Despite Monday’s rain, Jewish groups have day in the Trenton sun

Despite Monday’s rain, Jewish groups have day in the Trenton sun

TRENTON – "Happy birthday!"

The crowd at the statehouse on Monday applauding Gov. Jon Corzine’s greeting for Israel’s 60th anniversary included legislators, members of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, and 65 representatives from nine of the state’s Jewish federations. Signing a proclamation honoring the milestone, the governor extolled the benefits of the relationship between the Jewish state and the Garden State.

Gov. Jon Corzine signed a proclamation on Monday honoring Israel’s 60th anniversary. photo by josh lipowsky
The day also marked the opening of a temporary exhibit in the Capitol Building on Israel, assembled by the N.J.-Israel Commission. The exhibit and the proclamation are signs of "the deep roots" of the New Jersey-Israel relationship, Corzine said.

"My ticket’s purchased," he added, referring to his twice-delayed trip to Israel, now scheduled for July, to boost economic relations.

Turning his attention to Iran, Corzine praised New Jersey’s recent efforts to divest its pension funds from Iranian-linked companies.

"That is more than just a pro-Israel act. It is a pro-America act," Corzine said.

Israel’s Deputy Consul General Benjamin Krasna addressed representatives of the state’s Jewish federations in Trenton on Monday. photo by josh lipowsky
Federation delegates spent the morning in briefings with state leaders as part of a mission organized by the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, an umbrella group of 1′ federations.

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJSAJF, told The Jewish Standard that while he had hoped for "something more substantive in terms of give-and-take and advocacy," the day was a success because of the willingness of the legislators to meet with group.

"Everybody walked away with a good feeling of the day," he said.

The Naturally Occurring Retirement Community project and benefits for Holocaust survivors are the federation system’s top priorities vying for state support, Toporek explained to the group. Both have received verbal support from the legislature but no concrete funding has yet been determined.

The NORC program funds services that help seniors remain in their homes rather than move to nursing homes. The NORC program received a delayed boost earlier this year from the federal government’s omnibus spending bill. Earmarks for the program to five New Jersey federations, including UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, had been included in the ‘009 budget, which the president vetoed in November because of an abundance of earmark spending. A House vote failed to override the veto, but NORC supporters were relieved when the funding for New Jersey’s federations made it into Congress’s omnibus bill in January.

Toporek told the delegation that the association’s goal is to secure a permanent funding source for NORCs from the state. But because of the state’s budget crisis, the funding requests come at "a very difficult time."

Heather Howard, commissioner of the Department of Health and Senior Services, told the delegation that the state wants to prioritize home services for the elderly. The key to securing state funding for NORCs is in "marrying" the program to the state’s services.

"The willingness of Commissioner Howard to meet with us on one of our major goals, permanent funding for NORCS, was a major achievement," Toporek said afterward. "We’re hoping to be in a position, perhaps sometime next year, to actually put together a strong coalition for permanent funding. The numbers just aren’t there right now in terms of the financial ability of the state to come forward."

Israel’s Deputy Consul General Benjamin Krasna, who lives in Teaneck, addressed the close ties between New Jersey and the Jewish state. In particular, he hailed the Garden State’s recent divestment from Iran but warned the Jewish community not to rest on its laurels.

"Iran is still the No. 1 strategic threat," he said. "We still need to do more…. The most effective tools we have are political and economic."

Between $750 million and $1 billion from the state’s pension funds are tied to Iranian linked companies, according to estimates from the state treasury office. Corzine signed the divestment bill in December, which gave state agencies a three-year deadline to complete divestment.

"If we do nothing, at the end of the day Iran’s going to have a nuclear bomb," Krasna said. "This needs to be done now and can’t wait."

Responding to a question about Syria and Hezbollah, Krasna said Israel has been monitoring the events in Lebanon "very closely."

"Hezbollah didn’t just go away after the war in ‘006," he said. "Hezbollah flexed its muscles and showed people it was not willing to be pushed aside…. Their goal was to remind everybody that they’re still there."

As for Syria, Krasna struck a diplomatic tone. Israel would, at some point, have to sign a treaty with Syria, he said. Syria has put itself in "a precarious situation" with its relationship with Iran, which has resulted in its isolation from the West and other Arab nations.

"Eventually, we need some sort of solution to that discussion," he said.

Adam Zellner, director of the Governor’s Office of Policy, addressed some of the issues on the federation agenda, focusing specifically on energy. Traveling accounts for 33 percent of energy usage in the state, he said, noting that New Jersey is one of the most densely populated states in the world.

He called Corzine’s Energy Master Plan a large step forward in bringing down the state’s emissions of greenhouse gases. At present, 50 percent of the state’s energy is supplied by nuclear power. Corzine’s plan calls for more solar, wind, and nuclear power by ‘0’0, according to a draft released last month. Despite more than a 1.5 percent increase per year in demand for electricity, the plan calls for New Jersey to be using ‘0 percent less electricity by ‘0’0.

Advocacy plays a large role in federations but scheduling conflicts limited what the NJSAJF could do in one day.

"We all looked at this to be an informative, educational experience," said Joy Kurland, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, who led nine other layleaders and staff from UJA-NNJ and Bergen County Jewish agencies. "This down the road will lead to advocacy."

Ron Rosensweig, a long time UJA-NNJ lay leader, agreed.

"It’s always important when you get recognition at the highest levels for what you’re doing," he said. Rosensweig is also a member of the resolution committee of the United Jewish Communities, which sets policy for that national organization.

"Any time you can get a significant group of Jewish leaders together with the governor and legislators to make a strong statement in support of Israel and its viability and legitimacy, it’s great," Toporek said. "Everybody left feeling good about the future of the New Jersey-Israel relationship."

New appointees to N.J.-Israel Commission

Gov. Corzine’s office announced a new slate of appointments to the New Jersey-Israel Commission, which was created in 1989 to enhance the economic relationship between Israel and New Jersey. The commission is composed of 1’5 members appointed by the governor and eight members appointed by the legislature.

The new appointments include: Sen. Loretta Weinberg of Teaneck; Fred D. Zemel of Teaneck; H. Louis Cooperhouse of Somerset County; Jacob C. Toporek of Middlesex County, who is also the executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations; Sen. Robert W. Singer of Ocean County; Sen. Thomas H. Kean Jr. of Union County; and Sen. John H. Adler of Camden County.

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