Two New York state legislators are helping to steer the outreach, program development and networking for more than 230 Jewish legislators in 40 states through the National Association of Jewish Legislators (NAJL).
Assemblyman David I. Weprin (Queens) has been elected to serve as NAJL co-president. Assemblyman Charles Lavine (Nassau), who chairs New York’s NAJL chapter, which at 29 members is the largest in the country, also has been elected to serve on the NAJL’s national board of directors.
The NAJL, which is based in New York City, was founded in 1977 by then New York Assembly Speaker Stanley Steingut and Connecticut Senate Majority Leader Joseph Lieberman. The association helps develop efforts for legislators to share experiences, proactively engage in issues, react to issues of importance to the American Jewish community and strategize ways to address cultural prejudices, assumptions, language and anti-Semitism. Working through the NAJL, legislators engage non-Jewish colleagues to gain greater mutual understanding and to work on matters of shared interest.
“I am excited to serve in this position, working with my colleagues in states across the nation,” Weprin said. He added, “My focus will be on helping my colleagues understand issues of importance to Jewish American communities, including broadening diversity, supporting Israel and addressing anti-Semitism wherever it occurs. We will also be focusing on efforts to support Israel and ways to work with our African American, Hispanic and Asian American colleagues.”
Assemblyman Lavine’s interest in leading the NAJL’s New York chapter is personal. He relates,
“As a very little girl, my grandmother survived a pogrom in her Czarist shtetl by hiding in a hay wagon. She witnessed Cossacks, armed cowards on horseback, murder defenseless civilians. Just a few years later, she sailed past the Statue of Liberty for a new life in America. No one could have loved the United States more. That is just one of the reasons that I am very humbled and very honored to serve as president of the New York chapter of the National Association of Jewish Legislators and to be a member of its national board of directors. I know that my grandmother would have been very proud of me!”
A new NAJL partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the nation’s umbrella group for Jewish Community Relations councils, aims to identify emerging and pending state policy issues and opportunities to work with community leaders. Priority matters include addressing Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)-related legislation, support for Israel, social service priorities and ensuring public safety for Jewish communities and institutions. The NAJL is also promoting Jewish American Heritage Month recognition in the states (in May) and Jewish leadership training efforts for elected officials.
Jeffrey M. Wice serves as NAJL executive director and is a contributing columnist for the New York Jewish Life. In addition to directing the NAJL, Wice has worked for five state assembly speakers and four state Senate Democratic leaders. He is also a fellow at SUNY Buffalo Law School, where he specializes in election and redistricting law.