Metuchen – Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop spoke passionately today about his Jewish beliefs at the retirement service of his childhood Rabbi, Gerald Zelizer, at Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen. In his remarks, Fulop described how Zelizer set his moral compass that he follows today in public service and extends to his views on current U.S. negotiations with Iran and its impact on Israel.
“It is within the involvement and participation in the civic life of American society that I rely upon my Jewish experience and belief. When we do what is right, what is just, what is merciful, when we abide by the tenets we have learned by living in the Jewish community; then we begin to experience the good and the holy,” Fulop said to the congregation.
Fulop, whose mother is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, spoke in detail for the first time on the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear power and what that means for Israel and the United States and credited Rabbi Zelizer for creating core beliefs that stay with him today. “Rabbi Zelizer spoke about Abraham, Israel, Tikun Olam and the importance of treating people well. I would listen and think about what he said for days,” Fulop said.
Fulop also spoke about how listening to the shofar at synagogue took on even greater significance as the bugle call awakened him each morning as a Marine serving in Baghdad.
“As Americans, we need to appreciate the particular challenge of Iran to both our nation and of course Israel. 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. And whether one is a Democrat, as I am, or a Republican, a Christian, Muslim, or Jew; the hatred to our nation expressed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei when he affirmed a Tehran crowd’s chants of “death to America,” must give us insights as to Iran’s intentions,” Fulop said.
“Yes, peaceful self-determination need be for all nations, but when Iran is heading upon a clear discernible charge toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons, we must be mindful of the nuances of the discussion and its impact on the United States and of course Israel. There are 5 key points which impact all of us and must be included in any deal. As we talk every High Holy Day about Israel, these points are crucial,” Fulop said. “Inspection, Awareness of Military Dimension, Sanctions, Duration, and Dismantlement; these five points are the framework for a practical enforceable agreement. They are no less, no more than the terms President John Fitzgerald Kennedy crafted after the Cuban Missile Crisis to address the Soviet threat poised by the installation of missiles in Cuba.”
The Full Text of Mayor Fulop’s Speech as Prepared for Delivery Follows:
Growing up in Edison, when we were young I went to Neve Shalom and I loved it. I can’t say to be honest I was engaged in Rabbi Zelizer’s sermons at the time, or attentive to repentance, but I was excited because I knew that all my neighborhood friends from Edison would be at Synagogue and I can spend time in the hallway talking to them. For me as a young boy, synagogue was great, it was time with friends, and particularly on the high holy days when the shofar was trumpeted I loved it. We always had Mr. Gary here patrolling the aisles as gabai, who I would try to stay far from as his wife was my piano teacher and I never practiced as much as I should have on a weekly basis.
Nonetheless, I loved coming here. Rabbi Zelizer would properly push to the young people to be more vigilant with our prayers, to practice being kind, and to be better people of course. I am sure, it was his hope for us to experience life most fully by having G-d be more present in our lives. These sounded like important words and values, words to live by, but I hate to say it for me as a seven and eight year old boy, the shofar blower had it all and Rabbi Zelizer was second fiddle. Think about it, the Torah has just been read, then the whole congregation became quiet, I remember my mother disciplining my brothers and me to be quiet, then a man wearing the strangest, but best, white robe came out to blow the shofar. While I later learned that this was a time for reflection and to amend my relationship with G-d, as a child this was the build up to the shofar. Little did I fully appreciate the comparative power of the bugle until years later while awakening to reveille at the crack of dawn while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, but at this point in my life the Shofar was great. And the last note, the Tekiah Gedolah, a protracted summoning for the Great Day, which was the most impressive. And for me, as wise as Rabbi Zelizer was and is, I remember thinking that being a rabbi was too much boring work. The job in the synagogue to have was the shofar blower.
Anyway, yes, I always knew my parents liked Neve Shalom and I loved it, but when I was 11 or so, my older brother wanted to be at a Synagogue closer to his friends that went to Solomon Schechter and that synagogue was Adath Israel in Woodbridge. So as it goes, middle children have very little influence in families and so I went to Adath Israel, begrudgingly with everyone else in my family. Less excitement, no Mr. Gary in the aisles to avoid, none of my friends present. I can tell you though unequivocally, when Neve Shalom merged with Adath Israel in Woodbridge there was nobody in Middlesex County that was more excited than ME. At last, I was coming home.
