Sen. Robert Menendez met with a dozen Conservative rabbis from across the state in his Newark office on Feb. 10. During the 90-minute meeting, the conversation ranged from international concerns, including the unfolding events in Egypt, to sanctions against Iran to such domestic issues as health-care reform and bullying.
“It was a positive exchange,” said Rabbi Benjamin Shull of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, in Woodcliff Lake. “There wasn’t much in the way of disagreement of any kind.”
The meeting was arranged by the senator’s office, as part of an ongoing outreach to hear concerns of members of the community. It was coordinated by the New Jersey region of The Rabbinical Assembly.
“It was interesting that the senator was interested in hearing the voice of the rabbis of the Conservative movement,” said Rabbi Joshua Cohen of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey, in Franklin Lakes.
The rabbis coordinated beforehand what questions to ask the senator. “Especially on some of the specifics of the future of the Middle East, and on health care, there was some disagreement among the rabbis,” said Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of the United Synagogue of Hoboken.
“Egypt visually and verbally dominated the discussion,” said Shull. “He spoke favorably about the desire of the Egyptian people for a more democratic government.”
“As we were speaking with him, we were watching the developments on the television right behind him. It was breaking news,” said Cohen.
On other international matters, “he spoke in favor of strengthening the relationships between Israel and the United States,” said Shull. Shull said he brought up the issue of “the Jewish people’s historical right to a country. I thanked him for the fact that he had spoken on the Senate floor after President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo, noting that the president had omitted the link of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and that the Jewish connection to the land was not just due to the Holocaust.
“I asked him if this point would be brought up with the Palestinians, pushing them to publicly acknowledge that the Jewish people have a connection to the land. His response was rather evasive,” said Shull. “He said he would continue to make the point that needs to be made about the historical connection.”
The rabbis raised the issue of Iran, and Menendez stressed the importance of stopping Iran’s nuclear efforts, they reported.
On domestic issues, the rabbis raised the issue of bullying. “He emphasized that while the government can do certain things, lots has to be done at home. Parents have to teach our children not to bully and how to stand up against bullying,” said Shull.
Also on the agenda was Obama’s health-care reform. “It affects small businesses, which include many members of our congregations,” explained Cohen.
Menendez said that legislation isn’t always perfect, said Scheinberg. “He said that doesn’t mean you throw out the legislation, it means you improve the imperfections.”
The group also discussed immigration.
“I was remarkably impressed with his total command of the details of every issue,” said Scheinberg. “I appreciated his directness and passion.”
Also at the meeting from this area were Rabbis Fred Elias of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, Randall Mark of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne, David Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, and Neil Tow of the Glen Rock Jewish Center.