Corzine and the Jewish vote

Corzine and the Jewish vote

With the polls showing him in double digits behind his Republican opponent, Gov. Jon Corzine will need every vote he can get if he is to be re-elected. One group his supporters have targeted is Jewish voters.

Keeping FaithAccording to news reports, even the National Jewish Democratic Council is getting involved. “Jewish swing voters will be a key component of a winning election strategy,” the NJDC chairman, Mark Stanley, reportedly wrote in a letter to supporters.

Ordinarily, Corzine would be assured the lion’s share of the Jewish vote even without the NJDC’s help. Not only do most Jews still vote for Democrats, but the governor’s opponent, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, is so far to the right on social issues that he is said to scare even some Jewish Republicans.

Personally, I could never vote for someone with the views Christie holds, but from where I stand, I cannot vote for Corzine, either. I do not believe he has yet earned the privilege of having Jews vote for him.

I know the Corzine record. I believe he has done an admirable job as governor. He inherited a horrible economy just as the national economy was about to tank and has done a good job to soften the blow for our state.

I also know that is why he is behind in the polls. This is a pattern in the Garden State. Republicans come into power, make a mess of the state’s economy, and lose to the Democrats because of it. The Democrats then must raise taxes to help return fiscal health to the state. This angers the voters who then turn to the Republicans and the cycle begins all over again. One would think that, by now, New Jersey voters would have figured that out, but that may be too much to ask, it seems.

When it comes to social policies, Corzine clearly is hands-down the winner (especially compared to his opponent) in what I call the “Isaiah Yom Kippur vote test.” It is a standard I use to evaluate candidates. Not only is it found in the Tanach (Isaiah, Chapter 58), but it was chosen by the Sages of Blessed Memory as the haftarah (the prophetic reading) for Yom Kippur morning.

To be sure, contextually it has nothing to do with elections, but, judging by what He had Isaiah tell us, it has much to do with letting us know what it is God wants from us.

“Is such the fast that I have chosen – a day for a man to afflict his soul?” God asks through Isaiah about Yom Kippur. “Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?

“Is not this rather the fast that I have chosen – to loose the chains of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and that you bring the poor, who are cast out, to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh…?” (See Isaiah 58:5-10.)

These are God’s priorities for us, and anyone who helps us achieve them should deserve our vote, or so I believe.

The Isaiah test is a test, but not the only test. To me, it is also important that a candidate will continue to pay close attention to the needs of our community once he or she is in office.

Thus far, Jon Corzine has failed that test.

The Blue Laws issue is one example. As noted in my last column, this is not an issue about shopping on Sundays. This is a matter of fairness under the law. By being forced to close on Sunday, a Shabbat-observant storekeeper or a Seventh Day Adventist is penalized for closing on Saturday because of his or her religious beliefs.

In recent years, bills have been introduced in the legislature to allow local municipalities to decide for themselves whether to abrogate Bergen County’s Blue Laws. If Paramus wants stores closed on Sunday, that should not mean Teaneck shopkeepers must stay closed as well. The governor has never publicly weighed in on the issue, even though a kind word from him would have done wonders for such legislation.

A more egregious example, however, is the cemeteries issue. For two years now, all factions of the Jewish community have banded together to seek changes in the way cemeteries are regulated in this state. The governor has said nothing about this.

Worse, however, he actually has actively helped maintain the status quo by refusing to consider appointing a qualified individual to serve as a public member on the state’s cemetery board.

Given the cemetery board’s distorted makeup (five cemetery operators vs. two public seats, one of which almost invariably appears vacant), the public really has no say in what the cemetery board does or how it does it. Those two public seats, however, can still make a difference if they are filled by vocally active individuals committed to working for the rights of the consumer.

Such a person is Rabbi Jay M. Kornsgold, rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor.

For nearly two years now, a combined Jewish community – with the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA of Northern New Jersey in the lead, and backed by the New York Board of Rabbis and the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations – has been trying to have Kornsgold appointed to the cemetery board. Yet in all that time, the nomination has not gotten even the shortest shrift from the governor’s office despite the repeated intervention of local legislators.

Jon Corzine has shown much interest in working with the Jewish community on our “safe” issues. He so far is unwilling to do the same on the controversial ones. Those are the ones, however, on which support for him should be based.