Recently New York City Councilman David G. Greenfield sat down with his longtime friend Samuel Markowitz, a Council Member in Antwerp, Belgium, to discuss the rewards and challenges of public service as Orthodox Jewish Council Members. Antwerp is the second-most populous city in Belgium.
During this meeting, both Council Members took the opportunity to discuss the similarities of their roles in municipal government as well as address the challenges facing the Jewish population across the United States and Europe.
Samuel Markowitz, who was previously one of the leaders of Hatzalah in Antwerp, was elected the first Orthodox Jewish legislator in Belgium in 2012.
Amidst their cross-cultural exchange, both council members identified the ways in which both local governments afforded residents a democratic voice. In Antwerp, residents have an opportunity to provide feedback to legislators on how a percentage of the yearly city budget is spent. Similarly, Councilman Greenfield completed his district’s participatory budgeting process in early April, in which residents brainstorm ideas and vote on how to spend $1 million throughout the district.
The council members noted the challenges that the Jewish population and their elected representatives battle, specifically anti-Semitism in New York and Belgium, the looming possibility of regulating shechitah across Europe, and the ongoing battle for increased funding for yeshivah education in Belgium and New York City.
“It was a privilege to have spent time with Council Member Samuel Markowitz at the conclusion of Pesach in New York City. It was wonderful to reconnect and gain valuable insight into how other Jewish elected officials interact with their communities across the globe. I know that Council Member Markowitz and I will continue our relationship, helping each other advocate for our communities and creating a Kiddush Hashem all over the globe,” said Greenfield.
At the conclusion of their meeting, they spent time touring downtown Manhattan. Mr. Markowitz is continuing his political journey as the first frum Jew to run for parliament in Belgium’s upcoming election on May 25, 2014.