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“In terms of her commitment to women and families, that comes directly from her Jewish values,” said Steven Sirbu, rabbi of Temple Emeth. “By and large, our congregation takes pride in everything she accomplishes, because we understand that she is both a state senator and a very proud Jew.”
Weinberg agreed that Jewish values inform her political outlook, citing the “values that we learn in the Jewish religion — that we repeat in our prayer service — about helping those who don’t always have the voices to be able to take care of themselves.”
In her family life, Weinberg was also the one who went off to work each morning, while her husband, who worked at home as a retail store designer, played the role of primary caretaker of their children. Weinberg volunteered for countless Democratic political campaigns and became politically active as a young mother long before she ran for office. She was also, her daughter recalled in an interview, quite beautiful.
“She was like a young Grace Kelly, only Jewish, from the Bronx and living in New Jersey,” said Francine Weinberg Graff.
Like many prominent members of the New York area’s Jewish community, Weinberg was hit hard by the Madoff affair, which wiped out her life savings of $1.3 million in late 2008. “I’d never heard of Bernard Madoff until all this happened,” Weinberg said. She had invested her money with financial manager Stanley Chais who, it turned out, ran one of Madoff’s feeder funds. “It was the one time in my life since my husband died when I was glad he wasn’t here to see something,” she said.
Afterward, Weinberg abandoned plans for vacations with her grandchildren. Her daughter, who had also invested her money in the feeder fund, had to go back to work after her savings, too, had evaporated. “We’ve had some rough years financially,” Weinberg said. “I’m not completely out of the woods.”
But Weinberg has moved on, determined that “my life and my children’s lives are not going to be defined by Bernard Madoff….I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.” she said.
After losing her savings in the Madoff affair, Weinberg began collecting a state pension. Yet in 2011 she criticized Christie for allowing political allies to draw pensions while still serving in government, an accusation that Christie called hypocritical. Christie condemned Weinberg for “hiding behind Madoff” in order to draw her own pension, and urged reporters to “take the bat out on her for once.”
That comment drew condemnation from Weinberg, Democratic lawmakers and Weinberg’s 7-year-old granddaughter, who wrote to the governor, asking him to “stop bulieg eevribati!” (“stop bullying everybody”). Christie said his “bat” remark was taken completely out of context.
Weinberg was devastated by the comment. “That was the only time I ever really saw her get upset about any of it,” her daughter said. “She cried. She got very mad, because she’s never hidden behind what happened with Bernie Madoff, and she never will.”
Contact Hody Nemes on Twitter @hodifly or at firstname.lastname@example.org