In a town hall meeting at East Brunswick Jewish Center, Gov. Chris Christie touched on subjects ranging from fiscal responsibility, bipartisanship, and criticism of President Barack Obama, to his love for Bruce Springsteen and his recent “extraordinary” trip to Israel.
Christie was greeted May 31 by a large welcoming banner made by students from the Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley, which is housed at EBJC. Upper-grade students were seated with dignitaries behind the governor. A large crowd packed the gym.
Head of school Rabbi Stuart Saposh said the school used Christie’s visit as a civics lesson, to teach students about the governor’s responsibilities, issues facing New Jersey, and town hall protocol.
“They learned the bracha for greeting a leader and to stand when he comes in,” said Saposh.
SSDS teacher Debby Waldman of Monroe asked Christie about his April visit to Israel.
“I don’t think you can understand the security threats to Israel unless you go there personally,” said Christie. He recalled a flight with the Israel Defense Forces from the settlements to the Mediterranean Sea that took all of seven minutes.
“The general who was with us pointed out that a missile goes much faster,” said Christie.
As a Catholic whose four children attend parochial school, Christie said he found it meaningful to walk the biblical landscape and be in Israel during Holy Week leading up to Easter.
After describing his tour of Jerusalem — which included visiting the Stations of the Cross; hearing the Muslim call to prayer as he walked to the Western Wall, where Jews were worshiping; and witnessing the various denominations of Christians sharing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — he received the loudest applause of the almost two-hour program when he declared, “I am convinced the Old City of Jerusalem has to be run by Israel.”
As a result of the trip, Christie said, El Al just this past week announced an expansion of services at Newark Liberty Airport. An agreement of cooperation between New Jersey and Teva Pharmaceutical is expected soon.
“I learned a lot about the entrepreneurial spirit in Israel,” said Christie, adding he found that Israelis have “a gritty optimism” that allows them to “believe in tomorrow.”
The governor said every leader in the United States needs to go to Israel before formulating a Middle East policy.
Schechter students with questions for the governor were disappointed that he didn’t call on them, but several did get to shake his hand.
“Shaking a governor’s hand is something I never thought I’d be doing,” said seventh-grader Emma Weiss of East Brunswick.
Aviva Kamens, a Highland Park seventh-grader, said she wanted to ask the governor about the environment, ecology, and clean sources of energy. “Energy is really important to me,” she said. “I wanted to know what he was going to do to improve the use of green energy.”
Becky Finkelstein, a seventh-grader from East Brunswick, found the governor’s appearance at her school “kind of inspiring.” Referring to Christie’s infamous combative style, she said he was “not as intimidating as I thought.”
Emily Binstein of Metuchen, also a seventh-grader, was impressed with the governor’s accessibility, which showed, she said, that “he is a person just like we are, and he doesn’t think he’s better than anybody else.”
All agreed their favorite part of the meeting was the governor’s comments on the legislature’s last-minute negotiations leading up to a state budget, due at the end of the month. Christie compared the lawmakers to a student assigned a book report in January, and himself to a parent frustrated by the student’s procrastination.
“Here it is June 1 and they still haven’t selected a book and they have to hand it in in 30 days,” said Christie.
The governor’s analogy “definitely helped me to understand the process,” said Aviva.