Essex County commissioners celebrate Jewish Heritage Month

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — On Wednesday, May 19, the Essex County Board of County Commissioners held its 2021 Essex County Jewish Heritage Month Celebration via Zoom. The event celebrated the accomplishments of Jewish men and women everywhere, and honored members of Essex County’s Jewish community for their contributions to the county and to society as a whole.

Commissioner Vice President Carlos M. Pomares opened the program with reflections of the past year and the progress the country and local community has made concerning the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Today our ability to have this celebration virtually is an example of resilience and we are proud to move forward with our mission and goal,” he said, adding that many of the board’s events were canceled last year due to the pandemic.

Commissioner Patricia Sebold — the board’s only Jewish member — expressed pride in her faith and her pleasure to resume the annual celebration after last year’s unfortunate cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I am proud to be a Jewish American, and delighted to be the catalyst for the board’s celebration,” the Livingston resident said.

This year, the board recognized three outstanding residents for their community service: Rabbi David Z. Vaisberg of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston; Arthur Lutzke, treasurer of the Weequahic High School Alumni Association in Newark; and Frederic Pressman, former vice president of religious living at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield. Pressman was represented by his widow, Ronnie Pressman.

Vaisberg was recognized for his spiritual leadership as the senior rabbi of Temple B’nai Abraham and for his accomplishments as a writer and education advocate, as well as for his work fighting for social justice. He has partnered with New Jersey Together in community organizing in Essex County, led Temple B’nai Abraham’s efforts to upgrade their technology capabilities to meet the demands of the 21st century, and worked with members of the community to address hate and antisemitism.

Lutzke is chairperson of Weequahic High School Alumni Association’s Scholarship Committee, which has provided financial assistance to hundreds of Weequahic High School graduates attending college or technical school. To date, the committee has raised almost $1 million for scholarships, enrichment programs, the school’s athletic teams and other student activities. In response to the pandemic, 100 Google Chromebooks and their licenses were provided to the students at Weequahic High School, while the association also supported the Community FoodBank of New Jersey and the staff of Newark–Beth Israel Medical Center.

Finally, Frederic Pressman was honored posthumously for his work in the Bloomfield community. He took the meaning of “tikkun olam,” or “mend the world,” literally. Whether he cut vegetables at the Bloomfield Cafe, participated in the monthly feeding program at Park Methodist Church or organized the collection of more than 20 tons of donated food for the Human Needs Food Pantry, he led by example. 

Further highlights of the program included opening and closing prayers from rabbinical assistant Max Edwards and musical selections from Cantor Jessica F. Epstein, both of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston.