Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
Blogs
 

entries tagged with: Jacob Toporek

 

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.

image
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.

image
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.”

 
 

Jews mixed on public-school cuts

image
Members of the state legislature held a town hall meeting Tuesday night at the Bergen Academies in Hackensack to hear concerns about the proposed 2011 budget. From left are Assemblywoman Joan Voss, Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, Sen. Bob Gordon, Sen. Paul Sarlo, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, and Assemblyman Fred Scalera. Josh Lipowsky

Public school teachers and students took to the streets this week in protest of last week’s statewide school board elections, which resulted in a rejection of almost 60 percent of New Jersey’s school budgets. As they struggle with high costs in the day-school system, Jewish communal leaders appeared mixed in their reactions to the emerging battle between the governor and the public schools.

Gov. Chris Christie is hailing the mass rejection as approval of his calls for schools to cut spending, including implementing a salary freeze for teachers. The state’s day-school system appears to have escaped largely unscathed, according to Howie Beigelman, the Orthodox Union’s deputy director of public policy, although community leaders are always concerned come budget time.

“We were extremely worried going into the budget; there were rumors of all kinds of cuts,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Jewish Standard. “But as far as Jewish schools go, we are seeing the same amount as last year in the [state] programs we use most — transportation and such — other than the lunch program, which has been inexplicably cut.”

State funding for non-public school lunch aid accounts for only 5 percent of a more than $8 million budget for the programs, according to Josh Pruzansky, director of Agudath Israel, an Orthodox advocacy organization, and chair of State of New Jersey Non-Public School Advisory Committee. That funding is a victim of Christie’s cuts, but the other 95 percent, which comes from federal funding, remains intact.

The state cut $7 million in technology aid to day schools in the 2010 budget, Pruzansky said. The schools have struggled to make up that funding but, in the proposed 2011 budget, they escaped the major cuts that will affect the public schools.

“On the whole, non-public schools are still hurting,” Pruzansky said. “The only thing we can be thankful for is there was no [major] decrease in aid.”

Pruzansky lashed out at the New Jersey Education Association for not accepting the governor’s call for a wage freeze for teachers. Public school teachers typically earn much higher salaries than their day-school colleagues, he said.

“Non-public school teachers are sacrificing far more than their public-school counterparts,” Pruzansky said. “The heroes in education today should be non-public school teachers who do more with less.”

For Yavneh Academy in Paramus, last year’s technology grant cut meant a loss of $27,500, according to the school’s executive director, Joel Kirschner. Though the day-school system appears to have escaped the budget ax in the coming cycle, the cuts to the public schools are still disturbing, he said.

“We work closely with our public schools, and it’s hard to advocate for the needs of the yeshivot when public school funding is being questioned,” he said. “However, we should still try where at all possible.”

Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt, head of school at Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland, sympathized with her public-school colleagues.

“Our hearts go out to the students and the families and the teachers in the public-school system,” she said. “We hope that the financial crisis will be averted in the near future.”

Teachers gathered outside state Sen. Loretta Weinberg’s Teaneck office last week and students across the area walked out of schools in protest on Tuesday. Weinberg (D-37) and state Sens. Paul Sarlo (D-36) and Bob Gordon (D-38) held a community forum at Bergen Academies in Hackensack on Tuesday night, which attracted about 100 residents from across the county who mostly spoke out against the budget cuts. In response, Gordon called the budget proposal “reckless” and accused Christie of a “reverse Robin Hood” mentality.

“The legislature will put its own impact on this budget,” Weinberg told the audience at the end of the meeting. “We are going to be your advocate.”

Some Jewish organizations are going to bat in Trenton for public-school programs facing cuts in the new budget. Suad Gacham, director of School Based Services for Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson, testified before an Assembly budget hearing last week about New Jersey After 3, an after-school program in danger of losing more than $5 million in state funding. JFS runs one program in Cliffside Park that attracts more than 235 youngsters weekly and may face cancellation.

“If these programs are to disappear,” Gacham told the budget committee, “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. Children would be at risk.”

Praising the work of public-school educators, Lisa Fedder, executive director of JFS, called Tuesday’s student walkouts “an exercise in democracy.”

“For some, it may be their first exercise in democracy — how you identify a cause and take steps to express your point of view,” she said.

Christie’s press secretary, Michael Drewniak, issued a statement earlier this week condemning the student walkouts.

