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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 rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

The converso’s dilemma

Local group goes to New Mexico to learn about crypto-Jews

Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day — perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear — you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago.

For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The topic — “New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews” — continues to fascinate both Jews and non-Jews, as evidenced by the religious identity of the attendees. Among those participating in this month’s session — there are 10 such programs held each year — were five residents from our area, including this author.

 

How to learn Hebrew

Confronting American Jews’ linguistic illiteracy, many programs offer help

Can you read a Hebrew newspaper or order a meal in an Israel restaurant? If you’re like the vast majority of American Jews, the answer is no.

“Half of Jews (52%), including 60% of Jews by religion and 24% of Jews of no religion, say they know the Hebrew alphabet,” according to last October’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the famous study released by the Pew Research Center.

“But far fewer (13% of Jews overall, including 16% of Jews by religion and 4% of Jews of no religion) say they understand most or all of the words when they read Hebrew,” the report continues.

Alarmed by this finding, the World Zionist Organization, the Israeli Education Ministry, and several partner organizations recently launched the Hebrew Language Council of North America to help more Jews become conversant in the language of their literature, lore, and land — as well as the language of their peers in Israel.

 

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Mississippi burning, remembered

Puffin marks jubilee of Freedom Summer

It was a summer that changed lives.

It was a fight for American democracy in the face of terrorism.

It was dubbed “Freedom Summer,” and it drew 700 college students and young adults to help Mississippi activists fight for civil rights.

The year was 1964.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech the previous August, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In Washington, a far-reaching civil rights bill that would desegregate public facilities had been introduced to Congress by President Lyndon Johnson — but quickly stalled and was then filibustered for months.

 

Adding to Jewish life in Clifton

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky heads religious services department at Daughters of Miriam

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky thinks his new position as the director of religious services at the Daughters of Miriam Center/Gallen Institute in Clifton is a perfect shidduch.

Actually, it is not quite a new job. Rabbi Mirsky had already worked there with Rabbi Ira Kronenberg, who just retired from the home this month, in the late 1980s. Back then Rabbi Mirsky was studying for simicha — rabbinic ordination. He worked there once again in the 1990s, while he was teaching at various day schools.

“I would come on the weekends for Shabbat and on yom tov to assist Rabbi Kronenberg,” he said. “I would lead davening, give Torah classes, go to the Alzheimer’s unit, and try to engage the residents Jewishly. I had a special rapport with Rabbi Kronenberg and the residents.”

Indeed, then he already was doing many of the things he is doing now as director of religious affairs.

 

Poor assumptions = poor policy

ZOA’s congressional lobbyist talks about Israel, Oslo, and plans doomed to fail

The two-state solution is a chimera, Joshua London says. It is a lovely vision of something that never can be real, and chasing it — chasing the plan that would make Israel and Palestine two separate states, living next to each other in prickly but sustainable peace — is chasing the wind.

Mr. London, who lives in suburban Maryland, is the Zionist Organization of America’s co-director of government affairs. He will be taking a break from his daily routine — lobbying Congress to further the ZOA’s own understanding of the Middle East — to speak at a parlor meeting in Teaneck on Wednesday.

His goal, he said, “is to bring clarity and critical analysis to the longstanding U.S. policy for support of — and in fact to apply pressure toward — the creation of a Palestinian state from territory that otherwise belongs to Israel, and to do so under the notion that this will bring peace.”

 
 
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