Jersey City is not the first place to come to mind when people talk about ethics. But Councilman Steve Fulop will link the two tonight at Cong. B’nai Jacob.
The time between Passover and Shavuot is traditionally a time to study Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, which, according to Fulop, defines early on what it means to be an ethical person and how to draw boundaries to live by. When B’nai Jacob’s leadership approached him to discuss the subject, he saw how he could connect Jewish wisdom with current events.
|Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop|
“There’s no more relevant place than Jersey City,” Fulop told The Jewish Standard earlier this week.
Fulop, a B’nai Jacob member, is participating in the synagogue’s new Speakers Series, which began last month.
The first line of Pirkei Avot, which focuses on ethical bylaws, Fulop said, states that these precepts are the laws of Moses as handed down through Joshua and then through the elders of Israel.
“It’s showing that ethics and principles are not based on circumstances,” Fulop said. “It’s linear – the same set of boundaries through generations.”
Fulop acknowledged Jersey City’s scandal-prone past and said the city is in the midst of a transformation.
A corruption scandal in July led to the arrests of 44 people, including Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini and almost a dozen other city employees. The city’s Mayor Jerramiah Healy has also faced legal trouble as the result of a 2006 bar fight on the Jersey shore.
“Jersey City has a past that’s been filled with corruption,” Fulop said. “Part of what you fight is apathy; a lot of residents feel it’s business as usual.”
Voters and politicians have a shared responsibility, he said. Elected officials are responsible for maintaining a society, while voters are responsible for weeding out corrupt officials.
“If one aspect falters, the entire system falters,” he said. “We’ve probably seen that in the last 10 years in Jersey City. The end result is a situation like you had last year.”
Fulop’s goal, he said, is to raise the bar for voters’ expectations of their elected leaders, and he believes apathy toward public corruption is slowly beginning to fade. After last summer’s arrests, combined with the country’s economic crisis, more Jersey City residents turned out to vote and be heard – although the numbers are still not as high as Fulop would like. He pointed to last week’s board of education election, which drew more than 7,000 voters, who, unlike many in this state, approved the city’s school budget. The historic high for such elections had been about 4,000, he said.
“You have hope that part of this can encourage people to get involved and that’s part of the goal,” he said. “The way that the system changes is one person at a time.”
Fulop, who represents Ward E, was elected to the city council in 2005 at the age of 27, making him the youngest elected official in city history.
For more information on tonight’s talk, visit www.bnaijacobjc.org.