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entries tagged with: Jon Corzine

 

Jews ponder the gubernatorial contest

Lois GoldrichLocal
Published: 14 August 2009
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At Tuesday night’s gathering with Gov. Corzine are, from left, standing, Meir Stahl, Leon Kozak, Mayor Michael Wildes, Dr. Ben Chouake, Mayor Elie Katz, Josh Greenbaum, and Senator Loretta Weinberg. Seated from left, are Rabbi Menachem Genack, Gov. Jon Corzine, and Dr. Munir Kazmir.

Like other groups in New Jersey, Jews are concerned about issues such as unemployment and health care. Some, however, cite additional concerns, such as the high cost of day-school education.

In a recent meeting with the Republican gubernatorial candidate, former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, that issue took center stage, said Howard Beigelman, deputy director of public policy for the Orthodox Union.

The OU executive arranged the Aug. 3 meeting in West Orange between the candidate and some 40 Orthodox rabbis, educators, and synagogue leaders. A similar meeting with Gov. Jon Corzine is in the works.

“The Jewish community — the Orthodox community, particularly — is a swing vote,” said Beigelman. “People are still paying attention to the conversation. It remains to be seen” how they will vote.

Rabbi Uri Goldstein of Fair Lawn’s Ahavat Achim has a slightly different take. If Jews constitute a swing vote, he said, “we don’t know it.”

Goldstein — who said he grew up in Brooklyn “with a well-oiled political machine” — said it was his sense that “Jews [there] knew how to get their voices heard. I don’t sense that here.”

While some rabbis no doubt are more politically connected than others, he said, “I hear a lot of chatter but have no sense that we unite or identify our needs and vote as a bloc.”

Goldstein agreed with Beigelman that the cost of day-school education was uppermost in the minds of those who attended the Aug. 3 meeting.

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From left, Rabbi Uri Goldstein of Cong. Ahavat Achim in Fair Lawn with Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie and the OU Young Leadership division’s Jason Goldstein.

“A big issue in my congregation and in the community at large is the difficulty of the day school financial situation,” said Goldstein, noting the difficulty of meeting tuition obligations, “especially in families with multiple children.”

“It’s one of the big issues we discussed,” said Goldstein, noting that in addition to participating in grass-roots initiatives, the community is “looking to Washington or to Trenton for any sort of assistance — any legal means to work with the government to help alleviate pressure on the community.”

While the community does not generally look to the government to solve its problems, he said, “when it comes to education, we more acutely feel a sense that we wish the government could step in, since we pay taxes but don’t send our children to public schools.”

Goldstein pointed out that the day-school financial issue is directly related to concerns about the difficult economy.

“It’s felt more acutely in the unfortunate economic circumstances right now,” he said.

He noted as well that “there is no congregation that has not seen people out of work,” either because they have lost their jobs or suffered cuts in their employment.

“We’ve certainly seen that in our congregation,” he said. “Whatever can be done to bolster the situation, to find jobs, to bring business here” would be greatly appreciated, he said, “no matter what the party.” Indeed, he said, he plans to attend meetings with Corzine when they are organized.

Beigelman explained that “one of our [OU’s] signature policy issues is tax credits, corporate or personal.” A bill now stalled in the legislature would provide tax credits to corporate donors who fund scholarships, he said, adding that participants at the meeting urged Christie to support the legislation.

“He said he supports that legislation and could work with the Democrats on that,” said Beigelman, adding that those who attended the meeting with Christie were also concerned about recent cuts in technological funding for private schools, which the OU has been fighting to restore.

In addition to education, the Orthodox leaders raised the issue of homeland security “and the need for our institutions to be protected,” said Beigelman, pointing to last week’s bomb threat against a Long Branch synagogue. He added that emphasis on security “ebbs and flows but is very much back on the agenda” after the shooting of the guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the alleged attempted terrorism in Riverdale, N.Y.

Beigelman said the Orthodox community is also interested in energy efficiency, not only for reasons of environmental health and national security “but as a way to help synagogues and schools save money.”

He noted that participants at the Aug. 3 meeting raised the issue of the energy retrofit grant program included in the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The provision permits faith-based and other nonprofits to participate equally in the program. “They asked if the state could similarly open energy efficiency programs to all, to both protect the environment and stimulate the local economy,” said Beigelman. “[Christie] agreed the programs “should be open to all and would help in establishing New Jersey as a green jobs center.”

Also of concern to the Orthodox attendees is “preserving religious freedom,” said Beigelman, pointing to laws signed by Corzine in April 2008 guaranteeing religious accommodations to observant people of all faiths. The laws require, for example, that alternate testing dates be provided for students if exams are scheduled on days of worship.

“These laws can always use strengthening,” said Beigelman.

He noted as well that “New Jersey is one of the only states without a tax deduction for charitable donations. One of our priorities would be for the state to enact this,” he said.

Ben Chouake, president of NORPAC, hosted an Englewood parlor meeting on Tuesday evening at which 21 guests discussed issues of interest with Corzine and his running mate, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

Chouake said that a similar meeting with candidate Christie is being planned by another NORPAC member, and two other members have said they will host additional functions for the governor.

The NORPAC head said he and his wife had personally chosen to host Tuesday’s event because “Gov. Corzine has an excellent record on our issues, and Sen. Weinberg is a leader on our issues.”

In a letter inviting NORPAC members to the event, he noted that “Governor Corzine has over the years showed his support for Israel in Congress and continues to do so now ... [signing] legislation in 2008 making the New Jersey-Israel Commission a permanent entity within the New Jersey Department of State [and] eliminating the need for reauthorizing the Commission by Executive Order every five years. Furthermore, and more significantly, the new law emphasizes the importance of the New Jersey-Israel ‘sister state’ relationship.”

Chouake noted that because of NORPAC’s concern with Israel, attendees “mostly focused on Israel relations and thanked the candidates for their support in the past.” In addition, he said, they offered their points of view on the current U.S.-Israel relationship.

At the meeting, the governor briefly summarized measures he has taken on the budget and on developing energy independence, Chouake said.

“It’s a difficult time,” said Chouake. “I was very impressed. He’s a modest guy. He talked about things he has been doing that we weren’t aware of. The more people know about what he has accomplished, his deep understanding of the issues, and his ability to execute them, the more they will want him to continue in office.”

Chouake said Corzine also talked about education and, “given the separation of church and state, what the state can do to help.”

For example, said Chouake, Corzine said it would be a priority for him to restore cuts for technology to private schools “when the budget gets more flexible.”

“He also agreed that security needs are much greater at day schools” and acknowledged that protecting these schools is an obligation of the state, said Chouake.

“Those are legitimate ways of assisting private schools,” he added, “legitimate ways the state can help.”

Explaining his support for the governor, Chouake said that while Corzine might have used his wealth for personal ends, “he decided to use his fortune to help make the world better, to go into public service.” In addition, he said, “he’s always been sensitive to religious issues,” such as making kosher food available to Jews in prison and ensuring that observant students aren’t compelled to take tests on Shabbat.

“He’s a mensch,” he said. “And Loretta [Weinberg] is fabulous, bringing to the table integrity, wisdom, passion, and devotion to her constitutents.”

Chouake said the meeting went an hour longer than planned.

“I think the governor just enjoyed being there. He wanted to hang out.”

 
 

N.J. coalition calls for continuing divestment from Iran

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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.”

 
 

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.”

 
 
 
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