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Jewish groups deplore state budget cuts

Jewish agencies braced for the worst after Gov. Chris Christie last week announced more than $2 billion in budget cuts for the remainder of the 2010 fiscal year.

Christie’s address to a joint session of the legislature last Thursday came shortly after the governor declared a fiscal emergency in New Jersey. The cuts, he told the legislature, were “among the hardest decisions any governor could be called upon to make.”

The budget solutions, according to the governor’s office, focus on four areas: targeting savings or areas of over-funding; targeting waste and ineffective programs; identifying areas for long-term reform; and making hard choices in the form of budget cuts. In total, the governor’s plan included 375 line item cuts and program eliminations — and that has the Jewish community worried.

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Gov. Chris Christie announced more than $2 billion in budget cuts last week.

“A lot of the money’s coming from the programs for the needy,” said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the N.J. State Association of Jewish Federations, which represents the state’s 12 Jewish federations in Trenton.

As of Tuesday, Toporek was still reviewing the governor’s proposals but he had already pinpointed areas that would hit Jewish organizations.

School aid is taking a large hit as the government plans to withhold $475 million. Many of the state’s school districts have surplus budgets, according to Christie, and no district will lose more aid than it has in its surpluses. The cuts, however, will affect the large number of parents who send their children to day school and rely on state aid for busing. Under state law, towns and cities that provide busing for their public school students must also provide it for private school students. If public busing is available, day-school students can ride those buses for free for up to 20 miles. Parents whose children travel farther than 20 miles have to pay for bus service but receive a state reimbursement of $884. Under Christie’s proposal, that number has been cut in half.

Josh Pruzansky, director of Agudath Israel of New Jersey, an Orthodox advocacy organization, and chair of the State of New Jersey Non-Public School Advisory Committee, declined comment on the cut.

Among the other programs sent to the budget guillotine is New Jersey After 3, an organization that funds after-school programs. Jewish Family Service of Bergen County receives $186,000 annually from New Jersey After 3 to run programs at four Cliffside Park elementary schools that attract more than 235 youngsters weekly. With New Jersey After 3 facing a cut of $5.24 million, the local programs are in jeopardy, said Lisa Fedder, JFS’s executive director.

“Across the state at least 10,000 kids will no longer have an after-school program, depending on when these programs shut down,” she said.

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Jacob Toporek

JFS planned to meet with the Cliffside Park superintendent on Feb. 18 to discuss funding options. One solution may be to ask parents to pay for the program, although Fedder recognized that many of the parents cannot afford it. Unless a funding source is found, the program will close, she said.

“We’re looking at all the alternatives because we want desperately to keep the program open,” Fedder said.

Englewood also has a New Jersey After 3 program, which is now in danger, said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), who had been a candidate for lieutenant governor on a ticket with former Gov. Jon Corzine.

“People will become educated as they see that, although there is room to cut fraud and abuse, what really is being cut is programs that are important to many of us, and in particular many of us in the Jewish community,” she said.

After-school program asks for help to ensure survival

After-school program asks for help to ensure survival

New Jersey After 3 has created an online petition urging the governor to restore its funding. The hours between 3 and 6 p.m. are the most dangerous for children, according to the petition, and cutting the program’s funding would close programs at more than 100 schools across the state.

For more information, visit

www.change.org/njafter3/actions/view/keep_12000_kids_safe_save_afterschool_programs_in_new_jersey

With cuts to after-school programs and N.J. Transit, Weinberg warned, some parents may be forced to quit jobs to take care of their children after school or because fare hikes could make commuting too costly.

Jewish Family Service of North Jersey in Wayne does not run a New Jersey After 3 program, but its director, Leah Kaufman, is concerned about the impact of these cuts on future funding.

“Applying for grants through the state is going to be more and more difficult,” she said.

The Assembly budget committee planned to meet Feb. 17, and Weinberg said the Senate budget committee would meet soon, as well, to discuss the cuts. Christie, she said, is doing exactly what he promised to do in his campaign: Cut expenditures without raising income.

“All of us are going to come to the realization that cutting spending means cutting programs all of us depend on,” Weinberg said.

“I know these judgments will affect fellow New Jerseyans and will hurt,” Christie said during his address last week. “This is not a happy moment.”

Christie’s remark, however, was little consolation for those affected. With the government already predicting a $10 billion shortfall for the next fiscal year, Jewish organizations were bracing for another round of cuts.

“Obviously the state needs to have money to run and cuts have to come from somewhere,” Fedder said, “but I hate to see it done on the backs of the most vulnerable and the people without voices.”

Toporek was pessimistic about the state’s 2011 budget, noting that many of these cuts may continue into the next fiscal year.

