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The race for Congress: Ninth District candidates on the issues

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: ‘I am going to be the values voice’

 
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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

1. Why vote for you?

Because I am going to be the values voice in Congress that shifts the national conversation away from distractions that have not helped the family, have failed to enhance our culture, and have not solved our economic malaise, in favor of a values renaissance that does. I’m going to tackle the insanely high divorce rate by making marital counseling tax deductible. I’m going to introduce legislation to create a national year of service so our students are in college three years, thereby lessening student debt and increasing altruism, sacrifice, and service. I am going to make the case for the strongest America-Israel relationship as I have on TV, radio, and in print for over two decades. I will bring universal Jewish values to the political discourse that allows us to move away from the social sexual obsession that has deeply divided America for more than a generation. Finally, I will enact financial policies that protect the needy, but give everyone the incentive to reclaim their dignity through self-sufficiency, independence, and self-reliance, and pay down the toxic national debt.

2 & 3. Iran

I have no confidence in the assurances of mullahs and Ahmadinejad who steal elections, deny the Holocaust, and slaughter their own people. The never-ending U.N. negotiations have done nothing but give Iran more time to build bombs. We have to draw a red line in the sand which gives Iran an imminent deadline by which they must open all of their nuclear facilities to U.N. and IAEA inspection, failing which they face assured military consequences. A nuclear Iran is a threat to world peace, with Israel and the United States their principal targets. President Barack Obama has said he is taking no options off the table. This must not be a bluff, lest American credibility be compromised.

4. Vouchers

Parents today who wish simply to give their children a values and/or religious-based education are penalized in the Ninth District with exorbitant property taxes and unaffordable tuition. This is serving as a natural contraceptive in the Jewish community where families are having fewer children because they can’t afford tuition fees. We are a community that relies fully on our birthrate for growth as we are a non-proselytizing faith. But beyond the Jewish community, all parents — and not just wealthy parents like the Obamas — have a right to choose the educational environment into which their children are immersed. Democratic politicians who are against school choice but who would never send their own children to public schools should be held to account. Vouchers are a must. I also believe that parochial schools, charter schools, and vouchers will not hurt, but enhance, public schools by making them more competitive and accountable. I also believe in bringing values-based courses to public schools so children are not only learning mathematics and geography, but those principles which made America great and are responsible for American altruism and exceptionalism.

5. How would you balance
the concerns of your Jewish
and your Muslim constituents
when they conflict?

At the University of Oxford, where I served as rabbi for 11 years, I brought together large numbers of Jewish and Muslim students from all over the world for lectures, debates, meals, educational seminars, and religious events. I did this while being a constant champion of Israel, and earned the Islamic students’ respect for the affirmation of my Jewish identity, just as I encouraged them to proudly affirm a peaceful Islamic identity. I believe that Judaism and Islam share a great deal in common, including theology, history, and values. The conflict between the Jewish community and Islam is with Islamic extremists and never the mainstream. I would resolve potential conflicts by reminding each community that we must always be true to our respective values, giving credit where it is due and criticism where it is warranted.

6. Annexing the west bank

I believe that any Israel-related initiative that takes the focus off Iran at this point is, however well-intentioned, distracting and misguided. Israel faces an existential threat from a nuclear Iran that has consistently committed publicly to Israel’s annihilation and extermination. This is not the time to discuss any substantial new initiatives that take the focus off Iran, something the hate-filled mullahs wish for. As for Israel’s ongoing negotiations with the Palestinians, Judaism is a religion that always promotes peace. But that presupposes a real negotiating partner that accepts your right to live, exist, and prosper. The continued inclusion of Hamas, a terrorist organization whose charter calls for the elimination of Israel, shows the lack of seriousness on the Palestinian side.

7. Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program

Of course the world’s richest nation must always provide a safety net for the needy — it is unacceptable that any American should go to bed hungry. But it’s equally unacceptable that the number of Americans relying on SNAP — a/k/a food stamps — has reached 50 million, including 14.2 million added during Obama’s three years in office. (See USA Today at http://usat.ly/L2xRCU for details.). All people want food, clothing, and shelter. But they also want dignity, which accrues through self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Government’s role is to incentivize people to become self-providing, which Maimonides says is the highest form of charity because it weans people off the indignity of charity. People want jobs rather than aid, the dignity of work as opposed to being wards of the state. Government should always assist those in difficult circumstances but it should seek to empower, rather than debilitate, its own citizenry.

