Congregation: Luciano owes Rabbi Eligberg an apology

We commend council members Ted Van Hessen, Carol Barrett and Frank Gambatese for voting against permitting religiously themed holiday displays on township property. Their decision honors the intent of our country’s founding fathers to separate religion from government and shows their respect for all individuals who live in our diverse community. Now, instead of our elected officials wasting time determining which of the 120 or so recognized religions’ symbols are fit for display, when they can be displayed and who is going to display them (not to mention dealing with potential lawsuits), they can work on the critical issues that concern our township. We particularly appreciate that those three council members had the courage and wisdom to change the viewpoints that they originally expressed and we applaud each of them for the time, effort and soul searching that they each put into their decisions.

In contrast to the uplifting conduct of council members Barrett, Gambatese, and Van Hessen, the outburst of council member Edmund Luciano during the first public comment portion of the meeting was inappropriate and deplorable. All individuals who choose to address the Township Council have the right to expect that their opinion will be heard with respect and without interruption. Luciano apparently does not agree with this common courtesy. Rabbi David Eligberg, the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Tikvah came to the podium to speak against the religiously themed holiday displays as the Human Relations Commission and others of varied faiths did before him. The rabbi mentioned that a congregant was afraid to sign a petition to the council because that person had business before the township and feared the council’s response. Noting Luciano’s reaction, the rabbi asked rhetorically if he found this amusing. Luciano began a shocking, screaming tirade and accused the rabbi of trying to divide the community. After Mayor Debra Johnson stated that no one should fear expressing their views to the council, Luciano reminded the rabbi that this (council meeting) is not Nazi Germany, an outrageous metaphor in general, and quite insensitive when addressed to a Jewish spiritual leader. He even went on to say that he wanted the name of the individual that was "proffering fear" in the community. Luciano’s words and his repeated finger-pointing gestures to the rabbi cannot and will not be taken lightly. For those few moments we could easily imagine what so many others before us felt a half century ago. A member of our government has no right to invoke such feelings in its citizens.

Luciano’s claim that citizens can freely express their views without fear are belied by his outburst, confirming that citizens do indeed need to fear Luciano’s wrath and retribution. The irony of Luciano screaming at the rabbi about Nazi Germany is all too obvious. The tragedy here is that an elected official who professes to respect diversity and free speech shows, at the drop of a word, that he only respects those who are with him or those who yield to his will. He later defended his outburst as simply "passionate." He should know from history that passion often stands in the way of reason and that freedom has suffered throughout history at the hands of rulers whose passion has been used to suppress dissent and eliminate those who happened to hold opposing views.

We, the undersigned officers, who represent the members of our congregation of 460 families, and those individuals of good conscience who stand beside us in our respect and deference for all members of the clergy and the freedom to speak before the town council without fear, expect Luciano to apologize to Rabbi David M. Eligberg, publicly and in writing.

Marc D. Binder, Mitchell Frumkin, Arie Behar, and Kim Rieman are vice presidents of Congregation B’nai Tikvah, North Brunswick. Jodi Marcou is trustee.