Gov. Chris Christie marked Jewish-American Heritage Month by hosting about 50 Jewish religious and secular leaders from around the state at a gathering at Drumthwacket, his official residence in Princeton, on May 11.
Addressing the gathering, Christie acknowledged the contributions of Jews to the state, and affirmed his commitment to education and to pending legislation on tuition tax credits that would assist religious day schools (see sidebar).
Informally, he expressed his support for efforts to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions and discourage investment that supports the Ahmadinejad regime.
Christie also said he is committed to visiting Israel with his family next year.
Christie’s office issued a proclamation recognizing the contribution of the state’s “480,000 American residents of Jewish ancestry,” and the close relationship between New Jersey and Israel. It also acknowledged the importance to New Jersey and the country of disseminating “knowledge of the heritage, culture, and history of the Jewish people and Americans of Jewish ancestry.”
Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, said he was asked to suggest a guest list and provided a broad cross-section of lay and professional leaders. Also invited to the gathering were a number of rabbis from various Chabad-Lubavitch centers.
Among the senior members of the governor’s staff present were Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and the director of the governor’s Authorities Unit, Deborah Gramiccioni, who is Jewish and comes from Livingston.
“It was a very valuable opportunity to network with these people and to have a chance to talk to them,” said Toporek. “They are on a learning curve in terms of getting to know how to work with the community.”
With the budget crisis overshadowing all else “like the 800-lb. gorilla in the room,” he said, this was not the time to push the community’s agenda.
“You don’t want to ask members of the legislature to use up their ‘chits’ now, pushing issues that can’t win the necessary attention,” Toporek said. Come the summer perhaps, he said, once the budget has been passed — as it has to be by June 30 — there might be more opportunities.
Joy Kurland, the director of the body formed from the merger of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Central NJ, the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, and the JCRC of UJA Federation of Northern NJ, said the governor came across as “very sincere in his commitment to the Jewish community, and to working collaboratively with us for the good of the community.”
Also among those at the Drumthwacket gathering was Steve Karp, executve director of the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth.
Gordon Haas, Central JCRC cochair, said the gathering was small enough to allow for good communication. “The governor tried to talk to everyone,” he said. “He talked about the voucher bill and why it’s so important, and of his respect for the NJ Education Association.”
The bill (S1872), which would provide scholarships for students to attend private schools, has bipartisan support, Haas pointed out, and there was an added push to get it passed to take advantage of $400 million in federal funding for new educational initiatives.