“First, students belong in the classroom,” he said. “Students would be better served,” he added, “if they were given a full, impartial understanding of the problems that got us here in the first place and why dramatic action was needed.”

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the State Association of Jewish Federations, said it has been working with other organizations advocating against the cuts rather than taking a lead.

“The governor’s seeking a shared sacrifice, and I think the agencies and the people we’re advocating with recognize that,” Toporek said in a telephone interview. “But they’re very much concerned that the impact on the clientele we deal with may be a little greater than the impact of the shared sacrifice on others.”

Democratic legislators have promised to make changes to the budget, but Christie has also vowed to veto any significant reversals to his cuts.

“I don’t know where it’s going to go,” said JFS’ Fedder. “I know that people are dealing with some very difficult issues. There are not any easy answers.”

 
 

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.”

 
 

N.J. coalition calls for continuing divestment from Iran

image
Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, Sen. Robert Gordon, and Assemblywoman Linda Stender with members of No Nukes for Iran Teen Advocacy Initiative at a June 10 press conference in Trenton praising the state’s divestment efforts from Iran and calling for further action. Photo courtesy of UJA-NNJ

Legislators, Jewish communal leaders, and anti-Iran activists held a press conference in Trenton last week to laud state efforts to divest from Iran and encourage businesses to do the same.

The June 10 press conference at the State House, organized by the N.J. Stop Iran Now Coalition, coincided with the one-year anniversary of the demonstrations in Iran following the disputed elections there. Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-21) presided over the event. The press conference’s goal, he told this paper afterward, was to keep the Iranian issue in the public eye.

“When you talk about an issue as significant as Iranian nuclear weapons and Iranian government policy, I’m not sure you can measure a response,” Bramnick said. “What is important in American media is that you keep it on the front burner as much as possible.”

Joy Kurland, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, said the press conference was as much a call to action as it was a reminder of New Jersey’s achievements.

“We call upon all the counties and municipalities in New Jersey to withhold their support for investment in companies that are doing business with entities and subsidiaries of the Iranian government,” said Kurland, who also heads the regional CRC, made up of UJA-NNJ, United Jewish Communities of Metrowest, and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. “New Jersey clearly set an example when the state divested from its pension funds.”

Former Gov. Jon Corzine signed legislation in 2007 ordering New Jersey to divest its pension funds from companies that deal with Iran. The Garden State has since divested almost $500 million from 11 companies, including Gazprom OAO, Lukoil OAO, and Mitsui & Co., according to the N.J. Department of the Treasury. In all, the department has identified 34 companies tied to Iran or doing business within Iran’s natural gas or petroleum sectors that are ineligible for investment by New Jersey’s pension and annuity funds.

Divestment has overwhelming support in the legislature, Bramnick said. Iran’s irrational leadership is cause for worldwide concern, he added.

“It’s one thing when you have pure terrorists that don’t have a nation-state behind them,” he said. “But leaders of a nation-state have military at their fingertips. That’s a frightening situation.”

The N.J. Stop Iran Now Coalition, created in 2007, includes the American Jewish Committee, AIPAC, JCRC of UJA-NNJ, the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of Metrowest, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in New Jersey, the N.J. State Association of Jewish Federations, and No Nukes for Iran Teen Advocacy Initiative.

No Nukes for Iran is organizing a rally on Monday outside of Honeywell in Morristown to protest the company’s British subsidiary, UOP, which, Kurland said, is doing business with Iran. The coalition’s next move remains unclear, but organizers are firm in their message.

“We’re trying to do as much as we can to have the state move forward from where it is now,” said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the State Association. “As the coalition is in formation so is what it will look like in terms of moving forward. Everybody’s got some ideas and thoughts and we have to sit down and talk about them.”

 
 

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.

image
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.”

 
 

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.”

image
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.”

 
 

Montclair State to host terror medicine symposium

image
At the 2009 Symposium on Terror Medicine were, from left, Jill Lipoti, director of the division of Environmental Safety and Health–N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, Andrea Yonah, then-director of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, and Leonard Cole. Miriam ALLENSON

If a bomb were to go off at the corner market and you were lucky enough to escape uninjured, what would you do until first-responders arrived? Would you try to pull survivors out? Try to keep people calm? Would you defer to the professionals?

