Channeling Abraham Lincoln

Channeling Abraham Lincoln

When I first met New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, we bonded over our mutual enthusiasm for Abraham Lincoln.

Recently, my family and I were honored to host the governor at our home, along with the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, where he shared with us how deeply Lincoln inspires him. Later, in thanking us personally for our hospitality, the governor promised to channel our shared hero.

With integrity wedded to political and oratorical genius, Lincoln is easy to admire. What is not easy is living by Lincoln’s values. For Mr. Murphy, who is running for re-election this November, it comes naturally. He epitomizes Lincoln’s approach to life and leadership not only in promoting the interests of all New Jersey’s citizens, but in his unwavering support for the Jewish community.

Lincoln lived by the wisdom that “commitment is what transforms a promise into reality.” Stories abound about how Lincoln disguised himself as a poor peddler to visit slaves and slave owners all over the South. While many historians agree that these are mythical tales, they reflect what people believed about Lincoln’s character.

Many former slaves reported hearing him promise they would soon be free. Other tales describe him drinking milk with a group of white women on a porch in Confederate North Carolina. The spirit of these stories, factual or not, illustrates Lincoln’s humanity. He listened to people, no matter what their beliefs, as he was determined to understand the reality of their lives.

Fortunately, Mr. Murphy never needed a disguise or urban legends to develop a robust understanding of the values, interests, and needs of the Jewish community. Instead, he uses his down-to-earth charisma and his knack for finding common ground to develop strong relationships. Mr. Murphy works closely with communities from Englewood to Lakewood. He understands that we care about the cost and quality of Jewish education, the security of our community institutions, and the stability and growth of New Jersey’s ties with Israel.

True to Lincoln’s legacy, Mr. Murphy transforms his promises into policy. To address the rising cost of school tuition, he partnered with Teach NJ to establish a groundbreaking program allowing New Jersey public school teachers to teach science, technology, math, and engineering in nonpublic schools. The New Jersey Department of Education covers the salaries, so Jewish day school and yeshiva students benefit from star educators in increasingly essential subjects at no additional cost to parents.

Deeply affected by the violence in Pittsburgh and Jersey City as well as by increased anti-Semitic activity across the country, Mr. Murphy made state history by securing unprecedented levels of funding for security in nonpublic schools. In 2019, he doubled statewide funding to $22.6 million, amounting to $150 per student in Jewish day schools and yeshivas. These funds went directly to purchasing specialized security equipment and hiring more safety officers to protect students and staff from potential terror threats and hate-based attacks.

In 2020, Mr. Murphy increased this funding by another $6.5 million, so schools would receive $200 per student. That’s one of the highest rates anywhere in the country. He also expanded funding to community institutions at risk of attack. Shuls, schools, and other vulnerable organizations now have the most advanced surveillance equipment, a substantial team of trained security guards, bulletproof windows and doors, and staff who are trained to handle emergency situations.

When it comes to Israel, the governor also turns his rhetoric into reality. Just as Lincoln broadened his perspective by visiting his neighbors throughout the South, Governor Murphy visited Israel in 2018. This year, he significantly expanded the New Jersey-Israel Commission, which fosters New Jersey’s economic, scientific, educational, and cultural ties with Israel. Israel’s position as one of New Jersey’s most important trading partners has flourished under Mr. Murphy’s leadership. This relationship brings our economy more than $1 billion in trade and countless jobs, so it is one that Mr. Murphy will continue to develop, benefitting everyone on both sides of the ocean.

In his second inaugural address, Lincoln gifted humanity with one of his most moving lines: That we should act “with malice towards none, with charity towards all.” Every day, Governor Murphy’s engaged, accessible and consensus-driven approach breathes life into this idea. We can do the same. Mr. Murphy is on our side. On Election Day, let’s be on his.

Menachem Genack is the rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Emunah, an Orthodox synagogue in Englewood.