Gov. Chris Christie has named West Orange attorney Mark Levenson chair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission.
The appointment to the position, left vacant since last April because of budget cutting, was made on Nov. 23.
Levenson is copresident of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a national organization, and a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic.
He has been a member of the NJIC’s board since 2003.
The commission works to foster trade and cultural ties between businesses and institutions in New Jersey and Israel.
Under previous governors it was a separate agency, first under New Jersey’s Commerce, Economic Growth, and Tourism Commission, then under its Department of State.
Under the Christie administration, NJIC’s executive director position was eliminated and the commission was bundled with other specialized economic development interest groups under a public-private agency called the NJ Partnership for Action, headed by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
While some Jewish leaders criticized the downsizing of the commission, Levenson said it remains viable.
“It has basically remained in existence, and I guess it is fair to say I was the de facto acting chair of its executive committee,” he said in a Dec. 21 phone interview. “I have been meeting over the past couple of months with people in New Jersey officialdom. There has been strong support for the commission by the governor and lieutenant governor, but, very frankly, the state has some serious budget issues.”
Although no new meetings have been scheduled, Levenson said, “The commission’s goals remain clear — to get results and cooperative economic relationships between New Jersey and Israel.
“After the first of the year, we are going to being working on a lot of ideas and putting a lot of implementable items into play. I am very excited about it.”
For Levenson, the appointment is an extension of his long affiliation with Israel and its business community. He chairs the Israel Business Practice Group at his Newark law firm, Sills Cummis & Gross, where he is also chair of the Corporate Real Estate Practice Group.
He said he feels no conflict between his new appointment and the one he has held since April at the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“What is done in New York on the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce is a regional chamber. This isn’t an ‘us-vs.-them’ approach and, frankly, I think New Jersey is more attractive relative to its size and the aspects it has to offer,” he said. “I believe I am capable of handling both, and I love both organizations.”
Beyond those responsibilities, Levenson is president-elect of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations.
His wife, Eta, is on the faculty of Rutgers University’s School of Social Work and is chair of the inclusion committee at Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob and David in West Orange. The couple has three children.
Although the NJIC has not been an official body for seven months, Levenson told NJ Jewish News, “I think it is fair to say you never know what opportunities may have been able to have been achieved or acted on” in the interim.
“If you have more resources and people, you are going to be able to do better. But no one said to me, ‘You lost this deal or this opportunity,’” he said. “The trade relationship between Israel and New Jersey is excellent, and our goal is to make it even better.”