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.

Taxes should be based on an ability-to-pay schedule

The March 9 Sentinel letter about school funding raises questions. One would believe our taxes would double and school boards be eliminated if our schools were fully funded by the state.

A family of four living in a typical home pays about $2,600 per year in school property tax. Additionally, this family pays around $855 per year for New Jersey based on an income of $60,000 per year, $2,300 on $100,000 per year or $400 on $35,000 per year.

If the state income tax were doubled as suggested in the March 9 letter, school property taxes would be eliminated. These same families would have their total taxes reduced $1,745; $300; or $2,200.

What’s not to like? Wouldn’t all bread-and-butter citizens from young to seniors benefit when schools are funded based on ability to pay?

Aren’t the school boards substantially controlled now by the present state aid of $6 billion?

Haven’t people of all political beliefs acknowledged the present school property tax system is regressive?

Shouldn’t we, through our representatives, have a more effective system to encourage efficient school districts and improve the rest?

Matthew House

North Brunswick

S.B. board appointment policy needs changing

South Brunswick residents in November 1997 overwhelmingly voted for a change to the council-manager form of government. Since its implementation in January 1999, its separation of administration from legislative function has proved to be effective.

It is recognized that our Planning Board and Zoning Board in our boom developing community are extremely important in rendering decisions on future land use.

In each and every municipal government that functions as a council-manager form, the appointment of citizens to these boards is the responsibility of the entire council, including the mayor.

South Brunswick continues to function under our old ordinance with the mayor in control of these important appointments. A recently introduced ordinance to effectively give these appointment powers to five members, council and mayor, has been amended and diluted to have the mayor still make the appointments "with advice and consent of the council." This would still allow the mayor to obstruct any appointment for political or personal reasons, which in fact has already been done. Before voting on this important ordinance, we challenge the council to find any N.J. council-manager municipality that has delegated this appointment power to a mayor in a "weak mayor form of government." Common sense dictates that five members instead of one can make a more unbiased selection of planning and zoning members with more competency and less partnership.

Sylvia Lee

President

Lee Schwartz

Media Coordinator

Common Sense

South Brunswick

Hundreds of S.B. parents suffered on March 2

March 2 was a gut-wrenching day in the history and psyche of South Brunswick Township. On that day South Brunswick High School was locked down for the first time due to the possibility of a gun being brought into the school. Many hundreds of families suffered for hours worrying about their child or loved one who studied or worked at the high school.

South Brunswick police deserve credit for fast and effective response to the problem. Plainsboro police, who assisted, should also be thanked. The young juvenile who caused this situation needs help and our prayers.

Today it is a fact of life that a situation like this could recur. I sincerely hope it does not happen again.

John G. O’Sullivan

Monmouth Junction

section of South Brunswick

Let’s hope message sinks in

N

orth Brunswick residents and their present and former elected officials made it abundantly clear Monday that they do not want go-go bars in their neighborhoods.

Former Mayor Paul Matacera, who has not been heard from in recent months, spoke eloquently on behalf of the opposite sex when he said, "I think go-go dancing is an exploitation of women."

While that alone is good reason to reject such establishments, there are lots more.

Residents who live near the former Virgo’s site recalled the noise, the disgusting litter and the type of people who are attracted to such establishments. One woman recalled that her family had to put up with beer bottles being thrown near her property and cars, and motorcycles racing up the street at 3 o’clock in the morning.

They simply don’t want any of that in their neighborhood.

South Brunswick residents should also be cheered by the North Brunswick Township Council’s decision not to approve the transfer of a liquor license to the new owner of the property, since it is very close to the border the two townships share.

The applicant, who plans to appeal, claims the council’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.

It’s anything but. Maybe he should listen carefully to a tape of Monday’s meeting. Maybe then the message will sink in.

Proposed state law would cancel school boards

I wish to bring to your attention a situation that has occurred in the state Legislature. Assemblyman Peter Barnes (D-18th) and Assemblywoman Barbara Buono (D-18th) have reintroduced their bill, ACR 28, to fund public education 100 percent. The state currently funds 43 percent. For the fiscal year 1999-2000, $5.61 billion in school aid and $580.6 million in teacher pensions are currently budgeted.

If the bill were to pass, the following would occur. To fund 100 percent, the state would need to raise taxes an additional $7 billion.

This would mean raising the state sales tax from 6 percent to 14.8 percent or doubling the state income tax. Further, there would be no need for school boards. State bureaucrats from Trenton would run the entire state educational system.

It is quite evident that Barnes and Buono are not in touch with the needs of the taxpayers nor do they have any respect for their paychecks. The last time a Democrat raised taxes, he had a short tenure. Jim Florio raised taxes $2.8 billion, and the citizens of the state were up in arms.

