Photo Credit: Courtesy of Benny Goldstein

Eleven out of 19 Jewish candidates won their bid for office in November’s election in eight counties across the Capital region. The positions included legislative seats, justices and town supervisor races.

But one election win in particular stood out.

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Benny (Benzion Yitchok) Goldstein, a Republican who also received the Conservative Party endorsement, won his race for town supervisor of Canajoharie, which is situated along the Mohawk River and the New York State Thruway. The 44-year-old told The Jewish Press he is a proud Republican Trumpist and that he created a logo that was emblazoned on his political palm cards declaring the fact. He is also an unabashed Andrew Giuliani fan. (Giuliani is making a bid for governor of New York.)

The town has a population of just over 3,600 people, mostly white and Republican. The town has seen hard times in recent years and is at its population low-point since 1820.

The town supervisor position is part-time and pays a mere $6,800 a year, with four other members of the town board.

“A lot of people in the town like simple things like a dog park or another playground,” Goldstein found out while campaigning. “I want to bring tourists to Canajoharie by making the buildings more colorful. There are natural resources like ‘the pot that cleans itself.’ It is Native American language for Canajoharie. There’s a creek and a waterfall and the water goes into this round bathtub, this hole in the ground, and it goes back out.”

Goldstein said he hopes a new cannabis-growing plant on the horizon will be the beginning of a revitalized and brighter future for the town. The cannabis plant is being planned for an abandoned Beechnut baby food factory that closed down a decade ago. “I moved to Canajoharie a year ago,” Goldstein said. “I am on the zoning board and the ethics board. A lot of people in the town are older. All the young people move out and go to New York City. We have a lot of houses for sale. We need to make the town attractive for younger people to come back here. Everything coincides with making it livelier and more exciting for tourism. It needs more shopping centers, more businesses opening up in the area, because Beechnut moving left a void. We need more factories. The cannabis plant is going to bring in another 200 jobs. They need housing, they need more places to eat. We need to prepare the town for the coming of that big thing.”

The Exit 29 Redevelopment Project, as it is known, sits just off of exit 29 of the state Thruway. In May of this year, Montgomery County government officials entered into a Purchase-and-Sale agreement with E29 Labs, a commercial cannabis production company, for the 19.6 acres that cover the eastern half of the 27-acre site. The company is currently conducting a due diligence process while it completes the state’s licensing process.

Goldstein said he grew up in the Israeli town of Ashkelon. He was married at age 21 and divorced at age 29 and had three children with his first wife.

“I wish there was more here,” Goldstein said. “My sons lived in Kfar Saba and moved here six months ago. One of my boys is 14 and one is 16. I have a third son who is in the Israeli Army. He protects the border with Lebanon for us.”

Goldstein holds a master’s degree in intellectual property law from the College of Law and Business (CLB) in Ramat Gan. He is not permitted to practice law in New York state yet but plans on correcting that by passing the bar exam in the near future.

“In America I just have to go to the bar. I’m planning on doing that. I have to study for it. It helps for politics and understanding the law is easier.”

Goldstein said although he did not serve in the Israeli army, he was “one of those who studied in yeshiva to support an Army person.”

He also said that due to his sharing a last name with Baruch Goldstein, the American-Israeli who killed 125 Muslims at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the Israeli military did not want him to serve. “They told me we don’t want many Goldsteins in the army right now,” he said.

Goldstein spoke about his religious and political experiences in Israel. He received semicha from Rabbi Sholon HaShas, the Sephardic rabbi, and Rabbi Yitzy Koulise. His uncle was Rabbi Mordecai Goldstein of the Diaspora Yeshiva.

“I don’t say that I’m a rabbi because I don’t practice it,” he said.
I don’t preach. I’m a certified sofer stam from Vaad Yishmeretz in Israel.

After becoming a rabbi and a lawyer, Goldstein opened up a political party in Israel called the Finance Party.

“I got my brother involved and I ran for the Knesset twice under the Kal K’lah party,” Goldstein said. “We made a lot of waves. Our goal was to bring an American system-style government to Israel. Among them were American finances like weekly salaries. In Hebrew there is an expression, ‘I can’t pay off my bills to finish the month.’ The reason is because people get paid once a month. Here in America people get paid every week or every two weeks. It’s a whole different mentality in all the ways they do business in America. We wanted to implement them in Israel. That’s what the Finance Party stood for.”

After the two failed attempts at holding office in Israel, Goldstein remarried two years ago before moving to Canajoharie to start a new life.

Goldstein, also a real estate agent, said he wants to eliminate zombie properties across the town. He also runs a website called animatedtalmud.com.

“I spent five years of my life raising close to $250,000 to create this free program to teach Talmud to children through animation,” Goldstein said. “I did this a dozen years ago. It was very successful. Students all around the world learn it for free. It has all the hashgochas from chief rabbis from all over. I still run it. I own it. I only did the introduction to the Talmud. There is more than 100 minutes of animation. There are thousands of people entering this website.”

Life for an Orthodox Jew is not easy in Canajoharie. He only has seven to eight people for a minyan but he’s trying to recruit another two or three Jews to live in this small town.

Goldstein has to travel approximately one hour to an Albany suburb to purchase kosher food for his family. He says he takes kashrut advice from his brother Shaye Goldstein who serves as a mashgiach for Rabbi Pesach Weitz in Boca Raton, Florida.

Since none of the major kosher-certifying agencies won’t give a hechsher for marijuana sales, Goldstein sees an opportunity.

“I can certify it. I’m a rabbi. I’ll make my own little logo,” Goldstein said.

As he promoted on his campaign material, he is “young, vibrant, capable and full of new ideas.

“I’m a project guy. I made stuff and brought them to reality. That’s what I’m good at.”

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Marc Gronich is news director of Statewide News Service. He also operates the website JBizTechValley.com. He has been covering government and politics since 1981. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press.