“These are just the cuts to make up the $2 billion shortfall indicated now through June 30,” he said. “If this is a harbinger of what’s going to happen, the next budget is going to be very painful as well.”

 
 

Christie faces ‘uphill battle’ in blue-law fight

Blue law advocates and detractors criticized Gov. Chris Christie’s plans, announced last week, to repeal Bergen County’s blue laws limiting businesses on Sunday, in order to boost state tax revenue.

The governor suggested the plan as part of a $29.3 billion 2011 budget that includes caps on property taxes and cuts to hundreds of state programs. Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak told The Jewish Standard that repealing the blue laws would require legislative approval but would result in an additional $65 million in tax revenues for the cash-strapped state.

Christie “has no philosophical support for shopping on Sundays,” Drewniak said. “It was merely a practical recognition of potential revenues.”

The announcement drew a storm of criticism from Bergen County, even from those who support loosening the Sunday shopping restrictions. State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), who ran on the Democratic ticket for lieutenant governor in last year’s election, said Christie made “a rookie mistake” in thinking he can gain support to repeal the Sunday restrictions.

“Blue laws can’t be wished away,” she said. “There is a law on the books that it can only be done by county-wide referendum.”

Bergen is the only one of New Jersey’s 21 counties that still maintains the restrictions.

In 2002, then-Assemblywoman Weinberg tried to advance a bill for individual communities in the county to opt out of the laws, but she was met with fierce opposition in the form of thousands of e-mails and voice messages.

“It’s one of the few issues I’ve ever dropped,” Weinberg said. “The telephones were so overwhelmed, the staff couldn’t work here.”

Elie Y. Katz, a Teaneck councilman and former township mayor, experienced a similar backlash in 2006 when he tried to push a referendum that would allow towns to opt out.

“It’s certainly not going to be a cakewalk for the governor,” Katz said. “Based on my personal experience as mayor and Sen. Weinberg’s experience as assemblywoman, the governor’s got a real uphill battle.”

At the heart of the issue, according to Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney, is the quality of life for county residents. During a telephone interview on Tuesday, McNerney accused Christie of trying to raise the taxes of Bergen residents, who would foot the bill for the effects of Sunday shopping.

“There’d be more traffic,” McNerney said. “That means more police, more first responders, higher property taxes, and a deterioration in the quality of life for many residents.”

McNerney also lambasted Christie’s plan to open the Xanadu shopping center in East Rutherford, still under construction, for Sunday shopping.

McNerney accused the governor of creating “an artificial crisis” and questioned his anticipated revenue of $65 million. Weinberg also questioned the figure’s source.

Drewniak in the governor’s office had no answer when asked about the figure’s origin.

Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer, a columnist for this paper and an outspoken critic of the blue laws, criticized Christie’s budget proposals, which include many cuts to education services, but praised the governor for attempting to tackle the blue laws.

“Overall the governor’s budget proposals, especially in the area of education, will destroy New Jersey,” he said. “In this one instance, I think he’s finally doing something smart.”

The North Jersey Board of Rabbis, of which Engelmayer is the former president, has come out in support of allowing individual towns to opt out of the blue laws. The board has also taken issue with Saturday-only sales, citing discrimination against Shabbat-observers and Seventh Day Adventists, who also observe a Saturday Sabbath. The board favors creating a voucher system that would allow Saturday Sabbath-observers to receive the discounts from Saturday-only sales on the following Monday.

“It would be a fair approach, especially since some of the Saturday-only sales are not really Saturday-only,” he said. “They’re weekend sales but because there’s no Sunday [shopping, they are Saturday only].”

The governor faces a June 30 deadline to complete the 2011 budget. McNerney and other county Democrats have been organizing press conferences and other protests, and, according to McNerney, they have attracted scores of supporters through the Internet.

Repealing the blue laws does have the support of business-owners, Drewniak said, but Christie is aware of “some public opposition” to lifting the restrictions and he will work with legislators to determine if repealing them is the best move.

The governor is “also looking for other ideas on replacing that $65 million,” Drewniak said. “We don’t want to backtrack from balancing a budget.”

 
 

Environmental leaders roiled by oil plan

President Obama’s announcement last week that he intends to allow drilling for oil off the Atlantic Coast drew swift condemnation from area political, environmental, and Jewish communal leaders.

Oil is “like coal, it’s not good from square one,” said Rabbi Lawrence Troster, a Teaneck resident who has worked with a number of Jewish environmental organizations. “They can’t guarantee there aren’t going to be oil spills and other things that won’t devastate the shore.”

Obama’s energy strategy called for the exploration off the Atlantic coastline from the coast of Florida up to Delaware. Obama also announced a series of car and truck fuel and emissions standards, and the purchase of 100 plug-in electric cars for federal agencies.

