaper by Rabbi David Senter, then spiritual leader of the Congregation Beth Shalom in Pompton Lakes, who wrote that Qatanani “is a man dedicated to human rights and the pursuit of peace.”

Notwithstanding disagreements about Israel, Senter wrote, “On a professional level, Imam Qatanani has been a consistent voice within the Muslim community for moderation. He was the first to speak out against the Sept. 11 attacks and has consistently spoken out against terrorism.”

Pascrell’s spokesman, Keith Furlong, said that “Congressman Pascrell was raised by his parents to be a bridge-builder, and he has spent his entire career attempting to bring people together.”

Regarding the criticism of Israel’s Gaza party — known as the “Gaza 54 letter” for the number of members of Congress who signed it — the spokesman quoted Pascrell’s writing in this newspaper, in which he maintained that the original blockade, at the time of the letter, was overly broad, and praised Israel’s subsequent relaxation of the blockade six months later.

Dr. Ben Chouake, president of Norpac, an Englewood-based pro-Israel political action committee, said the group has made its feelings on these matters known to Pascrell.

“Some of the things he’s done have been stressing to the pro-Israel community,” Chouake said.

Partly for these reasons, he said, the committee is not supporting either candidate. It is not giving Pascrell its highest ranking, “friendly incumbent,” which would have put the organization’s full weight behind the congressman’s re-election.

The other factor in not taking sides, said Chouake, is that the redrawn 9th District “is an open seat. He hasn’t run here before.”

Classifying the race as open means “whoever wants to do stuff is fine with us. If someone wants to do an event for Pascrell that’s fine. If someone wants to do an event for Boteach, that’s fine.”

Chouake said that on the issues where he disagrees with Pascrell, “those are his constituents. He’s a constituent-based person. He speaks to people within his own community and that’s what a congressman does. You have to recognize that someone has been in Congress for 16 years and has had a good voting record. He votes for the Iran stuff, he votes for the foreign aid, he’s on most of the resolutions that AIPAC puts out. So he does this other stuff you’re unhappy with — he gets the criticism for that and he deserves it. But you have to give the guy credit for his voting record.

“Quite frankly, the other mitigating factor is that it’s really a Democratic seat. It’s been extremely gerrymandered. Boteach is excellent on the issue, but he’s not an incumbent. Organizationally, you invest your resources in races that are viable, and you have to give a person like Pascrell some credit for the fact that he has a good voting record,” he said.

Boteach said Norpac’s approach toward identifying a pro-Israel candidate “sets the bar so low.”

“It comes down to what you believe the foremost challenge facing Israel today is. If you believe Israel’s greatest challenge is money, the $3 billion in military aid, then that’s how you determine a friendly incumbent.

“If you believe it’s not primarily financial, that thank God Israel is becoming a wealthy country, if you believe the challenge is delegitimation….

“What good are the helicopters if you can’t use them because every time you use them against Hamas terrorists firing rockets the world declares Israel the aggressor because people like Pascrell say you’re subjecting Palestinians to collective punishment?

“When I asked Bill Pascrell nicely asking to repudiate the Gaza 54 letter, he repeated the slander that food and medicine were not getting in. It was the U.N. that ruled that the blockade was legal. If you believe as do I that the great challenge facing Israel is not financial but it’s legitimacy and security vis-a-vis Iran, how can you consider someone a friendly incumbent if they’re participating in the delegitimation of Israel?

“This isn’t about whether we win or lose. This is about doing the right thing. Even if I don’t win — and I plan to win, I think people will be surprised on Nov. 6 when I win this election, God willing — the Jewish community has to stand up for itself and have a spine. This race has caused me to question all of the strategies of the pro-Israel groups in the country. They’re afraid to offend Pascrell? Where does that kind of fear play a role in American politics?

“If we end up losing by a small margin because of Norpac’s refusal to take sides, they will forever have compromised their pro-Israel credentials and permanently harmed their organization.”

The race has tightened up recently, with the donation of half a million dollars to a pro-Boteach independent political action committee.

The donation, which was reported first in the Wall Street Journal, came from Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam. Adelson is the casino mogul and Birthright Israel backer who donated $10 million to support Republican Newt Gingrich’s primary campaign. He since has donated $10 million to former Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential bid.

Boteach said he did not know how that money would be spent.

“We have no way of knowing what the Super PAC will do. We won’t know what the strategy will be,” he said.

In the wake of the Adelson donation, the National Republican Congressional Committee upgraded Boteach’s status from “Young Guns” to “Contender.”

And Boteach said the direct support for his campaign has increased. “There’s a lot more money coming in,” he said.

Pascrell’s campaign responded by releasing a statement: “The threat of non-transparent political PAC money from free spending billionaires will not change Congressman Pascrell’s belief that residents deserve a fighter, someone who will stand up against extremist Republicans and their continued assault on middle class taxpayers.”

More concretely, however, the Pascrell campaign began soliciting donors in its first fundraising venture since the expensive primary race against Congressman Steve Rothman. Pascrell spent more than $2.8 million on that successful campaign.

