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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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Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

‘It’s valuable to hear both sides’

Ridgewood man discusses Israeli, Palestinian narratives

Jonathan Emont — a 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center — always has felt a deep attachment to the state of Israel.

Still, the 23-year-old said, he never expected that country to be at the center of his professional life.

Things changed, however, when the recent Swarthmore College graduate went to Israel on a tour the America-Israel Friendship League offered to young journalists.

“I did journalism in college,” he said, explaining that although he majored in history, he also was the editor of Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette.

 

Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

Yet more Pew

Local rabbis talk more about implications of look at American Jews

The Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews, released last October, really is the gift that keeps on giving.

As much as the Jewish community deplores the study’s findings, it seems to exert a magnetic pull over us, as if it were the moon and we the obedient tides. We can’t seem to stop talking about it. (Of course, part of that appeal is the license it gives us to talk, once again, about ourselves. We fascinate ourselves endlessly.)

That is why we found ourselves at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last Wednesday night, with the next in the seemingly endless series of snow-and-ice storms just a few hours away, discussing the Pew study yet again.

 

RECENTLYADDED

Fighting for Israel’s kids

Nirim brings survival treks to tough neighborhoods

Shlomi Avni thanks his parents for keeping him on the straight and narrow.

He grew up in Or Akiva, a small city halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv, just inland from Caesarea. His neighborhood was poor, with many of his peers tempted to drop out of school and turn to crime.

But his parents — his mother from Morocco, his father of Turkish descent — made sure he studied and took school seriously.

In high school in nearby Hadera, he was exposed to wider horizons and broader aspirations — in particular, the desire to be accepted into an elite combat unit in the army.

As someone who loved the sea, his choice was Flotilla 13 — the special forces unit of the Israeli navy — in other words, the Israeli version of the U.S. Navy SEALs.

 

Menendez on Iran: Keep up intense pressure

At JPost conference, senator reaffirms U.S. support for Israel

The West should continue to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, but that process should be reinforced by a continuous commitment to international sanctions against the Islamic republic, according to Senator Robert Mendendez.

“It is clear to me that only intense punishing economic pressure has influenced Iranian leaders to come to the table,” New Jersey’s senior senator said while addressing the Jerusalem Post’s annual conference in New York on Sunday.

Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is one of the Senate’s prime supporters of sanctions against Iran. On Sunday, he also called for a credible military option to remain on the table in the Iranian negotiations. The threat of U.S. military action can be a force for attaining national security goals, he said, crediting his committee’s authorization of military force in Syria last September for convincing Syrian President Bashar Assad to give up control of his chemical weapons arsenal. The United States must reassure its regional allies that the military option will remain on the table with Iran, he added.

 

‘Shave for the Brave’

There is not much that anyone can do to comfort colleagues whose son has died of cancer.

Nor is it intuitive to think that if anything could help, it would be a line of rabbis getting their heads shaved.

But that is what 54 Reform rabbis did in Chicago on April 1. The so-called Shave for the Brave was in response to the December death of 8-year-old Samuel Sommers — Superman Sam, as he was called.

Sam’s short but joyous life was chronicled by his mother, Rabbi Phyllis Sommers, who blogged about his struggle; she and Sam’s father, Rabbi Michael Sommers, were the first to have their heads shaved onstage during the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ meeting last week.

 
 
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