Troster called the oil exploration announcement “a calculated move,” a concession, to create leverage for Obama to tackle larger issues such as climate change.

The president “has some Democrats who are not on board on some of the climate change issues; this is a way of balancing some of the interests,” Troster said. “On environmental issues this particular administration is doing a much better job than the previous administration.”

He noted that it would be several years before offshore drilling became operational and even if the U.S. were to drill all of its domestic oil resources, it still would not be enough.

U.S. energy independence, he said, would not come from domestic oil drilling, but rather from pursuing sustainable alternative sources such as wind and solar energy.

“It’s really important in the 21st century and today’s economy to focus on modern techniques,” said Sybil Sanchez, director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

COEJL condemned Obama’s drilling announcement but praised other parts of the president’s strategy, such as improving fuel efficiency standards and regulating automobile greenhouse gas emissions.

“This administration is looking to take a comprehensive approach and we hope it will accomplish that,” Sanchez told the Standard. “We’re concerned when we see offshore exploration for oil drilling. We want to see more of a focus on clean technology.”

Reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil is a matter of national security, Sanchez continued, but reducing fossil fuel dependence in general is also a national concern.

Obama emphasized in his speech that the emissions caps and domestic exploration are “part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies on homegrown fuels and clean energy.”

The Gulf of Mexico contains 36 billion to 41.5 billion barrels of undiscovered, recoverable oil and 161 trillion to 207 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, recoverable natural gas, according to the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service.

The Interior Department intends to hold two lease sales — one 50 miles off the coast of Virginia and the other in Alaska — by 2012. It is the Virginia plan that has drawn the ire of New Jersey’s politicians from within the president’s own Democratic party and the Republican party, despite its past support for domestic oil exploration.

“Even though the president’s draft plan does not propose drilling off the Jersey shore, it does allow oil and gas exploration just south of Cape May. That concerns me a great deal,” said Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) in a statement to the Standard. “Furthermore, any oil spills resulting from drilling operations further south could easily follow northerly currents and end up washing onto our beaches.”

The United States cannot drill its way out of its foreign oil dependence, Rothman said. The country needs to focus on the development of new, alternative energy and on conservation.

“Drilling off the Virginia coast would endanger many of New Jersey’s beaches and vibrant coastal economies,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) in a statement sent to this paper. “Giving Big Oil more access to our nation’s waters is really a Kill, Baby, Kill policy: it threatens to kill jobs, kill marine life, and kill coastal economies that generate billions of dollars. Offshore drilling isn’t the solution to our energy problems.”

The Garden State’s new Republican governor, Chris Christie, also condemned the plan.

“I oppose the idea of drilling off the coast of New Jersey,” Christie said in a statement. “New Jersey’s coastline is one of our economic engines and I would have to be really convinced of both the economic viability and environmental safety of oil and gas exploration off our coast. At this point, I’m not convinced of either.’’

According to Christie, Obama’s proposal so far includes areas off Virginia and the northern tip of Delaware near Cape May in the Delaware Bay. Though New Jersey’s coast is not included in the plan, an oil spill could have serious ramifications for the Jersey shore.

“That’s a reasonable fear,” Troster said. “When I hear there’s going to be more environmentally sensitive oil drilling, [I consider it] an oxymoron. It’s a very dirty form of energy production and I don’t think you can change that in any significant way.”

 
 

N.J.-Israel Commission funds slashed

The New Jersey-Israel Commission lost its director, Andrea Yonah, to budget cuts last week as it officially became part of a new initiative in the State Department to boost business in New Jersey.

The commission has been rolled into the Partnership for Public Action, which, under the auspices of Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, is charged with attracting new businesses, retaining businesses, and making the state more business-friendly, said Sean Connor, Gov. Chris Christie’s deputy press secretary. Other programs joining the Israel Commission will be announced in coming weeks, he added.

“The New Jersey-Israel Commission will be focusing on how to bring more economic development to the state of New Jersey,” he said. “We are excited about that. The New Jersey-Israel Commission has and will continue to play an important role in helping to attract, retain, and grow our relationships with global businesses.”

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who had chaired the commission, expressed optimism that its focus on business development and cooperation, cultural exchange, and educational exchange would remain

“We’ve been reassured by the lieutenant governor that the commission itself is now a valued part of [her] portfolio,” he said. “We’re going to make this work.”

Kurtzer tendered his resignation after the shake-up announcement just before Passover. The move was a courtesy to Christie who, Kurtzer said, should be allowed to choose his own chair. Kurtzer is hopeful, however, that the governor will see fit to reappoint him as a member of the commission.

