Photo Credit: Jewish Press

New Leadership Coming To SUNY Central Administration

Dr. James Malatras, who was profiled in this column in December 2019 after his conversion to Judaism, is in line to be the next chancellor of the State University of New York.


Currently the president of the Saratoga County-based SUNY Empire State College, Malatras, 42, has served as president of the Albany-based Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government and has held several high-ranking positions in New York state government, including director of state operations to Governor Andrew Cuomo, where he managed the day-to-day operations of state government and served as the administration’s point person on policy.

Even as president of Empire State College, Malatras was often seen at Cuomo’s side during the coronavirus news conferences the governor became famous for holding on a regular, almost daily, basis.

For the December column, Malatras told The Jewish Press, the conversion to Judaism sharpened the lens from which he sees the world.

“I have found that given the turmoil and tumult that we’re feeling in this world right now, as a person who is not Jewish – anti-Semitism, it says something to you but you don’t live it,” Malatras said. “Now that I’m converted, it can be damn scary. With children, you drop them off at religious school you don’t know what’s going to happen but I think here (in Albany), we have such a robust community you feel at ease. You feel that there is an understanding and tolerance or at least on this side of the river it’s nice to have that type of community here.”

Malatras has been married to his wife, Jennifer, for more than 15 years. His wife is Jewish by birth. Malatras’s father was Greek Orthodox and his mother was Unitarian. They have two children, Ella, 3, and Max, 8.

“The social justice element of tikkun olam was truly and deeply important and it was embedded in me,” Malatras said. “So I thought it was an important thing when we were creating a home and family to go through the experience (of a conversion). I felt like I was already there anyway so why not take the extra step and do it.”

The president of the SUNY Board of Trustees, Dr. Merryl Tisch, is also Jewish and was the former chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents.

If selected as SUNY Chancellor, Malatras will be only the 14th person to hold the leadership post since its inception in 1949.

Cuomo’s Speech to the Democratic National Convention Was a Dud

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s five-minute remarks on Monday to the Democratic National Convention were a page out of the latest update on the coronavirus that Cuomo gave earlier in the day to reporters and those watching via livestream. Everything from the same slides showing how New York beat back the virus to bashing President Donald Trump for his lack of leadership to the soaring rhetoric geared towards a roaring crowd that didn’t exist.

Cuomo veered onto the campaign trail for the last 45 seconds of his remarks.

“Now we need a leader as good as our people. A leader who appeals to the best within us, not the worst. A leader who can unify, not divide. A leader who can bring us up, not tear us down. I know that man. I’ve worked with that man. I’ve seen his talent. I’ve seen his strength. I’ve seen his pain and I’ve seen his heart. That man is Joe Biden. Joe Biden is what I call America-tough. Tough in the best way. Tough that is smart, united, disciplined and loving. Joe Biden can restore the soul of America and that’s exactly what our country needs today.”

Former Member of State Assembly Passes Away

Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn, who served in the state Assembly for 28 years, has passed away at age 96. She began her Assembly career by unseating a fellow democrat, David Cohen, in a primary in 1982. From my dealings with Nettie she was the sweetest, most gentle member of the lower house I’ve ever met. She was all of about 5-foot tall and probably not more than 120 pounds. With me, she was never one for simply a handshake, she would reach up to give me a kiss on the cheek and a hug. She was from one of the most densely Jewish populated Assembly districts in the state. She was a regular attendee at every Jewish event at the Capitol and was a staunch supporter of liberal policies.

Mayersohn was a congregant of the Electchester Jewish Center and the Israel Center of Hillcrest Manor, according to her biography from 1993. Both synagogues merged with a third in 2004 to become the Israel Center of Conservative Judaism. Mayersohn was a recipient of the National Conference of Christians and Jews “Builders of Brotherhood” award.

She lived in the Electchester cooperative housing complex in Flushing, Queens where her chief of staff and successor, the late Michael Simanowitz also resided. The district is now represented by Daniel Rosenthal. The district now includes the Queens neighborhoods of Kew Gardens Hills, Kew Gardens, Pomonok, Electchester, College Point and parts of Whitestone, Richmond Hill, Briarwood and Forest Hills.

Former Queens Borough President Passes Away

Claire Shulman passed away at age 94. She served 16 years as the Queens Borough President before being term-limited out of office. Shulman was a two-time breast cancer survivor having had separate mastectomies. At the time of her passing, she was suffering from lung and pancreatic cancer.

State Lawmakers Condemn NYC Democratic Socialists of America

More than 50 state lawmakers, including six who are retiring this year, have signed a statement condemning the New York City Democratic Socialists of America for asking city council candidates to refrain from visiting Israel either personally or in their councilmanic role.

The condemnation from state lawmakers, prodded by Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal (D – Flushing, Queens) reads, “This blatantly anti-Semitic litmus test is abhorrent. Singling out the only Jewish state – a strong democracy in the region, where women’s rights, freedom of speech, and religious freedom are protected – is detestable.

“New York is home to the world’s second largest Jewish community. Jewish culture and tradition are ingrained in the very fabric of the city’s diversity. The DSA’s position cannot be rationalized. It is offensive, anti-Semitic and dangerous, particularly at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in the United States and in the New York City area. No political organization that embeds anti-Semitism into its platform should be welcome in the halls of our legislature.

“By adding that question to the questionnaire have unmaked themselves and shown their anti-Semitic true colors,” Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein (D – Borough Park, Brooklyn) told The Jewish Press. “It’s filled with hate and it substantively doesn’t make sense. That’s what happens when they are so fixated on the hate.

“If there’s a candidate out there that wants to respond and wants to say that they pledge not to travel to Israel, now we’ll have a format which we will easily know who the anti-Semites are. I am denouncing them for this. Their leadership should know not to include this. These are anti-Semitic questions they have included and now we will know who the anti-Semites are,” Eichenstein concluded.

The president of the National Association of Jewish Legislators in New York chimed in with his thoughts on the matter.

“The Jewish state of Israel is America’s ally and we, as a nation, cannot turn our back on our allies” said Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D – Glen Cove, Nassau County). “It is time to express grave concern over NYC DSA’s demand that its candidates engage in economic warfare against our strategic ally Israel. Americans must oppose demagoguery whether from the right or the left.”

A question about supporting the anti-Semitic BDS boycott movement never made it into the letter of condemnation by the state lawmakers so one could deduce that the question about the BDS boycott is not as important as prohibiting travel to Israel or possibly wouldn’t have received as many signatories to the letter if it was included. We may never know.

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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].