The energy in the room was palpable.
You could see it in the passionate declaration by the final speaker of the evening, Maury Litwack, managing director of the OU and founder of the Teach Coalition, that “this isn’t a dinner, it’s a movement in time.” His assertion only underscored the enthusiasm and sense of mission that was readily evident at the Teach NJ annual dinner, on May 16 at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood.
You could see this energy in the remarks to The Jewish Link of several prominent New Jersey elected officials, who all made time to attend the dinner.
State Senator Gordon Johnson (37th District) said: “The work of Teach NJ is so important. It’s an honor to represent them, to help, and to articulate the needs represented by Teach NJ and bring their concerns to the table in Trenton.”
Michael Wildes, Mayor of Englewood, remarked: “I came here tonight because Englewood parents are hurting financially. And this organization does right for people with children in parochial schools, making sure no child is left behind. Teach NJ not only talks the talk but walks the walk, too.”
Assemblyman Christopher Tully (38th District) stated: “Teach NJ is a phenomenal organization, doing lots of important work across New Jersey. I’ve been proud to support them for many years and pleased to be here to show my support and see friends.”
Assemblywoman Lisa Swain (38th District) said: “I’m very supportive of Teach NJ, because I want to make sure all of the children in our district are protected when they go to school and have equal opportunities for learning. We’ve been happy to work with them, to get funds for security, STEM instruction and nursing.”
In her remarks as one of the scheduled speakers, Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (29th District) said: “I wouldn’t want to be in any other place tonight, because this work is so important. We all have one thing in common—we want to make things better for our kids, because they are our future.”
In his remarks as a scheduled speaker, Assembly Deputy Speaker Gary Schaer pointed out that “we’re now up to $30 million a year for security [in nonpublic schools]. New Jersey gives more funding for security than any other state,” a comment that elicited enthusiastic applause. He continued: “No one in this room expects the state to pay for our children to learn Gemara. But we need to get to the point where those things the state has made mandatory are paid for by the state.”
The Teach NJ dinner drew a remarkable cross section of elected officials. As Katie Katz, executive director of Teach NJ, noted in her remarks to the crowd, this group also included Assemblywoman Ellen Park, Assemblyman Reginald Atkins, Assemblywoman Marilyn Piperno, Assemblywoman Kim Eulner, Teaneck Mayor Mike Pagan, Teaneck Deputy Mayor Danielle Gee, Bergenfield Councilwoman Ora Kornbluth, Teaneck Councilman Mark Schwartz and Teaneck Councilwoman Karen Orgen.
Katz said in her remarks: “Just eight years ago, a handful of schools and community leaders came together, searching for a way to lighten the burden of tuition on families. They created Teach NJ, the only single-issue lobbying group for our day schools and yeshivas in New Jersey. At that time, our schools were not receiving much funding from the state—and over the first couple of years, there were many doubts as to whether this could ever work here in New Jersey.
“Fast forward eight years. Government funding to our schools has grown by 60%. New Jersey day school students receive the most money for school security than any other state. And our most groundbreaking win—the first of its kind in the nation—our children now have government-funded STEM teachers in their schools.”
You could see the energy of this event in the steadfast conviction of the evening’s honorees in the importance of the work of Teach NJ.
Speaking to The Jewish Link, Rebecca and Abe Sutton stated: “We really admire Teach’s constant efforts in advocating on behalf of our schools and children. Working with the state government and uniting as a community is our best path to making nonpublic school tuition more affordable in New Jersey. We hope that the dinner can bring more awareness to the invaluable work that Teach NJ is doing day in and day out.”
Danielle and Joe Cohen commented: “Teach NJ has proven what can be accomplished when we vote, lobby our congressmen, and get involved in our local governments. Teach has a leadership team with a clear strategy supported by action, with impressively tangible results. More and more people are realizing what outcomes can be attained and how our families can be positively impacted by the work Teach NJ is doing. It is so important to use this momentum and rally support so we can continue the progress on making religious education affordable.”
Leslie Ostrin remarked: “When I was president of RPRY in Edison, I learned that one of the biggest challenges we faced was affordability, and one of the greatest allies we had in addressing that concern was Teach NJ. I joined the Teach NJ executive committee at its inception, and over the years I’ve witnessed the remarkable successes they’ve had in attracting state support for school security, for nursing staff, and for STEM instruction in nonpublic schools. Teach NJ’s work is unparalleled in the struggle to help New Jersey yeshiva day schools stay affordable. I’m honored to stand for them as an honoree at tonight’s dinner.”
And you could also see the energy Teach NJ inspires in the remarks of noted Jewish communal leaders in attendance.
Jason Shames, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northern NJ, said: “I’m proud that the Jewish Federation of Northern NJ was the first Jewish Federation to substantially support Teach NJ, and we have continued to do so. The work Teach NJ does is essential, and it helps so many of the parents in our community afford a quality Jewish education.”
Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg, director of Jewish career development and placement at Yeshiva University, noted that he’d come in support of the Ostrins, two leaders in his community of Highland Park. He added that he was passionate about Teach NJ because “our children’s education should be no less a priority than any other children’s education in the state. So it, too, deserves to be supported by the state government.”
Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Kashrus Division of the OU, stated: “Teach NJ is doing an incredible job of getting resources from state governments. Yeshiva tuition is a huge economic burden on parents and an impediment to people sending their children to yeshiva. Teach NJ is addressing this critical need and is very successful at it.”
In one of the most inspiring moments of the event, Rabbi Shlomie Denberg, director of the Lubavitch Hebrew Academy of Margate, Florida, spoke to the assembled about Teach Florida’s tremendous victory in securing passage of a state program that enables tuition scholarships of $8,000 per child in nonpublic schools, which now serves as a model for Teach NJ and other Teach Coalition partners.
“No one is being asked to advocate for every child,” Rabbi Denburg said. “But everyone here is being asked to advocate for one child.” For him, that one child is his son Zalman, who was diagnosed with a learning disability. “I will tell Zalman that not only is there an army behind him in Florida, there’s an army behind him in New Jersey, too.”
Harry Glazer can be reached at