Since the commission was already housed within the State Department, it was easier to roll it into the partnership than other programs, Connor said. The changes to the commission, he emphasized, were administrative and there would be no changes to its mission or membership make-up. The commission had been operating with an annual budget of $130,000, almost $120,000 of which went toward salaries for Yonah and another employee, he said.

April 9 marked the last day of Yonah’s eight-year tenure with the commission.

“She’s a powerhouse,” said commission member Howard Charish, executive vice president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. “She has been able to attract excellent leadership on the commission, bring business from Israel to New Jersey, and develop cultural, scientific, and trade relationships that have helped both New Jersey and Israel.”

“We’re not saying goodbye to Andrea,” said commission member Mark Levenson. “She will be working with us on lots of issues and ventures in terms of trying to help Israel and I can’t wait until she lands her next position because she is just a dynamo.”

Yonah remained upbeat during a phone interview with The Jewish Standard on Tuesday.

“To be able to bring the best of Israel and match it with the best of New Jersey was a dream,” Yonah said. “Both of our states have so much in common and so much to collaborate on and so much opportunity for the future.”

Her future remained uncertain, but, she said, she looked forward to spending time in Israel and continuing to help bridge the Jewish state and the Garden State.

As members praised Yonah’s leadership they also expressed outrage at Christie for cutting the commission’s funding.

“This is an affront to the people who volunteered to be on this commission,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), a longtime member. “This is an affront to an employee who had served so well for eight years. It’s an affront to the Jewish community.”

Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) had harsher words for Christie.

“The governor’s budget sold the commission out with any number of other groups,” he said. “The New Jersey-Israel Commission was one of the first of its kind. It has been shown and proven that the commission is instrumental in creating jobs for New Jersey.”

Schaer, a member of the Assembly’s budget committee, also lashed out at Christie’s budget proposals.

“There are so many areas of real concern that so many of us have regarding seniors, education, colleges, and universities,” he said.

Christie has the option to veto any changes the Assembly or Senate budget committees make and, according to Schaer, he has pledged to do so. Despite the Christie administration’s explanations, Schaer doubted the benefits achieved by the change.

“With New Jersey-Israel Commission we see the cost was ridiculously small compared to the deficit and the very real benefit — the close relationship with the State of Israel,” he said. “In that case, the governor’s proposal doesn’t make financial sense and doesn’t make any sense at all.”

The New Jersey-Israel Commission was created in 1989 to foster business ties as part of a sister-state agreement. More than 700 New Jersey companies do business with Israel, 65 Israeli companies maintain operations in New Jersey, and 18 New Jersey companies have operations in Israel.

 
 

Diaspora Jews rally to Israel’s defense

Flotilla fallout: Political poker

New Jersey’s elected officials on both sides of the aisle appeared steadfast in their support of Israel after last week’s flotilla raid as Jewish leaders continued to lobby on behalf of the Jewish state.

“The most important thing that we as Americans can do,” said Leonard Cole, an adjunct professor of political science at Rutgers University, Newark, and former president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, “is let our elected officials know that we feel strongly that Israel’s insistence on inspecting goods that are being brought into Gaza is entirely justified. If the tendency by some in the United States to curry favor with the Muslim world trumps the absolute requirement for fairness and support for the only democratic regime in that area, then we’re giving up the moral high ground.”

It is not in America’s best interests, Cole continued, to weaken in its support of an ally — in this case Israel — lest other allies begin to feel they cannot count on U.S. support.

The State Association of Jewish Federations, which represents New Jersey’s federations in Trenton, is pressing state legislators to support Israel. Its director, Jacob Toporek, issued an open letter to Gov. Christie and the 120-member state legislature last week outlining the reasons for Israel’s blockade and its actions. Almost immediately, he said, he received a call from Republican Assemblywoman Amy Handlin of Monmouth County, who said she would introduce a resolution supporting Israel based on the letter.

“That’s a terrific response, unexpected, and we’re very pleased by it,” Toporek said.

“It’s all a public relations game. This open letter and resolution would be very, very helpful.”

Christie’s office acknowledged the letter on Wednesday but had no comment at that time.

“Hopefully as time passes and the outside world sees how Israel is really treating groups trying to bring in outside aid,” Toporek said, “they’ll realize what happened is a confrontation set up by those supportive of Hamas and who intend to put Israel in the worst light.”

NORPAC, the Englewood-based pro-Israel lobby, has been calling members of Congress to emphasize that Israel’s blockade is more of an arms embargo on Hamas, said the group’s president, Ben Chouake. Response on the Hill has been very positive, he told The Jewish Standard.

