By the middle of March, I hope to make a final decision as to whether to run for Congress in New Jersey’s Ninth District. If I do, and if I secure the Republican nomination (there are two other declared candidates for the GOP’s imprimatur), I will be squaring off against either Rep. Steve Rothman or Rep. Bill Pascrell. Democratic incumbents both, the two men have been squeezed into the same district and are competing against each other for their party’s nomination.
Rothman and I have fought some tough, public battles against one another, primarily over the presence of the Libyan embassy, which is my immediate next-door neighbor in Englewood. I also have been critical of his strong support for President Barack Obama on Israel, even when those positions, in my strong opinion, put unfair and unjust pressure on Israel.
Truth regardless of consequences Today, however, I am writing not to attack a potential political rival, but to thank my congressman. I have already said – including in my last column to appear in this space two weeks ago – that if I run, I want to be the values voice in Congress. As such, I must endeavor my utmost to live the values I preach. In Judaism, gratitude for an act of kindness is among life’s highest virtues. So here I present a much-deserved thank you to Rothman. I am not running this by any political advisors or consultants, all of whom likely would tell me not to say it because of our potential face-off this fall. Values must supersede political expediency.
Rothman recently nominated my son Mendy to West Point. To be sure, Mendy is an outstanding young man and earned the nomination through personal merit. At just 18, he is currently serving in his second year as a Chabad student emissary in Frankfurt, Germany, where he is helping to rebuild Jewish life after the devastation of the Shoah. It was there that he also began visiting with United States service personnel to cater to their religious needs and, having been highly impressed with officer graduates of West Point, decided he wanted to serve his country. He, therefore, applied to the United States Military Academy. To be accepted you have to be nominated by your congressman.
This is where things could have gotten a little hairy.
I did not know how Mendy’s application would be received given my several bruising battles with Rothman, not to mention my having publicly declared that I was considering running for the same congressional seat he covets.
No doubt, Rothman knew I might run against him. That did not stop him, however, from rewarding my son’s much-deserved application with the nomination to West Point. Rothman’s decision to put merit before any kind of political consideration showed character and integrity, and I salute it. It also demonstrated a willingness to populate our officer corps with deserving men and women, whatever the political consequences.
Having been nominated, Mendy may join his elder sister Chana, who has now volunteered for two years of army service in Israel to help an embattled democracy survive against brutal enemies. Mendy is now down to 4,000 applicants from which 1,500 will be chosen as cadets for the West Point Class of 2016.
He faces an uphill battle.
Many fine young men and women are applicants. Mendy has to be incredibly physically fit, even though his yeshivah in Frankfurt has no gym facilities and he has to improvise for all his daily physical activities. And he has to do this while participating in a grueling daily regimen of Torah study that begins at 7 a.m., ends at 10 p.m., and is only interrupted for hours of spiritual work with the community.
If Mendy is selected, his Chabad beard will become an issue that he will have to address. Still, he wants to serve his country and is convinced that the greatest force for good in today’s world is the United States military, which is made up of the bravest men and women who are prepared to fight for the freedom and rights of total strangers the world over.
For giving him that opportunity and recognizing Mendy’s commitment and character, I am taking the opportunity to thank Steve Rothman in writing (and the fact that I do not refer to him as Rep. Rothman is The Jewish Standard’s doing, not an intentional slight on my part; the newspaper’s style removes honorifics after the first reference). Recently, at a panel discussion for the launch of “Kosher Jesus,” I mentioned Mendy’s recent nomination, but faled to thank the congressman by name. I thought it over, decided I was in danger of playing politics, and decided to correct it.
Even if Rothman and I end up doing battle in the fall, it will never be as dangerous as any of the battles that our Armed Services personnel must daily fight in hellish war zones against evil terrorists such as the Taliban in Afghanistan.
I pray to God for the safety of all our military men and women, especially my children, who may be placed in harm’s way. And I thank God for the opportunity they have been afforded to serve, and for the people through whom such service comes about.