They sent him a clear message the next election period.

Barnes and Buono want to raise taxes $7 billion. This legislation needs to be defeated for the good of the taxpayers and their families.

Norman J. Van Houten

Edison

Be sure to stay tuned

T

he South Brunswick Township Council has spoken. There will be no religious holiday displays on township property. Not surprisingly, it was not a unanimous decision. In fact, two of the three council members who voted not to change the present township policy prohibiting them originally seemed to favor the displays.

Councilwoman Carol Barrett, one of the two, found the issue to be too divisive.

"If I find an issue is divisive, especially on an issue that is supposed to bring happiness, then I must vote against holiday displays," she said Tuesday, explaining her vote.

Deputy Mayor Frank Gambatese was also torn, but went along with Barrett to "avoid a Pandora’s box of legal entanglements."

He also used the opportunity to take an unnecessary potshot at local clergy, accusing "most" of them of being more concerned about divisiveness than about teaching respect and tolerance."

It seems as if we heard that recently on the presidential primary trail.

The majority of the speakers at Tuesday’s meeting seemed to agree with the majority vote, indicating the township followed the dictates of the community.

Surprisingly, however, as you will read in another story in this week’s Sentinel, other towns in Middlesex County have not had to wrestle with the issue.

The only other county town that even has a policy is North Brunswick, and township officials there took an entirely different approach, establishing a resolution creating a Diversity Display Committee composed of clergy and interested community residents. The committee is now included in the North Brunswick Human Relations Council and approves displays for a piece of land near the municipal building that is dedicated for displays, according to a survey of towns by the Middlesex County Human Relations Council.

South Brunswick’s original decision to ban holiday displays came after a complaint about one at a township park.

While efforts to reverse that ban have failed, the issue is likely to continue to fester.

Mayor Debra Johnson, who opposes the ban, is already questioning whether the ban will affect such township events as the Haunted Halloween trail and the annual Kwanzaa celebration .

So, by all means, stay tuned.

Generous supporters deserve thanks

The Presbyterian Church of Jamesburg has been the home of a local food cupboard for a number of years, providing food to needy families regardless of religious affiliation. Food is distributed by appointment on a monthly basis, and emergency assistance is given when needed. The church board of deacons administers the food cupboard under the direction of the chairwoman of the welfare committee.

The cupboard exists primarily due to the generous contributions of food, time and money from church members, local businesses and individuals in Jamesburg and surrounding communities. This report is submitted as an expression of gratitude to all who may have contributed, even if anonymously.

Each year two major food drives are conducted. In November, the local Boy Scouts conduct their annual "Scouting for Food" drive. This year we broke the record for the number of bags brought in by our Scouts. I also suspect that we broke a record in terms of volunteers. Many people, both from Jamesburg and from surrounding communities, were on hand to carry bags, check expiration dates, sort the food, carry boxes upstairs and put away the donations. Our local Boy Scouts deserve an extra thank you for volunteering to help every month with our preparation as we bag and box up food according to family size.

The U.S. Post Office also conducts an annual food drive. Last spring the mail carriers worked tirelessly, making numerous trips from their various routes as the trucks filled with donations. This year they will be picking up food on May 13. Your generosity is appreciated.

While we try to keep our function to acting strictly as a provider of food for the needy, we have had occasional offers of other types of donations. Unfortunately, we do not currently have the space or the staff to handle these and therefore divert them to other organizations.

In 1999 our food cupboard was able to donate food to the victims of the hurricane flooding in Bound Brook. Locally we provided food to 277 families — a total of 725 people. This works out to a total of at least 20,300 meals. The words of gratitude expressed by the recipients of this food need to be passed on to all of you who have generously given so much. Thank you. This year we printed our own "coupons" for milk and eggs, redeemable at a nearby store which allows us to provide these staples as emergencies arise.

Since becoming involved a year ago, I have seen the look of joy on a person’s face when he finally landed a job, relief on the face of the young mother who would have had no Christmas for her children without help. I have seen the poor help the poor, giving one another rides, checking in on one another when illness strikes, being genuinely concerned.

I have also been on the receiving end as the needy volunteered to help out during the food drives. I am proud to be involved.

If you would like to contribute to the food cupboard, donations may be brought to the church and left in the rear of the sanctuary or dropped off at the church office at 177 Gatzmer Ave., Jamesburg. If you would like to volunteer, you may call the church office at (732) 521-1711.

Janet Curtis is the chairwoman of the welfare committee at the Presbyterian Church of Jamesburg.