Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop came to his childhood synagogue to honor Rabbi Gerald Zelizer, who is retiring this summer after 45 years as its religious leader, but used the forum to also delve into foreign policy.
Speaking at Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen on June 7, the 38-year-old Edison native outlined a plan for enforcing Iranian nuclear containment, reiterated his support for Israel, touted Jersey City’s comeback, and explained how his Jewish values affect his governance of a municipality on the verge of becoming the state’s largest city.
However, when one of the 160 congregants in attendance asked about speculation that he will run for governor, Fulop skirted the issue.
“The short answer,” said Fulop, “is nothing has been decided. But, I believe it’s very important that a Democrat sit in Trenton in two years. If it’s me, that’s okay. If it’s somebody else, that’s fine. I wake up excited and thankful every day about my job. I love being mayor.”
As a June 30 deadline approaches for a nuclear deal with Iran, Fulop sounded a cautionary note, emphasizing that Israel’s and America’s interest and future are linked.
He laid out a tough five-point program of inspections and verification, knowledge of possible military dimensions, sanctions, duration, and dismantlement, which he later acknowledged bore some similarity to ideas supported by AIPAC.
“As Americans, we need to appreciate the particular challenges of Iran to both our nation here and, of course, Israel,” said Fulop. “If the chant ‘Death to America’ and the destruction of Israel are the state-supported and -sanctioned rallying cries of government-supported rallies, we are not negotiating with a rational and objective government…. There can be no question as to Iran’s intent as to our nation as well as Israel.”
Fulop is the grandson of Rumanian Holocaust survivors. He attended the former Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union in Cranford and Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison.
“The Jewish values that I learned in this synagogue and in my parents’ home have been the basis for my understanding of service and the need to build the city, and to make the world a safer and better place for all in a small way,” he said.
Fulop’s immigrant parents, Carmen and Arthur — his father owned a Newark deli — remain Neve Shalom members and were among those in attendance.
Fulop said he loved to come to synagogue to meet his friends, hear the shofar blown, and to listen to Zelizer’s sermons.
He thanked the rabbi for “proclaiming Torah in my early life” and “for teaching children, including me, of our wondrous ancestors and their travails and joys.”
The mayor frequently cited Jewish tradition during the program.
“Tzedaka is ensuring that the community is treated equitably, fairly, and that government is not the providence of the wealthy, but the servant of the entire community,” said Fulop, adding that his administration has tried to target neglected communities, including developing programs to reintegrate prisoners into society.