Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg has been appointed township chaplain by Edison Mayor Antonia Ricigliano, 10 months after she and other municipal officials terminated him from his 18-year position as part-time police and fire chaplain.
In eliminating the chaplain’s job last May and the $3,800 annual stipend that went with it, the township maintained that the municipality lacked an ordinance for appointing chaplains, as required by state law.
Rosenberg was skeptical of the explanation at the time and since then has waged a campaign to be reinstated as a chaplain.
“I am very happy that my dignity has been restored,” said Rosenberg. “Even when they terminated me I never stopped helping police, fire, and emergency workers who came to me for guidance with personal problems. The title is irrelevant.”
Rosenberg will receive no pay as “township” chaplain.
“The entire issue has really almost taken on a life of its own,” Ricigliano told NJJN. “The rabbi understands we were not able to give him any remuneration, but I always invited him to our events as he always had been by previous mayors.”
Ricigliano said the township council is still working on an ordinance allowing for the appointment of a police and fire chaplain, precluding the appointment of anyone to that position in the interim.
“But in this instance I’m not assigning him to any particular branch,” she explained. “It’s very generic.”
Christian and Muslim clergy and members of Rosenberg’s synagogue, Congregation Beth-El, have written letters on his behalf. The rabbi himself has made his case in both the secular press and NJJN.
Rosenberg has a history of political involvement — and controversy — in Edison. He had a long-running dispute with former Mayor Jun Choi after the mayor stopped using him as police and fire chaplain. However, Rosenberg continued to counsel police and firefighters and was paid.
In the June 2009 primary, Rosenberg supported Ricigliano over Choi.
In addition to Rosenberg, Ricigliano said, a priest also accepted her offer to be chaplain. It is municipal policy, she said, to ask clergy from Edison’s diverse houses of worship to participate in events.
The rabbi said Ricigliano’s appointment confirms his contention that she didn’t need council approval to appoint him as chaplain. He acknowledged that the mayor had been asking him to perform benedictions at municipal functions since she took office 14 months ago.
Rosenberg said he wasn’t troubled by the lack of a stipend.
“This whole thing has been blown way out of proportion,” he said. “As soon as they said they had financial problems I said I would work for nothing. For the bulk of my tenure there I wasn’t paid anything or was paid next to nothing. It’s pure nonsense that I wanted to be paid. I only started being paid [about five years ago] when I began to offer professional services, and even then I was paid $1,000 annually, then $2,500, and finally $3,800 — and that was before taxes.”