Councilwoman Charlotte Bennett Schoen to volunteer with AJWS
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Councilwoman Charlotte Bennett Schoen to volunteer with AJWS

Englewood Councilwoman Charlotte Bennett Schoen says service has always been a part of her life.

“The idea of global justice is something you’re raised with,” Schoen told The Jewish Standard. It starts with what you learn in synagogue and Hebrew school and then “you get it – that [people] are much more alike than they are different.”

The councilwoman, who will complete her second term at the end of the year, will head to India on Jan.14 to volunteer with the American Jewish World Service.

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Charlotte Bennett Schoen

AJWS, headed by Ruth Messinger, was created in 1985 as the first American Jewish organization dedicated to alleviating poverty, hunger, and disease among people across the globe. Its goal – according to its website, ajws.org – is “empowering people throughout the world to achieve justice and self-sufficiency through the promotion of human rights, education, economic development, healthcare, and sustainable agriculture.” This year marks the group’s 25th anniversary.

Schoen said a friend who has served multiple stints as an AJWS volunteer encouraged her to take the step.

“I’ve been thinking about it for years,” she said, pointing out that she couldn’t even consider it while she was on the council. Now, however, she simply has to make the appropriate arrangements with her business partner. The two own a property management company in Passaic Park.

Schoen said she will be happy with whatever she is asked to do in India. While she does not yet know her specific assignment, she thinks it will probably have something to do with children – she has a background in teaching – or with efforts to raise awareness about domestic violence. The councilwoman worked for many years as an advocate for victims of domestic violence in Bergen and Passaic counties.

“I can do many different things,” she said, noting that she also worked in medical management for 14 years, helping out with her husband’s family practice.

The Englewood resident has been to India four times.

“The first time I went with my daughter Ava, trekking in Tibet and Nepal,” she said. Later, after becoming close friends with a Paramus woman who grew up in India, she went back to the country several times for the friend’s family celebrations as well as additional travel.

“The hospitality is spectacular,” she said, adding that she went to synagogue in Cochin and Delhi, “where they spoke Hebrew and Hindi.”

Jews and Indians have much in common, she said, “particularly the focus on family and education.”

Schoen, Second Ward representative to the council since 2005 as well as 2007 council president, said it has been among her major goals to bring transparency and fiscal accountability to the city government. She has also tried to get people more involved in municipal government, ensuring through e-mails that residents know when meetings will take place.

During her first term on council she said, she worked to rescind a giveaway employee’s’ lifetime health benefit, and as Council President, secured passage of the town’s pay-to-play reform ordinance, setting strict limits on contributions by contractors and professionals seeking to do business with the municipality.

She also spearheaded the town’s sustainability initiative, leading to the creation in 2009 of an Englewood “green team” to encourage conservation and step up recycling efforts.

Last week, she traveled to Atlantic City for a three-day New Jersey League of Municipalities conference, where Englewood received bronze Sustainable Jersey certification, “one of 65 New Jersey towns that qualified out of 566,” she said.

Schoen said she believes everyone “should step up to government and take a turn.” Women, she said, usually wait to be asked, “but I spend a lot of time telling them to put themselves forward to run. They have the ability to multi-task,” she said. “They know how to do it.”

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