Representatives of the local Jewish community solidified their ties with Essex County government officials at a May 25 meeting in Newark.
Leaders of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ and its partner agencies met with County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and directors of the county’s social service, law enforcement, and recreation agencies. NJ Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Dist. 34) welcomed the group to Essex County, along with NJ State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Dist. 29), county administrator Joyce Harley, and Blonnie Watson, president of the County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
The two-and-a-half-hour meeting took place at the LeRoy Smith Jr. Public Safety Building in Newark, a recently renovated jail.
“Our community and Essex County have had a very strong relationship over the years,” David Lentz, chair of the MetroWest Community Relations Committee, told the hosts. “We thought it would be a good time to come together and meet you and demonstrate together how we can strengthen those ties.”
The meeting helped “to reinforce the important synergies between our entities when it comes to helping the community at large with important social services,” said Merle Kalishman, a past CRC chair. The meeting was organized by the CRC’s Newark Advisory Council and Government Affairs Committee.
Freeholder Pat Sebold of Livingston, a member of the UJC board of trustees and the CRC, introduced DiVincenzo.
“When I took over in 2003 we had a $64 million budget deficit. We had junk bonds. We were in very bad condition,” DiVincenzo told the gathering. The county now has a “$24 million surplus with an AA bond rating,” he said.
DiVincenzo also noted “several serious problems.”
“We have the highest property taxes, the highest foreclosure rates, and the hugest unemployment,” he said. “That is the time we live in, and there are people who need our help. What MetroWest has been doing for years is providing services for our constituents. We are geared to be your partner. We are geared to help you. We want to continue to be your partner.”
Leaders on both sides described the social service, law enforcement, and recreation programs that serve Jews and the community at large.
Karen Alexander described UJC MetroWest’s eldercare services, which runs non-sectarian aging-in-place programs in Parsippany, Caldwell, and Verona.
“Essex County has about 12 or 13 percent of the population over 65,” said Alexander, the program’s director. “But in the Jewish community we have about 19 or 20 percent of the population over 65. When you start looking at forecasts about aging, in our community, it’s here. That is part of the reason the Jewish community has taken the lead in aging services, and certainly in Essex County there is tremendous opportunity to collaborate with the network of services and the county itself.”
Other presenters included Leonard Schneider, executive director of the Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest; Joyce Goldman, who directs the county government’s constituent services; Reuben Rotman, executive director of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest; and Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura.
Fontoura spoke of efforts to beef up protection around the historic Jewish cemeteries in Newark and for people summoned to the city from the suburbs for jury duty.
“There was a time when people refused to come to Newark,” he said. Pointing to a new park and a court building, he said, “People come down here and are pleasantly surprised.”
During the program, participants learned where they could partner together, leverage government dollars, or provide needed services. Networking took place behind the scenes. Rotman, after being introduced to Essex County prosecutor Carolyn Murray, began discussions on working closely on domestic violence concerns.
After the meeting, UJC MetroWest leaders attended the Essex County Memorial Day press conference and service in the newly created Veterans Memorial Park.