Jewish leaders in North Jersey expressed sadness at the death of Rep. Donald Payne (D-Dist. 10), the state’s first African-American to be elected to Congress.
Although he and local leaders often differed on Israel, they found common cause in halting the genocide in Darfur and other local and international issues.
“We worked very closely with him on fund-raising for Darfur relief, and he showed great interest in our Ethiopian absorption project in Rishon Letzion and [throughout] Israel,” said Max Kleinman, executive vice president of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
Payne, 77, a 12-term member of the House who represented parts of Essex, Union, and Hudson counties, died March 6 at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston after a battle with colon cancer.
As chair of the House subcommittee on Africa, Payne was the leading congressional champion of halting the slaughter of Sudan’s Darfurians by government-backed militiamen — a cause that was heavily supported by members of the Jewish community.
“We are very saddened by his loss,” said Melanie Gorelick, director of the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest and Central NJ. “I had the honor to work very closely with him on ending the genocide in Darfur, and I appreciate all of the personal time and commitment he gave to this issue.”
Lori Klinghoffer, president of UJC MetroWest, said, “It was a shame to lose him. It is a loss to his community. He was a very passionate leader and worked with us closely on issues regarding Darfur. For that we appreciated our connection with him.”
Payne often took positions on Israel that broke with other members of the state’s congressional delegation, to the consternation of Jewish leaders. In 2010, he traveled to Israel with a congressional delegation hosted by J Street, the dovish Israel advocacy group.
Steve Newmark of Florham Park, chair of the CRC’s government relations committee, had planned to visit Payne’s office on Capitol Hill March 6 as part of AIPAC’s lobbying effort.
“We went to Israel together two weeks after he was elected, and I’ve stayed friends with him,” said Newmark. But as for Payne’s support of Israel, “It was not as much as I would like to have seen.”
Ferne Hassan of Union, associate director of the American Jewish Committee’s NJ area, told NJ Jewish News, “I respected Payne’s dedication to the people of Darfur and his working to educate the public as to what was going on there. But he was not forthcoming on the subject of Israel. We did not have a partner to speak with in his office. He did not make it easy.”
Payne, a widower, is survived by three children and four grandchildren. His son, Donald Payne Jr., is a Newark city councilman.