“They fully understand that Hamas is a terrorist group, that they’ve been overtly aggressive to the civilian population of Israel; they oppress their own people, and a flotilla of militants provoked violence against Israeli soldiers who gave them adequate warning and were peacefully trying to enforce an arms quarantine,” Chouake said.

At least among New Jersey’s representatives in Washington, NORPAC appears to be getting its message across.

“My colleagues understand that Israel has a legitimate right and important need to protect its citizens from rockets and guided missiles being brought to Gaza,” Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) told the Standard on Wednesday. “There is some regret over the loss of life, not withstanding the fact that those killed were almost certainly armed and well-trained jihadists bent on provoking Israel’s violent reaction and creating an international episode.”

Asked why President Obama has not firmly come out in support of Israel in this incident, Rothman credited the president for preventing a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel and calling for an international inquiry.

“In diplomacy, it is often the case that the most powerful and effective operations occur behind the scenes and that is what’s happened here,” Rothman said. “In my opinion — and in the view of the good guys as well as the bad guys around the world — actions always speak louder than words. Sometimes soothing words are possible along with quiet diplomacy, but sometimes they are not.”

Rothman’s colleagues in Washington issued their own statements supporting Israel’s actions.

“Israel has every right to defend itself and enforce its blockade against the terrorist Hamas government in Gaza,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg said in a statement sent to this newspaper. “The organizations operating the flotilla made their intention to violate the blockade clear and refused Israel’s repeated offers to process the aid through appropriate channels. Clearly, there were people aboard the lead ship who were intent on violence and sparked the tragic events.”

In a statement to the Standard earlier this week, Sen. Bob Menendez outlined the necessity for Israel’s blockade.

“If the blockade were to be broken,” he said in the statement, “it would be impossible to tell which vessels were carrying humanitarian supplies and which were carrying deadly rockets. The bottom line is that the attempt to prevent materials that could be used against Israel from reaching Hamas is of vital interest to Israel and to its national security, and I fully support it.”

The senator went on to emphasize that the international reaction to last week’s incident could legitimize Hamas, which would undermine the peace process.
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) said that it was regrettable that lives were lost in the raid but praised the bipartisan support for Israel in both houses of Congress. He affirmed Israel’s “right to protect its citizens.”
“It is crucial for the United States to stand beside Israel during these tumultuous times and I am heartened by the bipartisan Congressional support for Israel’s recent actions,” he said in a statement to this newspaper. “I believe the strategic relationship between our two democratic governments will continue to withstand the threats and actions of terrorists who seek to create a rift between our two nations.”

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8) pointed to the need to keep weapons out of Gaza.

“Israel has the right to defend itself and its borders and to prevent Hamas from acquiring weapons and missiles that it has proven it will use to attack innocent Israeli civilians with little restraint,” he said in a statement to the Standard on Tuesday.

Pascrell took a more sympathetic tone toward the people of Gaza, pointing out what he called “the ongoing humanitarian crisis” there. The current situation there, he said, is “unacceptable and unsustainable.”

“I am pleased the Israeli government has shown signs that it will consider modifications to their blockade,” the statement continued. “I believe that we can allow humanitarian goods to enter the territory while still ensuring that weapons are not imported and Hamas is not resupplied.”

Breaking from his colleagues, Pascrell called for the creation of an independent commission to conduct an impartial investigation of the flotilla incident.

“We are grateful that the leadership of the United States has been supportive in this matter,” Chouake said. “They well recognize the need for Israel to defend itself against the terrorist group Hamas and it is important to prevent arms from reaching these terrorists.”

 
 

Muslim mayor and Jewish deputy highlight Teaneck’s diversity

Teaneck has long been on the frontlines of diversity. In the 1960s it was the first town in America to integrate its schools. It is home to more than 20 synagogues, more than 30 kosher restaurants, and a large mosque, which led The New York Times several years ago to dub it “the Jerusalem of the West.”

And last week, the township council appointed New Jersey’s first Muslim mayor. His pairing with an Orthodox Jewish deputy mayor is reportedly a first in the country.

Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin has been on the council since 2008, while Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen won re-election to his second four-year term in May. The pair’s relationship, however, goes back to their days at Ben Franklin Middle School.

“It was sports,” Hameeduddin said. “That would be the first thing everybody did.”

The two became friends playing pick-up games of basketball, and later started a volleyball team in a Teaneck High fund-raiser tournament. During their junior and senior years, their team — named Volleyball Marathon Champs their senior year — came in second place.

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Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen, left, and Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin

“We had our eye on the prize and we weren’t going to settle for less,” Gussen said.

The two eventually wound up at Rutgers University together, and the friendship continued. In 2006, after Gussen won his first term on the council, he noticed that several of the Teaneck planning boards had vacancies. Leaders of Hameeduddin’s mosque had been discussing expansion and land-use issues with the town, so Gussen encouraged his friend to run for the planning board. Hameeduddin ran, won, and served during the contentious debate over the township’s master plan to redevelop the Cedar Lane area.