On Monday, the campaign announced the formation of a 14-member campaign team featuring veteran local and national political activists and consultants.

“He needs an army to defeat me? I have two guys,” Boteach said. “It’s because his internal polls are telling him I’m creeping up on him. He’s on the run, he’s on the ropes, and we’re going to beat him, God willing.”

Or as a Boteach campaign press release put it: “It takes a nation of millions to hold Shmuley back.”

While Boteach wants to debate Pascrell’s policies, Pascrell does not seem to want to return the favor, at least on his website, where there’s no reference at all to foreign policy. Three face-to-face debates have been scheduled for October, one of them sponsored by this newspaper and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

But on Pascrell’s Facebook page, there is one sign the incumbent is aware of his opponent. In the banner on the page is a picture of the white-haired congressman at a schoolyard playground full of adorable little girls and yarmulke-wearing little boys.

 
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Laughing with Joan

I made Joan Rivers laugh.

Of course she made me laugh, like she did to millions of others through her decades-long, often unfiltered, and ever-funny career, but yes, I made Joan Rivers laugh.

At the time, I was working at the celebrity-obsessed New York Post, and as the features writer for its women’s section, I had reason to ring up the raspy-voiced, Brooklyn-born blonde for a quickie. I had to grab a quote for some story that I was writing. As I recall, the conversation had turned to food, a favorite subject of the Jewish woman on my end of the phone, and, apparently, of that Jewish woman on the other end as well. Joan told me that she just adored the creamed spinach served at the legendary Brooklyn restaurant, Peter Luger’s — a must-have accompaniment to its famous and robust steaks. Joan told me she would dine there with a hairdresser-to-the-stars, the late Kenneth Battelle. (She kept her physique petite with this practice: She never ate anything after 3 p.m. If she did find herself dining with someone, she popped Altoids to keep her mouth busy.)

 

Cookin’ it up!

Tales of a Teaneck kitchen prodigy

How did 12-year-old Eitan Bernath of Teaneck come to be on the Food Network’s popular cooking show “Chopped”?

“He’s always been curious and he likes science,” said his mother, Sabrina Bernath. “He thinks it’s cool to mix flavors and watch things rise. He also likes to make people happy,” she added, pointing out that he had just brought his friends a freshly baked batch of cinnabuns.

For Eitan, a student at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, cooking is more than just a hobby. Struggling for the right word, the fledgling chef — whose website, cookwithchefeitan.com, will launch this week — described his relationship with the culinary arts as a “passion.”

 

Policies are the best policy

Teaneck synagogue forum addresses child sexual abuse

Does your synagogue have policies in place to protect children from sexual abuse? Do your children’s schools and camps?

Such policies, Dr. Shira Berkovits told a meeting in Teaneck on Sunday night, can make a difference to children’s safety.

Dr. Berkovits is a consultant for the Department of Synagogue Services at the Orthodox Union, and she is developing a guide to preventing child sexual abuse in synagogues. She was speaking at Teaneck’s Congregation Rinat Yisrael, as part of a panel on preventing child sexual abuse co-sponsored by three other Teaneck Orthodox congregations: Netivot Shalom, Keter Torah, and Lubavitch of Bergen County.

 

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Many ways to learn

Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey reboots its adult ed program

We don’t know much yet about the findings of the soon-to-be-released survey by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, but there is one nugget that already has been made public.

Jewish adults hunger to know more. Their desire for Jewish learning continues to grow. Jewish educators and leaders know that to be true intuitively, and that understanding is borne out in the proliferation of programs and institutes around the area.

Until recently, the federation has fed that hunger with its Melton program. For years now, the Florence Melton program has brought its two-year, pluralistic, in-depth lessons to synagogue classrooms across the region. But nothing lasts forever, and the Melton program has now ended locally — as it has, in fact, in many of the other places that once hosted it.

 

Walking for life

Bone marrow donor, recipient to meet

At the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation’s third annual Walk for Life in Memory of Mel Cohen on Sunday, October 26, a 23-year-old Englewood bone-marrow donor will meet his 43-year-old recipient for the first time since the successful procedure was done, more than a year ago.

These emotional meetings are a highlight of the annual walk, Gift of Life’s CFO, Gregg Frances, said. “Every year at these events we introduce a donor who has never, until that point, met the recipient whose life he or she saved. There’s a one-year moratorium from the date of transplant to the date of meeting, as legislated by the United States.”

 

Teens: Don’t drink on Simchat Torah

Local yeshiva high schools send joint letter urging celebration but also restraint

The principals of six Jewish high schools serving northern New Jersey sent a joint letter to parents urging vigilance in the face of teenage drinking on Simchat Torah, “to guarantee that this special time of holiness will not degenerate into the opposite kind of experience for anyone.”

Nobody is sure how alcohol consumption became a tradition of this holiday, which celebrates the completion of the yearly Torah-reading cycle.

“There are rabbinic sources about drinking wine in the context of the Purim seudah,” or meal, says Teaneck’s Rabbi Michael Taubes, head of school for the Yeshiva University High School for Boys, and one of the six signatories.

 
 
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