8. Jewish issues

A. The economy and corrupt values that have led to financial decline.

B. Israel’s security and safety.

C. School vouchers and school choice.

9. Most important issues

A. The economy and corrupt values that have led to financial decline.

B. Jobs.

C. National debt, taxation, and government spending.

10. Partisanship

Partisanship is undermining our country because parties often look to score points rather than solve problems. I have spent my life bringing vastly disparate people together, regardless of economic background, religion, ethnicity, or way of life. I would do the same in politics by giving credit — whenever and wherever it is due, to political friend and foe alike — and offering respectful criticism where it is warranted, regardless of political affiliation. My values and principles will always come first.

 

More on: The race for Congress: Ninth District candidates on the issues

 
 
 

Blase Billack, Ph.D.: ‘We need true leaders in the Congress’

1. Why vote for you?

I am a lifetime Republican. I never switched my party for political gain. I am also a Ph.D. scientist and breast cancer expert. I argue that there are sufficient numbers of businessmen and women and lawyers already in the U.S. House.

2. Iran

NATO, the E.U., and the U.S.A. should boycott purchasing oil from Iran until that country stops developing nuclear weapons.

 
 

Rep. Steve Rothman: ‘I have worked closely with AIPAC’

1. Why you?

I am proud to have support from a wide range of voters in Bergen, Passaic, and Hudson counties, including the endorsement of NORPAC, Assemblyman Gary Shaer, and former Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes. Throughout my career in public service, I have worked closely with AIPAC and have always fought for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

As a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations — the two subcommittees that allocate funds to joint U.S.-Israel military programs, and the billions of foreign aid to Israel — the security of the Jewish State of Israel is one of my top priorities.

 
 

Rep. William J. Pascrell: ‘I’m the fighter for the people’

Why you?

Voters need someone representing them who is honest and trustworthy. My opponent has run a campaign that has been anything but. Politifact NJ gave him a “Pants on Fire” rating for one of his campaign’s most egregious lies. But maybe the most offensive distortion his campaign has perpetuated is that I’m somehow not pro-Israel, despite the fact that me and my opponent have the exact same voting record on the subject. In fact, Steve Rothman vouched for my strong support for the Jewish state less than two years ago when a Tea Party Republican attempted to make the same claims. Assemblyman Gary Schaer upheld my support for Israel, too. What changed between now and then? Only the fact that he is running against me and is so desperate to keep his seat in Congress that he will say or do anything to get re-elected. I’ve grown up with both Jews and Muslims in Paterson, and I’ve represented both in Congress for many years. David Steiner, the former president of AIPAC, endorsed me by saying, “He’s 100 percent American through and through, and that’s why I’m supporting him.”

 
 

Our 10 questions for the candidates

On June 5, voters in the Ninth Congressional District will go to the polls to choose the Democratic and Republican congressional candidates who will vie for the House seat in November. The Jewish Standard posed a series of 10 questions and asked the candidates to respond. Aside from slight editing, the responses are their own, unfiltered by reporter or editor.

The two Democratic candidates, incumbents William J. Pascrell, Jr. and Steve Rothman, responded to our request. Two of the three Republican candidates — Blase Billack, Ph.D, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach — also responded. Efforts to reach the third candidate, Dr. Hector Castillo, were unsuccessful.

 
 
 
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‘A do-it-yourself disease’

Before Saddle Brook walk, families of ALS patients talk about the disease’s impact

In early 2014, just shy of his 12th birthday, Eitan David Jacobi of Teaneck told his parents he was having trouble raising his arms. It was particularly hard for him to shoot basketballs.

This was a first for the youngster, said his mother, Rabbi Lori Forman-Jacobi, who described her son as an active, funny, and very social kid.

In fact, she said, he had spent the previous summer as a camper at Ramah Nyack. And when he fell off a horse in early November, “we told him to get back on.” Usually that’s good advice. But Eitan did not have the strength to stay on the horse.

“We didn’t have a clue,” Rabbi Forman-Jacobi, a past vice-principal of the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies. “It took us until Thanksgiving to get to a neurologist.” By that time, Eitan was “unable to reach to get to the microwave or to open cabinets.”

