A conversation with David Schlussel

A conversation with David Schlussel

David Schlussel, a lifetime Teaneck resident and Jewish community leader, recently accepted a state government appointment to Ramapo College’s board of trustees.

Aside from this new assignment at the public liberal arts college in Mahwah, Schlussel is active in the Association of Yale Alumni, served on the board of education at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, chaired the adult education committee at the Jewish Center of Teaneck, and was among the founding members of Cong. Netivot Shalom. He’s also chairman emeritus of NORPAC and actively involved in AIPAC, two pro-Israel political action coalitions.

David Schlussel

Schlussel, a real estate developer with Key Properties in Teaneck, said the appointment came after he had let Gov. Corzine’s office know he was interested in a service activity involving education.

Jewish Standard: What led you to your involvement with Ramapo College?

David Schlussel: I’ve been involved over the years in education and politics, and I was seeking an opportunity in education. I wasn’t laser-locked on Ramapo per se, but when the opportunity came up I took it. It’s an excellent small college, not well-known compared to its broader reputation. I just went to my first meeting a month ago, and I learned about its budget issues, marketing and programming, and how it’s attracting a diverse group of students.

J.S.: What do you hope to accomplish as a trustee?

D.S.: I’m not coming with a desire to turn the institution inside out, but to do a lot of listening to people who have been more involved in the school and get a better feel for it before jumping in. But there is one area I would like to explore. In the Orthodox world there are really only about 20 schools kids tend to apply to. Here is something right in our backyard that doesn’t have the exposure, and perhaps not some of the services offered at those 20 schools, but that could easily become a more viable option. The bang for the buck is true of any state college anywhere, and given the excellent education one can get at Ramapo, I want to encourage people to take a serious look at it.

J.S.: As the parent of three children in private Jewish schools – Frisch and Yavneh -what is your outlook on the general state of education in New Jersey?

D.S.: I am a product of the public school system in Teaneck. I thought I got a fantastic education and I went on to Yale. I see how my preparation compared to those who went to other public schools and top prep schools, and I think it stacked up favorably. Our children are in Jewish schools because of those schools’ ability to create a Jewish educational environment and convey knowledge that can’t compare with the background I received. But I like the public schools. I think there is something lost when the kids don’t go to public schools.

J.S.: Would you encourage other members of the Jewish community to take a leadership role in the state’s public colleges?

D.S.: Sure. Each group has to look beyond its own narrow interests and be involved in all aspects of community life. If we want to take advantage of these institutions, we should also share our input into how these institutions take shape.

J.S.: In 2006 and 2007, you were a fellow in the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program administered by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. Can you describe that experience?

D.S.: The concept is to get a cross-section of the Jewish community among those who’ve exhibited some leadership accomplishments from various affiliations, to get them to interact and also to give them a common language and training. The first year was devoted to a broader overview of Jewish history and culture. The second year focused on leadership, getting to know more about many different organizations, meeting and interacting with the heads of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the American Jewish Committee, Yeshiva University, Hebrew Union College – a real “who’s who.” I developed relationships with people I might not have otherwise met, which provides fertile ground for future collaboration. We’ve had alumni activities and we are doing things with the second group of fellows.

J.S.: What are some of your other involvements?

D.S.: I’m on the board of trustees of IDEAS (Israel Documentaries for Education and Scholarship), a year-old New Jersey-based non-profit. Our goal is to reach the general public, which knows little about Israel beyond conflict and religious extremism, by creating eye-catching video clips on Israel’s vibrancy, modernity, freedoms, and contributions to the world. The documentaries will be distributed through the Internet, high schools and colleges, libraries, and houses of worship throughout the world. “Under Fire,” our current documentary, traces two Israeli Arab and two Israeli Jewish families in the north during the 2006 Lebanon war. We’ve had screenings at local synagogues and in Israel; DVDs are available [see underfiredocumentary.com].

I also served for two years as a member of the Maywood CCG (Crisis Coordination Group) working with the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection on the problem of radioactive soil in Lodi, Maywood, and Rochelle Park that affected many residential and commercial properties.

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