Essex Freeholders honor ‘Jewish heritage’

Essex Freeholders honor ‘Jewish heritage’

Three activists chosen for their contributions to ‘proud community’

Essex County Freeholder Pat Sebold, second from right, with Jewish Heritage Month award winners, from left, Mark Dunec, Jill Tekel, and Jacqueline Levine. 
Essex County Freeholder Pat Sebold, second from right, with Jewish Heritage Month award winners, from left, Mark Dunec, Jill Tekel, and Jacqueline Levine. 

One winner is a veteran activist who risked arrest on behalf of social causes. The second is a real estate developer who has served as an officer in AIPAC, his synagogue, and his children’s day school.

The third is a woman who has been recognized for activities that range from running Hadassah chapters to helping stroke victims.

Together, they became the first honorees recognized by the Essex County Board of Freeholders at its first Jewish Heritage Month Celebration.

Leading the May 22 ceremonies in the freeholders’ chamber in Newark was the board’s vice president and sole Jewish member, Pat Sebold of Livingston.

In introductory remarks, Sebold called the ceremony “an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the heritage and accomplishments of yet another proud and productive community that has enriched the fabric of Essex County since the early 1800s.”

Sebold hailed real estate developer Mark Dunec of Livingston “for his abilities and intellect,” as well as his contributions to the New Jersey Leadership Council of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee and to Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and the men’s club at the Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center, both in Livingston.

Pointing out that “sometimes it gets lonely” to be the county’s only Jewish elected official above the municipal level, Sebold announced that Dunec will seek the Democratic nomination to run against U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Dist. 11) in 2014.

“We are all here today to acknowledge not just the honorees but the public servants who take time from their families and their lives to better our local communities,” Dunec said in accepting his honor.

Sebold recognized Jacqueline Levine, a West Orange resident, for decades of activism. Levine was arrested on several occasions for protesting American racial injustice and Soviet anti-Semitism. The freeholder called her “a truly outstanding woman I have had the honor of knowing forever.”

In addition to many years of service on the executive committee of the board of what is now the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Levine was the first woman to serve as the national chair of the American Jewish Congress’s governing council and to hold the Soviet Jewry chair at the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.

A founding member of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and of the Jewish Fund for Justice, Levine has also held leadership roles with, among other organizations, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

“If there was such a thing as being the epitome of a liberal Jewish female activist, that description certainly belongs to Jackie,” said Sebold. “No matter what the cause was in the course of my lifetime, Jackie was right there in the thick of it.”

“I am very proud and pleased to be honored,” Levine said.

As she presented the final award, Sebold praised Jill Tekel of West Orange “as a very active member of the Jewish community” for her work in a range of volunteer positions at Hadassah, as chair of the advisory committee and volunteer speech therapist at the Adler Aphasia Center in West Orange, and her positions at the Anti-Defamation League and the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest.

“To say I am blessed is really a cliche, but I am,” said Tekel as she accepted her award. “Judaism is a rich language of social justice issues and understanding. This is a core value. I hope our community can remain concerned about the welfare of each other…. If we lead by example we surely will succeed.”

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