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Serving Up Straight Talk

Shimmy Blum, Princeton, NJ

Chris Christie’s recent visit to Israel may have been closed to the press, but last week he opened his house to a select group of Orthodox Jewish reporters — including Mishpacha — where the brash and bold first-term governor of New Jersey shared his positive impressions of Israel, and tried his best to skirt all talk about any ambitions for higher political office

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

meetinghe pastoral, park-like landscaping, greenhouses, bridle paths, dairy farm, and formal Italian gardens that grace “Drumthwacket” — the governor’s official residence in Princeton, New Jersey — stand in stark contrast to the home’s current rough-and-tumble resident, Governor Chris Christie.

A little more than two years into his term, Governor Christie’s national political stock has skyrocketed for his bold governing style, blunt talk, and occasional verbal spats with reporters and citizen questioners. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, 39 percent of New Jersey residents characterized him as a bully; however, he exudes a distinctly different persona while sitting across the table from you at lunch.

Governor Christie held a kosher luncheon at Drumthwacket last week for select members of the Orthodox Jewish media following his recent trip to Israel and Jordan, where he visited religious holy sites and other attractions, and met with the region’s top political, business, and military leaders.

Shortly after the designated time for lunch, Christie nonchalantly entered the room and waved his hand, requesting that the invited guests who rose in his honor should quickly revert to their previous positions.

Christie is visibly tanned; a likely remnant of the week he spent basking in the Middle Eastern sunshine. Despite his powerful personality and dominating presence, he is funny, congenial, and even a bit humble as he makes his points and attentively fields questions. The governor was clearly comfortable around his Jewish guests, frequently leaning back in his chair and always looking his questioners straight in the eye to make sure they satisfactorily absorbed his perspectives.

 

“You Want to Go Back”

As Christie, a Catholic, reflects on his visit to Israel two weeks prior, he does so with the zeal of someone who has just stepped off the plane. “It is an extraordinary experience that you never forget,” he said. “It changes your view of the world and you want to go back.”

The governor chose Israel as his first foreign destination in office. His wife, three of his four children, his father, and his mother-in-law accompanied him, along with a delegation of aides and Jewish community and business leaders.

After landing at Ben-Gurion Airport and checking into Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, Christie and his entourage toured Har HaZeisim and the Kosel. During his opening remarks, the governor stressed the personal and spiritual nature of the trip, and repeatedly mentioned the impression it made on his children — who, he stressed, attend private parochial schools.

Recalling his tour of Yad Vashem along with his 16-year-old daughter — his wife took the younger children through the special children’s tour of the museum — Christie spoke of the moving experience of laying a wreath there, noting how the dark lessons of history are still applicable to the contemporary state of affairs in Israel and the world.

The governor also joked about the tantrum his 11-year-old son Patrick threw about not being allowed on the adult Yad Vashem tour, despite his insistence that he is well versed on the topic. Christie boasted about the fact that New Jersey is one of only five states that mandate teaching about the Holocaust in its schools. “I realized that my children knew more about the Holocaust than I thought they knew,” he said.

About his meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Christie said that they discussed a variety of pertinent topics, ranging from the upcoming US presidential election, the prime minister’s decades-old rapport with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, national security, foreign affairs, and “lots about Iran.”

 

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