Some 200 people will hear the answers to such questions next week’s Symposium on Terror Medicine & Terrorism at Montclair State University.

“All of us will be asking these questions of ourselves during the symposium,” said Dr. Leonard Cole, an adjunct professor of political science at Rutgers University and a member of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Center for BioDefense executive committee that organized the symposium. A Ridgewood resident, he is the author of “Terror: How Israel Has Coped and What America Can Learn.”

This is the second year the university has sponsored the event, which is designed to change the way the public looks at terrorism preparation. The lineup of speakers includes a retired Israeli general and other Israeli military personnel, Israeli psychologists and social workers, first-responders, and Charles McKenna, director of New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness.

“Anyone who feels an attachment to Israel would be particularly interested in hearing about the Israelis’ experience,” Cole said. “Israel, after all, has unfortunately but necessarily become probably the world’s premier expert in response to terrorism attacks.”

Last year’s conference, at UMDNJ in Newark, attracted more than 200 first-responders and laypeople. Speakers included Dr. Donald Jenkins, retired U.S. Air Force trauma surgeon at U.S. Central Command, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan; Dr. Clifton Lacy, former New Jersey commissioner of Health and Senior Services and current director of the University Center for Disaster Preparedness at UMDNJ; and Richard Cañas, then-director of the N.J. Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

Israelis who attended included Tzipi Kahana of the Israel Police’s Division of Identification and Forensic Sciences and Estelle Rubinstein, deputy director of social services for Hadassah Hospital.

“Because the Israelis have had much more hands-on experience, they have developed protocols and approaches that can only be helpful to us in the United States,” Cole said. “Fortunately for us, the Israelis are eager to share their knowledge.”

When an Israeli 8-year-old, for example, sees an unattended backpack or package in the schoolyard, that student is much more likely to say something to a teacher or other authority figure than an American 8-year-old.

“We in the U.S. have not absorbed that kind of behavior as a normal matter of activity,” Cole said.

He pointed to the apparent terror attack rehearsal in New York’s Times Square, in which a car with a homemade explosive inside was left running. Public vigilance led to the car’s discovery before any damage could be wrought.

“For weeks afterward there was a lot of public assessment about how prepared we were or would have been had there been an actual explosion,” Cole said.

The New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, the umbrella group that represents the interests of New Jersey’s 12 federations in Trenton, is not an official sponsor of the symposium but has lent its muscle to promoting it.

“The security concerns of the community are always of the utmost in our minds,” said State Association executive director Jacob Toporek. “Anything we can do to support the effort and strengthen the effort is something the State Association and the federations are interested in.”

The symposium has also received letters of support from state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9).

“We are reminded daily of threats from terrorism and disaster, and this forum will go a long way toward making us better prepared to deal with them,” Rothman wrote the organizers earlier this year.

Gov. Chris Christie has also agreed to be the honorary chair of the symposium. Cole was noncommittal about whether it would become an annual event, but noted that the response has been positive so far and he expects attendance to eclipse last year’s.

What: Symposium on Terror Medicine & Security

Where: The Conference Center at Montclair State University in Montclair

When: Wednesday, Sept. 22

Sponsors: UMDNJ-Center for BioDefense The Program on Terror Medicine and Security

New Jersey EMS Task Force

Israel Consulate General in New York

UMDNJ-Center for Continuing & Outreach Education

New Jersey-Israel Commission

New Jersey Department of State

For more information on the conference, visit http://ccoe.umdnj.edu/terrormedicine.

N.J. Homeland Security to host confab

The N.J. Department of Homeland Security & Preparedness was scheduled to host a conference in New Brunswick today for local, state, and federal law enforcement and emergency management officials. Topics were to include terror financing, protecting critical infrastructure, and cyber security.

Richard Clarke, former White House Homeland Security adviser and international cyber security expert, will give the keynote address.

For more information, call (609) 588-7250.

 
 

Jewish Labor Committee partners with Working Families United

JLC wants to be ‘shidduch between Jewish community and the local labor movement’

image
Jacob Taporek, center, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, was among the guests at the recent Labor Seder. courtesy JLC

Historically, the Jewish community has been a partner with organized labor, but the connection has weakened in recent years. Martin Schwartz, executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee, wants to reinvigorate it. To that end, the nonprofit JLC recently became a partner agency in Working Families United for New Jersey, a statewide grassroots coalition of labor, religious, community, civil rights, students’, women’s, and retirees’ groups.