“How I conducted myself in the Master Plan process built friendships with the mayor and others,” Hameeduddin said. “If you can’t compromise, then there is no democracy.”

In 2008, Hameeduddin ran for council in what many deemed a controversial election marred by uproar over the firing of two elderly black poll workers, perceived anti-Semitic comments by another candidate, and furor over a slate promoted by Councilman Elie Y. Katz. Hameeduddin was the only member of that slate to win election.

Teaneck has its issues with race and religion, but Hameeduddin praised the township for putting them aside when it matters most.

“The people who would vote against me wouldn’t vote against me because I’m Muslim,” he said. “They’d vote against me because of my politics.”

Hameeduddin pointed out that he and Gussen have disagreed on matters of policy. Hameeduddin voted to fire former Township Manager Helene Fall, while Gussen voted against firing her. Gussen supports repealing the blue laws, while Hameeduddin supports the restrictions.

“Teaneck did its job in creating an environment where Mohammed and Adam become friends — that childhood friendship goes through a lifetime, and then we can sit down as adults 25 years later and talk about commonalities we have,” Gussen said. “We can respect each other’s differences. That’s based on trust and mutual respect.”

“Politics by its very nature is divisive,” Hameeduddin said. “People need to disagree without being disagreeable.”

The pair have their work cut out for them. According to state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), the township lost millions in funding from Gov. Chris Christie’s budget cuts.

While the combination of a Muslim mayor and Jewish deputy mayor may be unique throughout the country, it’s par for the course in Teaneck, according to Weinberg, a township resident.

“We’re used to living in our diverse community — to us it’s not such a giant leap forward,” she said. “We’ve had an African-American mayor, an Asian-Indian mayor. I’m happy to say that while many other people think it’s unique, I don’t think we do.”

 
 

Jewish agencies cheer as N.J. After 3 wins back partial funding

After months of wrangling and arguing, New Jersey’s 2011 budget passed the legislature last week with many of Gov. Chris Christie’s cuts intact. To the relief of the Jewish organizations that had lobbied for it, one organization, New Jersey After 3, returned from budgetary no-man’s-land and saw its state allocation partially restored.

New Jersey After 3 received a $3 million allocation, down from $10 million the previous year. Approximately 12,000 students across the state attend New Jersey After 3 after-school programs. Jewish Family Service of Bergen County and North Hudson administers the program in Cliffside Park and JFS is one of many organizations that went to bat for New Jersey After 3 during the budget debates.

“I was really delighted to see some funding restored and see the commitment on the part of the state to the children and families who really desperately need the programming,” said Lisa Fedder, JFS’s director.

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New Jersey After 3 provides funding and support for after-school programs, like this one in Cliffside Park administered by Jewish Family Service of Bergen County. Courtesy Jewish Family Service

Fedder was unsure about how the $3 million would be divided among the program’s more than 60 partner organizations. In past years, JFS has charged parents only a $200 registration fee, but as fears of funding cuts grew, the organization and the school district began looking into other fee-based funding models.

Fedder expects the 2010-11 program to charge a small registration fee in addition to a monthly charge, although those numbers have not yet been set. Fedder noted that as funding decreased this past year, the program was able to accept fewer children. While some 300 children were in the program during the 2008-09 school year, JFS had to cap enrollment at 235 this past year. Fedder expects a minimum of 100 children for the new school year. The program will also expand from first- to eighth-grade students to include kindergarten and pre-K as well.

Still, funding remains a major concern, especially for families that rely on the program to care for their children after school.

“I’m concerned there may be families who cannot afford even our very low fees,” Fedder said. “I don’t know how that will play out.”

Christie announced a series of budget cuts in February, including a more than $5 million cut to New Jersey After 3, to close a $2 billion budget gap for the 2010 fiscal year. The governor continued to slash spending across the board ahead of the 2011 fiscal year, and New Jersey After 3 expected to see its funding dropped entirely.

More than 300 children attended JFS’s Club Ed after-school program in four elementary schools in Cliffside Park. New Jersey After 3 had slotted $186,000 for JFS during the 2009-10 school year, but that was sliced to $93,000 after Christie’s 2010 budget cuts. JFS had received approximately $300,000 from New Jersey After 3 in 2008-09.

JFS’s director of school-based services, Suad Gachem, testified before the Assembly budget committee in April in support of New Jersey After 3.

“If these programs are to disappear,” she said during her testimony, “30 to 40 percent of the children would be latchkey children, coming home alone at a very young age to an unsupervised home until their parents return from work.”