Over the years, I have thought about it a good deal and I am not sure how many shuls like Neve Shalom would engage in willing or for that matter hostile takeovers. I can only tell you I prayed for the day when Neve Shalom would take over Adath Israel. Well it happened, and I am delighted, to be in the shul of my youth and to be that middle child to bring my parents home to the shul and I guess what we are calling a Zelizerbration!
Over the years, we have shared Simchat Torah, Chanukah, Purim, Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur with Rabbi Zelizer. As the synagogue grew to two services and overflow rooms over the years, my favorite time was Rabbi Zelizer’s sermons, and so I would angle every service despite what color ticket designating a different service I was assigned to, I would try to sit in the only service for me which was Rabbi Zelizer’s service. There was no moving me. He spoke about Israel, treating people well, Tikun Olam, Abraham, I would listen and think about what he said for days.
Well Rabbi, here we are to proclaim our gratitude to you and to ask the blessings of G-d upon you and your family. While I never did become a shofar blower, once again probably failing my parents expectations, I won’t even begin to discuss algebra, I want to thank you for your passionate commitment to this congregation, your prayerful devotion to Torah, and to teaching children including me of our wondrous ancestors and their travails and joys. As covenant with G-d and devotion to our Torah and our G-d requires sacrifice, Rabbi Zelizer you have been a beacon within our community and our state as a person, who has always strove to serve. Again, thank you for your service and example and for proclaiming Torah in my early life, even if you weren’t as cool as the shofar blower.
Building upon the lessons I learned in shul, the great American scholar and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Judaism revolves around three sacred entities: God, Torah, Israel. The Jew never stands alone before God; the Torah and Israel are always with him.” He continues to say about Judaism “ It is not only a certain quality in the souls of the individuals that is Jewish but it is primarily involvement and participation in the covenant and community of Israel.”
So, it is within the involvement and participation in the civic life of American society that I rely upon my Jewish experience and belief. When we do what is right, what is just, what is merciful, when we abide by the tenets we have learned by living in the Jewish community; then we begin to experience the good and the holy. As Heschel instructed, what we do as individuals may be trivial; yet, what we attain as Israel causes us to grow into the infinite.
So, 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 my little small way.
So, discussing first the governing principles of my administration in Jersey City and how we have sought to implement them, I would then ask, if Rabbi will permit me, to discuss Israel’s place in the world and why it is relevant to us during these difficult time.
The Statute of Liberty by whom I run many mornings is the iconic American expression of freedom and of the immigrant, to America. That is really the most basic of Jewish values as yearning for freedom resonates throughout the entirety of Jewish tradition. The Exodus story of the ancient Israelites journey from slavery to freedom or
the story of Masada is similar of the fortress, where over 900 Jews committed suicide to die in freedom rather than submit to slavery. The central premise of freedom in Jewish thought has various implications. There is always the emphasis on the rights of the outsider. As Exodus states, “Do not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger for once you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” For me, that value is enshrined in understanding Jersey City as a beacon to immigrants, to all peoples, insiders and outsiders.
Whether educating the children of illegal aliens who are born in this country, changing the immigration laws of this nation to provide for just and equitable determinations for citizenship, or providing basic health care at the local community hospital, our tradition commands us to be responsible and just to all immigrants. It is also among the most basic and cherished of American values.
As Jews, we must also be mindful of Tzedekah. While the word is often translated as “charity” in English, in Hebrew the meaning is closer to righteousness and fairness. Indeed, the Hebrew root of the word ‘tzedakah’ is tzedek, which means ‘justice’. In contrast to the concept of St. Paul’s charity, giving to those in need is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and the right thing to do. It is the performance of a duty prescribed. Thus, Tzedekah is ensuring that the community is treating equitably, fairly, that government is not the province of the wealthy, but the servant of the entire community.
Thus in Jersey City we have striven to bridge the gap between communities that have been neglected, investing money to increase open space in areas that have been neglected and to grow our police department to create safer neighborhoods.