This move is part of the JLC’s broader effort to rekindle traditional ties between Jewish groups and organized labor at a time when, according to the agency, labor unions are being unfairly blamed for the nation’s ills.

The partnership “will help us to advance both sets of interests — those of the labor movement and those of Jewish groups,” Schwartz said.

He explained that often there is overlap between the labor movement and Jewish communal organizations in terms of lobbying efforts.

“Often the labor movement and Jewish groups are advocating for the same issues and not aware of it,” he said.

He expects the partnership will strengthen both groups’ abilities to advance issues of common concern such as funding for education, health care, unemployment compensation, and job training.

“Unions are understanding they need to go beyond just union membership to work with people concerned about these issues,” said Schwartz. Similarly, Jewish groups that “receive a lot of federal money for services they provide to the elderly and the poor in the Jewish community and others” realize they need allies, especially in a cutback-happy climate, he said.

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, believes the JLC’s move is “natural” and will build the influence of Jewish organizations in the area.

“As much clout as the Jewish community thinks it has, it can’t be as effective as it is working with others who feel the same way about certain issues,” Toporek said.

Issues Toporek said are of growing concern to his agency include Medicaid reimbursement for the elderly and a “new lower middle class” of the unemployed seeking help from federations.

“We are concerned with the impact of cuts in Medicaid on nursing homes and the elderly poor,” Toporek said. “In that respect we do share a lot of those concerns [with the JLC and WFUNJ].”

The JLC seeks to be matchmaker between the local Jewish and labor communities, according to to Arieh Lebowitz, its associate director.

“We speak the language of the Jewish community and the language of labor,” said Lebowitz. “The Jewish community used to understand the language of labor, and a lot of labor unionists spoke Yiddish. There are still Jews in the labor movement, but fewer have roots in the Jewish community.… Our goal is to be a shidduch between the Jewish community and the local labor movement.”

The JLC was formed by Yiddish-speaking immigrant trade union leaders in 1934 in reaction to the rise of Nazism in Germany, according to the JLC website. During World War II, the JLC established underground channels to anti-Nazi labor, socialist, and Jewish forces. Historically, in the United States, the JLC maintained close ties with the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

One possibility that could emerge from the new partnership with WFUNJ would be the presentation to local labor unions of a program developed by the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey on Israel as a democracy, according to Joy Kurland, the agency’s director. Schwartz recently met with the JCRC and suggested this idea.

Another possibility would be to arrange for local labor unionists to meet with Israeli labor unionists, Kurland added.

The JLC’s effort to revive traditional ties between the Jewish and labor communities comes at a time when labor unions are weathering criticism across the state and the nation.

“Unions and collective bargaining are under attack,” said Schwartz. “It’s important to raise the level of awareness and advocacy on these issues.”

The JLC’s outreach is also social: The agency held its annual Labor Seder in partnership with the State Association of Jewish Federations on April 13. Held at Cong. Ahavath Sholom, the only remaining synagogue in Newark, it brought together members of the local Jewish and other communities as well as labor union activists. Guests included Thomas Giblin, president of the Essex-West Hudson Labor Council, as well as leaders of several local labor unions including the Food and Commercial Workers’ Union, the Bakers’ and Confectioners’ Union, the Service Employees’ International Union, and the International Association of Machinists.

Also in attendance were Toporek and Ruth Cole, president of the State Association of Jewish Federations.

“It was a lovely gathering of people from many walks of life celebrating freedom for the Jewish people and for all people,” said Cole, who lives in Ridgewood.

“I’ve been to three or four Labor Seders and this one was the best,” said Toporek. “The people who organized it worked well together. They tried to bring the labor unions and the communities together and succeeded. You could really feel warmth in the room.”

 
 

Jewish group gets security training

image
From left are Paul Goldenberg, national director, National Secure Community Network; Charles McKenna, director of the N.J. Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness; Jacob Toporek, executive director of the N.J. State Association of Jewish Federations; Ruth Cole, its president; Mark Levenson, its president-elect; and Leonard Cole, director of the program on terror medicine and security of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. NJSAJF

The Secure Community Network, the non-profit homeland security initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, hosted an executive security conference June 14 for senior Jewish leaders in this state.