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, which represents the Garden State’s 12 federation in Trenton, worked through various networks to persuade Trenton to restore funding to several programs. Toporek did not expect to see the New Jersey After 3 funding in the new budget.

“New Jersey After 3 was a very pleasant surprise,” he said.

Bergen Family Service also runs a New Jersey After 3 program in Englewood, which District 37’s Sen. Loretta Weinberg, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle helped create.

“It is an important program first and foremost for our children,” Weinberg said. “Although [the restoration] didn’t begin to fund what it should have funded, at least we got some of the money back.”

Members of the state Senate and Assembly Democratic caucuses put forward the programs they wanted most, and in the end, “a chorus of voices” restored partial funding.

“People are going to have to realize that this budget was really balanced by an increase in property taxes as the result of a loss of state aid to schools and municipalities, and then by the loss of programs that are important to all of us,” Weinberg said. “It’s not magical.”

 
 

Of Byrd, books, and Fox ‘facts’

 

New head of umbrella group spells out its priorities

Ruth Cole, the new president of the State Association of Jewish Federations, sees “senior population issues” as among the most important facing New Jersey. And the association is marshaling its clout and allies to ease conditions for that population.

The Ridgewood resident cited the association’s support of the “aging-in-place program — we are urging the state of New Jersey to direct resources to serving underserved seniors so they can … continue to live as well as they can in their own homes, along with transportation so they can get to health care, nutrition services, and socialization. That would maintain their quality of life and avoid [their having to live in] nursing homes.”

The cost of maintaining people in their own homes, she noted, is about 10 percent of what it would be in nursing-home care.

For example, she said, “we try to further legislation that would amend the laws to include volunteer drivers’ efforts” for senior transportation.

“We are collaborators,” Cole said of the umbrella organization created by the state’s 12 Jewish federations. “We build teams of people” — professional and lay leaders of affiliated agencies — “with mutual interests” about “the public interest.” And then those leaders, either individually or as a group, advocate for needed funding and/or legislation.

“We really need to continue to help nonprofit agencies find funding in this very tight budget situation in this state,” she stressed. “If we weaken our nonprofit agencies, then the state would incur greater expenses in administering these services.”

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At the annual meeting July 8 of the State Association of Jewish Federations, Ruth Cole was installed as the umbrella organization’s president. She is flanked by Jacob Toporek, its executive director, and Roy Tanzman, its outgoing president. Rachel Toporek

Another high-priority item is boosting the New Jersey-Israel Commission. “The people in our leadership care about this,” she said. They are “very supportive of increasing the activities of the New Jersey-Israel Commission and its visibility and viability.”

The association has “a long history of promoting New Jersey as a premier location for Israeli companies. Our goal is to assist Israeli companies in making their move to New Jersey a successful one.”

This state, she pointed out, is Israel’s 12th-largest trading partner in the United States. “That translates into millions of dollars annually for the economy of New Jersey.”

Noting that Gov. Chris Christie had expressed a commitment to leading a trade mission to Israel, Cole said that the association offered its help to set up areas of interest and meetings for the mission, which would enhance the economic development of the state.”

Homeland security is also high on the association’s list of priorities. “The New Jersey-Israel Commission,” she noted, “was one of the major sponsors in June of ‘09 of a symposium on terror medicine, preparedness, and transportation systems, etc., that should be protected.” A similar symposium, focusing on local preparedness for terrorism and disaster, is set for Sept. 22 at Montclair University and is being coordinated, she noted, by her husband, Dr. Leonard Cole, an expert on bioterrorism. “At last year’s symposium,” she said, Gov. Jon Corzine was the honorary chair, “and we are anticipating that Gov. Christie will be the honorary chair” of the September symposium.

The state association also advocated for the state’s divestment from Iran, and as of March, according to Cole, “had divested more than 90 percent of its investment in companies [that do business with Iran] and are working with our Community Relations Councils and other community partners to now work for the ‘No Nuke for Iran’ initiative and ‘New Jersey Stop Iran Now.’”

Cole came to the SAJF as a member of the board of trustees of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, where she serves as chair of Partnership 2000 with the city of Nahariya in the Western Galilee. A past chair of the federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council and a past president of Jewish Family Service of Bergen County and North Hudson, she was also chair of leadership development for the federation. Her fellow officers have similar federation activities on the résumés. (Cole’s is also heavily weighted with Hadassah accomplishments, and she is the current national chair of Hadassah magazine.)

Another representative from UJA-NNJ, Susan Penn, is a member-at-large of the association.

Members-at-large, Cole explained, “represent the other executive board members of the state association and bring years of dedication and experience in community policymaking and advocacy.”

