April will be known as Jewish Heritage Month in New Jersey, thanks to legislation Gov. Jon Corzine signed Wednesday at Passaic’s Ahavas Israel in front of a multi-ethnic group.
Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman Gary Schaer look on as Gov. Jon Corzine signs a bill Wednesday in Passaic declaring April Jewish Heritage Month in New Jersey. Courtesy of the Govenor’s office
"For years New Jersey has been a gateway to America a place of opportunity and new beginnings," Corzine said. "And today we take an important step to increase public awareness about the role Jewish Americans have played in the development of our state and the nation, and promote the rich heritage and traditions of the Jewish people, who have shaped the fabric of American society and global heritage."
The Senate unanimously approved the bill introduced in February by Sens. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and Robert Singer (R-30) last week, readying it for the governor’s signature. Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) was one of the bill’s main cosponsors in the Assembly. The commemoration, sponsors said, is long overdue.
"It brings public attention to the contribution that one of the many varied groups that make up our great diverse state have made to the growth of our state and the growth of our society," Weinberg told this paper.
The bill calls on the state to "recognize and honor the diverse contributions and achievements Jewish Americans have made to the development" of New Jersey and the United States. The governor is "requested to annually issue a proclamation and call upon public officials, private organizations, and all citizens and residents" to observe the month.
"New Jersey’s diverse Jewish population deserves to be recognized," Schaer said at the signing. "The rich heritage and generations of contributions made by the Jewish community have made an enormous positive impact on the state and the nation."
April is an appropriate month to celebrate Jewish heritage because it’s typically filled with other Jewish observances such as Passover and Holocaust remembrance, Weinberg added.
Along with the Jewish Heritage Month bill, which was actually a late addition to the schedule, Corzine signed two religious protection bills that Weinberg and Schaer had championed as part of a package they first introduced last year.
The first bill mandates that state universities and colleges provide alternate test dates for students with religious conflicts. The second bill, which Corzine had previously signed during the legislative break in January, mandates that employers provide alternatives to employees who have religious obligations on scheduled workdays. Although he had previously signed the employee rights bill, he did not hold a public signing because the legislature was on break.
"No student should have to choose between compromising their religious beliefs and taking a failing grade on an exam," said Schaer. "New Jersey’s colleges and universities must respect the religious beliefs of their students, recognize the importance of our society’s diversity, and provide an alternate time and place for testing when exam schedules and religious observances coincide."
Schaer authored the bills in the Assembly in the spring, while Weinberg introduced them in the Senate soon after. The bill package is an important step forward for New Jersey, Schaer said.
Corzine signed the first two bills of the package into law last year. The first mandated alternate testing dates for applicants seeking a state-issued license when the test date conflicts with a religious observance. The second allows patients admitted to hospitals on religious holidays to bypass paperwork until the end of the holiday in accordance with their religious observance.
The package includes two other bills that would affect the state’s health-care governance. One ensures nursing home residents the right to receive food in line with their religious dietary laws, such as food that is kosher or halal. The second bill mandates that doctors make their medical decisions end of life issues, for example in accordance with the patient’s religious beliefs. Schaer is hopeful that these two will pass out of the legislature this year.
The assemblyman is preparing a new package of religious accommodation bills for the Assembly but was not yet ready to disclose their contents.