Paul Goldenberg, national director of SCN, who opened the conference at the East Brunswick Jewish Center, said that the “event highlights the strong partnership between the governor’s office, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, and the leadership of our Jewish communities in New Jersey.” He added, “The importance of public-private partnerships, particularly as it relates to homeland security efforts cannot be overstated.”

Co-sponsors were the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, the Anti-Defamation League, the Orthodox Union, and Agudath Israel.

Nearly 100 community delegates, law enforcement officers, and security experts attended.

The NJSAJF “is a prime sponsor and coordinating agent for this statewide security training program because it is important to our community safety,” said its president, Ruth Cole of Ridgewood,

“The Jewish community remains highly vulnerable to terrorist threats and, therefore, it is vital that we remain vigilant, prepared, and well-trained and that our community security communications network is well integrated from the initial receipt of alerts to rapid response deployment,” Cole said.

Morning briefings by officials from the U.S Department of Homeland Security and the Anti-Defamation League were followed by training to strengthen preparedness and assessment strategies for Jewish communal institutions, including federations, day schools, synagogues, JCCs, and other organizations.

Josh Pruzansky, N.J. regional director of public policy for the Institute for Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union, said that “synagogues and day schools have become the front line against terror and the staff of these institutions are our last line of defense…. [T]o provide practical training and guidance to them in how to react in an emergency is, unfortunately, critical. We are grateful to New Jersey’s leadership for recognizing this need and partnering with the Jewish community to meet it, especially Governor Christie, the lieutenant governor, and Director [Charles] McKenna” of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

McKenna, the keynote speaker, said, “We will all be safer if people say something when they see something.” He added that his agency “has been at the forefront in reporting suspicious activity through the Counter Terrorism Watch, its 24 hour-tip line.”

The convenors advise that suspicious activity should be reported by phone to 1-866-4-SAFE-NJ (1-866-472-3365), fax (609) 530-3650 or by e-mail to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 

Local leaders get behind state resolution demanding stronger Iran sanctions

Pressure urged against energy companies seeking ‘loopholes’

New Jersey’s State Senate last Wednesday unanimously approved a measure urging the federal government to take stronger action in imposing and enforcing sanctions against Iran.

The resolution urges better enforcement of “current United States sanctions against investment [in Iran] by energy companies” and suggests that the federal government take “additional steps” to put pressure on Iran.

Acknowledging that the resolution, which parallels a bill that passed in the state Assembly last month, is largely symbolic, Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) told the Standard that she hopes and expects the federal government will take notice.

“When a state legislature makes a statement it hopefully does and should carry weight,” she said.

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, told the Standard that he contacted New Jersey State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3), one of the bill’s prime sponsors, and urged its passage with help from the Stop Iran Now Task Force, a coalition of mostly New Jersey-based non-profit, academic, and faith organizations dedicated to stopping the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“It’s so easy with all the budget debates and negotiations to have the issue of Iran bypassed and it’s very important that we keep it on the front burner,” Toporek said.

In advocating the bill’s passage, the Stop Iran Now Task Force, of which the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Northern New Jersey is a member, sees itself as a leader and hopes other organizations and state legislatures will follow, according to Joy Kurland, director of the JCRC-NNJ. The resolution stresses compliance on the part of American business, she added.

“The whole idea is to ensure there are no loopholes allowing U.S. companies indirectly to invest in Iran’s energy sector.”

Weinberg echoed Kurland’s concern about U.S. businesses that have found “loopholes” to avoid sanctions.

“We are living in an America today with some real economic problems and a large unemployment rate, and if we’ve got U.S. companies trying to find loopholes around the sanctions it is doubly morally bad,” she said.

While the bill itself does not specifically mention any U.S. businesses, it includes calls for “limiting [Iran’s] access to refined petroleum products” and for “sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran.”

Kurland cited the Iran Business Registry of United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI), a non-profit organization of business leaders, attorneys, and academics dedicated to preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, for information on companies that continue to do business with the Islamic Republic (www.unitedagainstnucleariran.com). According to the site, U.S. companies that continue to do business with Iran include Honeywell, Intel Corporation, and Tyson Foods, to name a few.

Text within the resolution stipulates “the Legislature hereby urges the United States government to implement additional sanctions, diplomatic pressure, and financial divestment against Iran.”

 
 
 
Page 1 of 2 pages  1 2 >
 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30