Penn, Cole continued, “is a very experienced knowledgeable leader on these issues, since she has been a chair of the CRC and along with myself and others is a leader in the Jewish Council for Public Affairs,” a community-relations councils and policy group umbrella organization. “She and I work with Joy Kurland,” director of UJA-NNJ’s Jewish Community Relations Council.

Asked how effective the association is, Cole said, “Very.” She noted that Stephen Sweeney, the president of the state Senate, had driven two hours from Gloucester to address the July 8 meeting, which had also been attended by the deputy consul general of Israel, Benjamin Krasna. “Having the top senator at our meeting,” she said, “indicates his respect for what we do.”

Meanwhile, “tough economic times require more advocacy and more education of our elected officials. You [have to] work with other bodies or you can’t be effective. It takes teamwork and working together to reach consensus and find a way to reach the goals — that programs that need to be supported are supported.” It helps, she said, that “the Jewish community leadership is strong, talented, experienced, and wise.”

 
 

New Jersey anti-bullying legislation moves forward in Trenton

Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights could pass through legislature as early as Monday

Legislation that would empower New Jersey educators to clamp down on bullying in their schools took another step forward in the Legislature in Trenton this week.

After a day of powerful testimonies from bullying victims and families, the bill, dubbed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, passed out of education committees in the Senate and Assembly on Monday and is headed for full votes in both bodies as early as next week. Because of its broad bipartisan support, the bill’s backers expect it to pass easily.

“We’re absolutely thrilled that it passed through the education committees,” said Etzion Neuer, director of New Jersey’s office of the Anti-Defamation League, which played a key role in arranging the testimonies earlier this week with Garden State Equality, the state’s largest gay-rights organization. “We’re now looking forward to a full vote. I’m quite optimistic that the bill will be signed with little to no opposition.”

Neuer was a member of the New Jersey Commission on Bullying in the Schools, whose 2009 report provided the impetus for the new legislation.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), one of the bill’s primary sponsors in the Assembly, praised the ADL and Garden State Equality for their work in demonstrating the need for the bill.

“They’ve given us great insight into what we could do. Both groups offered tremendous help and assistance,” she said.

Calls to Garden State Equality were not returned by press time.

The legislation is not a panacea for the problem of bullying, Neuer told The Jewish Standard. But, while acknowledging that several schools already handle the issue well, he said he was hopeful that the bill would fix some of the problems in how many schools deal with bullying.

“Many of us can remember being bullied or mistreated in our own school lives,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), one of the bill’s primary sponsors in the Senate. “When you hear the testimony of adults who’ve grown up and still can’t talk about it without becoming teary-eyed — the testimony was certainly heartfelt.”

While bullying has been in the news because of the recent suicide of gay Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, bullying is an across-the-board problem, Weinberg said.

“It’s against all populations — [any] kid who might just be a little different,” she said. “It’s apparently more widespread than any of us knew. When it’s carried to a real extreme, it has very serious consequences.”

Bullying is not just an issue in the public schools. Many of the area’s Jewish day schools have zero-tolerance policies on bullying. Because of the separation between state and religion, however, the government cannot enforce anti-bullying legislation in the private schools, Vainieri Huttle said.

To address this issue, language has been added that non-public schools are encouraged to comply with the bill’s provisions. Another amendment in the bill prevents the legislation from prohibiting students in faith-based schools from freely practicing their faiths.

“We wanted to cover all aspects to make sure they can practice their faith freely and encourage them to adopt these provisions,” Vainieri Huttle said.

If the bill passes both houses as expected next week, it then falls on Gov. Chris Christie to sign it into law. Vainieri Huttle was optimistic that schools could begin implementing changes as early as September 2011.

“Gov. Christie is not just a leader of New Jersey,” Neuer said. “He’s also a dad. He’s a person who has demonstrated empathy for victims before and I think he’s going to see that this bill enjoys tremendous support from young and old, rich and poor, Republican and Democrat, and he’ll support it in some fashion.”

Neuer praised Vainieri Huttle for her work in pushing the bill and getting broad bipartisan support for it.

“When all is said and done, thanks to the assemblywoman’s initiatives, New Jersey will have one of the most comprehensive [anti-]bullying laws on the books,” he said.

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights calls for:

• Deadlines for bullying incidents to be reported, investigated, and resolved

• Anti-bullying training of school personnel without creating new government entities or increasing taxes

• Every school’s website would post the name and contact info of an anti-bullying specialist

• Grading of each school on its safety, which would be posted on the schools’ websites

• Strengthening suicide prevention training for teachers to include the relationship between bullying and suicide

• Requiring public universities to prohibit bullying and create anti-bullying rules and procedures

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 
 
 
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