Justice, righteousness and freedom are integrated through the idealized vision articulated at the core of Judaism. Each of us is called to make a unique contribution to improving the world. Each of us can show Tikkun Olam. This spirit is strongly exhibited by Jewish involvement toward advancing social justice, especially mindful of protecting the rights of the marginalized.
For me, that is most recognizable in our work on prisoner reentry. Every single person deserves a second chance and we are making sure in Jersey City that it is possible. But while we take the ideals of tzedekah, and Tikun Olan and social justice at the pinnacle of importance we are showing that it is a false choice that these ideas can’t exist with at the same time driving a strong local economy. It is a false choice and we are doing both in Jersey City.
I would like to go back to Rabbi Heschel again for a second. Rabbi Heschel called us to live more fully into the community of Israel, as Jews, as Americans, we are called to be mindful of that sacred place, be they Christians, Muslims, or Jews Israel is a special place. We know that the world may and can be a dangerous place and while we labor for justice in the world, we will also need to be mindful as we need to exercise wisdom in the maintenance of America’s interests and Israel’s freedom because in many ways they are intertwined.
I want to conclude with highlighting that while I recognize the unique cultures and traditions of other peoples, as Americans, we need to appreciate the particular challenge of Iran to both our nation here and of course Israel. 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. And whether one is a Democrat, as I am, or a Republican, a Christian, Muslim, or Jew; the hatred to our nation expressed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei when he affirmed a Tehran crowd’s chants of “death to America,” must give us insights as to Iran’s intentions. I am reminded of my lessons as a graduate student at Columbia University, when a professor admonished us not simply to accept representations at the bargaining table, but to be aware as to intentionality. There can be no question as to Iran’s intent as to our nation, as well as Israel.
As Americans, Democrats and Republicans, as people of goodwill, we as a nation here have a legitimate right to protect ourselves, and American national interests of course.
Yes, peaceful self-determination need be for all nations, but when Iran is heading upon
a clear discernible charge toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons, we must be mindful of the nuances of the discussion and its impact on the United States and of course Israel. I point it out today because amidst all the newspaper reporting there are 5 key points which impact all of us and must be included in any deal. As we talk every high holy day about Israel, these points are crucial.
First, INSPECTIONS AND VERIFICATION
Inspectors must be permitted unimpeded access to suspect nuclear sites. An agreement must support “anytime, anywhere” as Ronald Reagan said the Russian Proverb. We ought to hearken to President Reagan’s wisdom.
- KNOWLEDGE OF POSSIBLE MILITARY DIMENSIONS
Iran must fully explain its prior weapons efforts. The entire scope of Iran’s nuclear activities must be known to establish a baseline against which to measure future actions.
Sanctions relief must commence only after Iran complies with its commitments.
Iran’s nuclear weapons quest must be blocked for decades, if not the foreseeable future.
Iran must dismantle existing nuclear infrastructure so it has no discernible path to a nuclear weapon.
Inspection, Awareness of Military Dimension, Sanctions, Duration, and
Dismantlement; these five points are the framework for a practical enforceable agreement. They are no less, no more than the terms President John Fitzgerald Kennedy crafted after the Cuban Missile Crisis to address the Soviet threat poised by the installation of missiles in Cuba.
I say this today as we conclude this Zelizerbration of 45 years because there wasn’t a Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah that Rabbi Zelizer didn’t’ discuss Israel, its importance, and of course the solicitcation of Israel Bonds. Now is as important a time for that country and ours as any time in history .
So, we have traveled a long way from that young boy listening to the blowing of the shofar during Rosh Hashanah at Neve Shalom. We have talked today of faith and family, rebuilding a city and a community, and living in a world that can ignore at best, be hostile at worst, to the values we ascribe on Shabbat. Yet, I am optimistic, as I believe in an adage that resonated in President Lincoln’s heart that “right does make might.” Whatever we have suffered throughout the ages from Pharaoh’s slavery to the dark evil, which was the Holocaust, we are commanded by the prophet Micah to follow that simply profound admonition, “to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our G-d.
If we follow Micah’s wise precept, I am confident we will build a stronger community, a more vibrant America, and a more secure world for our children and our children’s children.
Congratulations Rabbi Zelizer