Anyone walking into the social hall of Congregation Ohr Torah in Edison on the evening of October 20 for the “Meet the Candidates” event sponsored by The ROC of NJ was able to easily see two very encouraging signs.
The first sign was the attendance of dozens of community members, including a few who brought their school age children. The robust turnout, on a weeknight, demonstrated clearly that members of the Jewish community of Middlesex County are keenly interested in the political process and carefully considering their options.
The second sign was the participation in the forum of so many candidates, an indication of their respect for the community and their interest in soliciting its support.
There were 16 candidates that participated in the event. They were:
Gubernatorial Candidates—Jack Ciattarelli (R) and Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36), serving as a Surrogate for Governor Phil Murphy (D).
Assembly Candidates—Angela Fam (R), Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak (D-18) and Assemblyman Sterley Stanley (D-18).
Middlesex County Surrogate Candidate—Chavi Dharayan (R).
East Brunswick Council Candidate—Dinesh Bihal (D).
Edison Mayoral Candidates—Keith Hahn (R) and Sam Joshi (D)
Edison Council Candidates—Tali Epstein (R), Joseph Luistro (R), Payal Mehta (R), and Margot Harris (D), Nishith Patel (D) and John Poyner (D).
Highland Park Council Candidate—Councilwoman Stephany Kim Chohan (D).
While a large portion of each hour was dedicated to the presentations by (or about) the gubernatorial candidates, each of the candidates was given an opportunity to address the crowd and make their case for support.
It was clear, from the reactions of different attendees, that the “Meet the Candidates” forum was well received and seen as a very valuable contribution to the community.
“This has been the most boring gubernatorial campaign in the history of New Jersey. But you would never know that from watching this ROC of New Jersey event. The crowd was engaged, spirited, active and opinionated,” said Matt Hale of Highland Park, a political science professor at Seton Hall University. “The ROC of New Jersey event really showed the growth of this organization as a player in state politics. Last election they didn’t exist. This time they had top line candidates and lots of active and engaged participants.”
“I was pleasantly surprised by the respect shown by all the candidates to each other, after years of negative rhetoric,” said David Stern of Edison. “I found the forum very educational and a unique opportunity to meet the candidates and hear their positions on a number of important issues. The event definitely changed my vote. I would strongly recommend having future meetings with the candidates as well as our elected representatives on a regular basis.”
Ariella Wallenstein, a sixth grader at Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva, said: “I went with my father to the ROC ‘Meet the Candidate’ event to see what new perspectives Jack Ciattarelli would offer as governor of New Jersey. I also wanted to hear the other candidates running for local office. One reason why I especially wanted to go was to advocate for our local municipality to build a sidewalk on Harrison Avenue, for the route to my school, and ask the state to help local towns build safe routes to school. I was very happy that Mr. Ciattarelli took the time to speak with me personally and take my written proposal back with him.”
“One of the missions of The ROC of New Jersey is to strengthen the lines of communication between the Jewish community in Raritan Valley and our local and state elected officials,” said David Waizer of Highland Park, chairman of The ROC of NJ. “It was great to see how many people came to engage with the candidates and learn about their stances on issues that are important to our community and the Jewish community at large.”
His wife, Mindy Waizer, stated: ”This event gave us the opportunity to learn about the candidates on both sides of the fence. I was pleasantly surprised to see the respect—and even affection—that Jack Ciattarelli and Gary Schaer have for each other. Even though they are in opposing parties, their appreciation for each other’s hard work in service to the public and their commitment to addressing the issues we care about gave me hope.”
Leora Wenger of Highland Park commented: “A friend suggested I get to know Assembly candidate Angela Fam. I befriended Angela (on Facebook), but it is hard to get to know someone over social media. She is a lovely woman, a mom, a small business owner. Her family is Coptic Christian. They escaped from Egypt at the same time as many of the members of Congregation Etz Ahaim, so I could relate well to her family story. It was great to see her in person! In preparation for the forum, a friend suggested Angela wear clothing fitting for the Orthodox community. Angela was so grateful for the advice. She is personable and easy to get to know.”
Michael Gordon of Highland Park stated: “It’s great when candidates personally come to our community to speak directly to us and to hear our concerns. I thank The ROC of NJ for coordinating this important community event.” His wife, Shari Gordon, added: “The event did help me in making my decision. I was impressed with Mr. Ciattarelli and honored that he made the effort to come speak to the community and tell us about how informational his recent trip to Israel was.”
“This was an incredible event that introduced our elected officials to the Orthodox Jewish community of Middlesex County,” said Josh Pruzansky, president and CEO of The ROC of NJ. “It is so important for the grassroots to be involved and engage those running for office. They had an opportunity to meet with each one after their presentations and ask them questions. We appreciate the willingness of each candidate from gubernatorial to council member to stay and respond to their constituents. We look forward to doing this again next year.”