Today, the Orthodox Union (Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America), the world’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization hosted a meeting between Governor Jon S. Corzine of New Jersey and Orthodox Jewish leaders representing communities in several counties, including Bergen, Essex, Middlesex, Monmouth and Passaic. Representatives from the OU’s 52 member synagogues in the Garden State and New Jersey Jewish day school leadership attended; as well, several student leaders from Rutgers (New Brunswick) and Princeton were also present.
Chief among the concerns raised was government aid to Jewish day schools. While the Governor reiterated he does not support tax credits or other direct tuition related aid, he stated several areas where he believed he could work with the nonpublic school community. Among these he said is restoring technology grants to nonpublic schools – which were cut under the recent budget – in the lame duck legislative session this year.
In addition, when representatives from day schools raised the issue of their security costs, the Governor responded that he was supportive of finding funds to assist in safeguarding vulnerable Jewish institutions, including day schools. Given the threats to Jewish institutions, including recent hate crimes in the Edison/Highland Park area and a recent bomb threat on Congregation Brothers of Israel in Long Branch (an OU member synagogue), the needs are all too real and the costs are ever escalating.
The OU’s longtime advocacy for Federal UASI grants to assist nonprofits in their security needs are critical in this context; however, they do not cover personnel costs but rather fund physical target hardening improvements to deter attacks. The Governor also promised to look at other areas where he believed funding of nonpublic schools would present no constitutional barrier including special education as well as textbooks, nursing and busing, all of which were raised by participants.
Howie Beigelman, OU Deputy Director of Public Policy stated:
We appreciate the Governor’s time and his candor. While there are areas of disagreement, there are also several areas we can work together with him. With the economy as it is and the geopolitical situation what it is, we are grateful of his commitment to restore technology grants and his willingness to work with us on security funds. As well, his renewed commitment to enacting a charitable donation is a simple, noncontroversial way to help all nonprofits and any would be donors.
During the hour long meeting, Governor Corzine repeated his commitment to enacting a charitable donation tax deduction. As New Jersey is one of only a handful of states that does not have such a deduction, particularly in this economic environment, such a donation would assist cash strapped nonprofits of all types (e.g. synagogues, day schools, hospitals, museums and universities) to raise needed funds.
Finally, the Governor was thanked for enacting several pieces of religious liberty legislation in 2008. The laws require accommodation of religious needs of employees, students, and patients. The prime sponsor in the Assembly was Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36, Passaic) who attended today’s meeting. Governor Corzine stated these accommodations are “real” and that he was proud to work with Assemblyman Schaer and others on enacting those laws.
The Orthodox Union is a nonpartisan organization and neither endorses candidates or contributes to campaigns. A similar leadership meeting with Chris Christie was held in August 2009. The OU has a long history of elected officials, candidates for public office and other notables speaking to their leadership, including Samuel Alito, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Alberto Gonzalez, Al Gore, Tom Kean, Jr., Robert Menendez, George Pataki, Dean Skelos, Bill Thompson and numerous members of Congress in recent years as well as surrogates of both McCain-Palin and Obama-Biden during the 2008 presidential election.