 

News from a Jersey girl

CNN’s Dana Bash talks at a benefit for the Academies at Gerrard Berman Day School

Dana Bash is CNN’s chief congressional correspondent.

At 43, she has more than a decade of high-visibility work for the network behind her, and she will provide its coverage of the almost ludicrously crowded Republican field, as more than two dozen candidates compete for camera time and voter approval.

Ms. Bash is also a graduate of Pascack Hills High School, a self-proclaimed Jersey girl, and a deeply committed Jew.

Ms. Bash will speak on Sunday, May 3, at Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, to benefit the Academies at Gerrard Berman Day School in Oakland. Laurie Nahum and Rick Krieger will be honored that evening for their service to the school as well.

 

Gap year alternative

Teaneck native offers new gap year option for boys

At the end of the summer, hundreds of recently graduated yeshiva high school students from North Jersey will board planes bound for Israel, where they will spend a “gap year” of intensive Jewish studies before starting college.

Many of them will thrive and mature. But many others will skip classes and flirt dangerously with newfound freedom far from home, wasting their potential and the money their parents spent on tuition for a program that probably wasn’t a good fit for them from the start.

“On any Thursday night in Jerusalem, you can go to the center of town and see hundreds of young people involved in chaotic behavior — drinking, drugs, and violence. And the overwhelming majority of these kids are from America or England on one-year programs,” said Dr. Simcha Chesner, director of two Jerusalem high schools for boys with severe educational and emotional challenges: Yeshivat Bnei Chayil for Israelis and Matara Therapeutic Boarding School for English-speakers.

 

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Burning questions

Rabbi Lawrence Troster reflects on papal environmental letter

On Sunday, Rabbi Lawrence Troster of Teaneck will march through downtown Rome to Vatican City.

The march is being organized to support Pope Francis’ call for action on the environment embodied in the papal letter, or encyclical, he released last week, called Laudato Si (“Blessed Be”). An international interfaith coalition, Our Voices, whose goal is “bringing faith to the climate talks,” is organizing the march. Among the coalition’s members are the American interfaith group GreenFaith, where Rabbi Troster is scholar-in-residence.

This is a period of increased activity for Rabbi Troster and the broader Jewish environmental movement, jumpstarted by the papal letter that Rabbi Troster called “amazing” and leading up to global talks on a new treaty to fight global warming scheduled for November in Paris.

These next few months, Rabbi Troster said, will see the environmental issues taking a higher profile on the Jewish communal agenda, as it becomes a priority for the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center in Washington, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and a group he is organizing of rabbis and cantors called Shomrei Breishit. He hopes it will surface in high holiday sermons, and in interfaith actions during Sukkot.

 

A new home for Bonim

‘Builders’ moving to Rockleigh

When Bonim was created in 2002, it brought together volunteers of all skill levels to fix, renovate, and refurbish homes for Jewish families and individuals who could not afford to do it themselves.

Over the years, the group’s mission has not changed, though the number of individuals, families, and groups it helps has grown each year, surpassing 100 at last count. What has changed, however, is Bonim’s official home.

As of July 1, Bonim — formally called Bonim Builders, though “bonim,” in fact, means builders — will become part of the Jewish Home Family, based in Rockleigh, moving from its longtime home at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Carol Silver Elliott, president and CEO of Jewish Home Family, sees the new placement as “ideal.”

 

Musical mitzvah raises money for AIDS organization

Local teen (and friends) perform for a good cause

Haworth teen and stage performer Jeremy Shinder had his first gig when he was 2. It was when his grandfather, Rabbi Frederic Pomerantz, called him up to the bimah to play drums at Temple Beth-El of Northern Valley in Closter.

It is fitting, then, that his recent bar mitzvah celebration — which included a benefit concert for Equity Fights AIDS — took place at that same synagogue.

In fact, his bar mitzvah spanned two synagogues, said his mother, Rabbi Rebecca Shinder, religious leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Florida, N.Y., and associate rabbi at Tenafly’s Temple Sinai for many years.

“My shul is small, so we did Friday night there,” said Rabbi Shinder, who also is the congregation’s cantor and educational director. “It was packed. My father had done a jazz service [at Beth-El, where he is now rabbi emeritus] and Jeremy wanted that to be part of his bar mitzvah celebration. He played the drums for it. We brought in musicians through former congregants at Beth-El.”

 
 
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