On Tuesday, May 23, Marc A. Zharnest was sworn in as a council member of Fair Lawn. Zharnest, who is a regular attendee at Shomrei Torah, became the first member of the Fair Lawn Council who is an observant Jew. The fact that the event occurred on Yom Yerushalayim is not lost on Zharnest: “It’s a significant day and a constant reminder we need to continue to strive to impact the world.”
Being the first Orthodox Jew on the council carries great significance for Zharnest. He said, “It shows that we are a melting pot, and it opens a window for other minorities to step up and seek to serve.” Zharnest believes he can offer the council a perspective that has not been seen before. According to Zharnest, people in his shul were excited, which he attributes to a certain pride in having one of their own be able to offer representation and be a direct line. However, he is quick to note that Mayor Cosgrove and the other council members have been approachable. Despite the responsibilities and expectations, Zharnest says, “I won’t shy away from being a practicing Jew.”
Zharnest, who is 29, was born and raised in Fair Lawn and moved back when he got married. Raised on the importance of giving back, Zharnest and his wife, Orit, are actively involved with Sinai Schools and NCSY. However, for Zharnest, giving back goes beyond the Jewish community. He has been an active member of the community since his arrival in town. Zharnest has served as a volunteer for the Fair Lawn zoning board, fire department and ambulance corps. Politics were not in Zharnest’s plans, but that changed during his stint as chief of the ambulance corps. When presenting the ambulance corps budget to the council, Zharnest met Mayor Cosgrove who was impressed by the young man. The mayor encouraged Zharnest to run for town council and with Orit’s encouragement, he did so.
In 2015, Zharnest ran for and lost in a bid to join the council. The close loss (by 140 votes, or less than one percent) was tough to take for Zharnest but bearable as he reasoned he was going against incumbents. He figured he was done with politics, at least for the short term, but then an opening arose on the council. Current Republican council member Dan Dunay, whom Zharnest describes as an expert at budgeting and numbers and as upstanding person for whom he has great respect, announced his engagement, wedding and intention to move out of Fair Lawn resulting in him having to resign his seat. With not enough time for a special election, the open seat was sent to the Republican committee who nominated three people including Zharnest, who easily won the special election.
In November of 2017, Zharnest will be running again for a full term. In the six months between now and the election, Zharnest has a number of goals. “I want to jump in and do as much as I can and show people who voted for me in the previous election that I care.” He also wants to convince the people who did not vote for him that he is up to the task.
And what is the task? Well according to Zharnest and Mayor Cosgrove, Fair Lawn is in an era of progress. The borough recently received its highest Moody’s ratings ever. As part of that, one legislative goal of Zharnest and his fellow Republicans is to maintain and increase the surplus while keeping taxes stable. Meanwhile, the borough has been replacing aging infrastructure. One other goal of Zharnest’s is to ensure emergency services, the area where he began and remains attached, are well supported.
“Moshe Zharnest is known around Fair Lawn as a man of integrity and sincerity. The Shomrei Torah community is proud that one of our very own (and home grown!) has been elected as a member of the city council. I’m certain he’ll do a great job,” said Rabbi Andrew Markowitz, assistant rabbi at Shomrei Torah. “This is a historic moment for the Orthodox Jewish community in Fair Lawn. Moshe is a most deserving and well-respected leader within our community who will represent all of his constituents. I have personally seen the Kiddush Hashem that Moshe has already made in his relationships with all city officials he has come in contact with. I have no doubt that the City of Fair Lawn will benefit from his knowledge, know-how and wisdom.”
When asked to think about a Fair Lawn 20 years forward, Zharnest has visions that touch on a number of areas. “Fair Lawn continues to be a melting pot for all. Taxes are stable or even lower. It is a destination for businesses and new young families and a home for more established families and the elderly.”
With a wife, three children and a career in health care management, Zharnest is a busy man. And now, he is responsible for serving the citizens of Fair Lawn. Zharnest is well aware of the challenges that will come from all his responsibilities. Yet, he is not especially concerned. “My wife is my biggest fan. She supports me, is the driver and gives me confidence.” She also understands that Zharnest will have to miss plenty of child-rearing activities though he promises to make it to every birthday party. However, his wife’s compromise comes with a price. “If I don’t work hard, she’s going to give it to me.” With Zharnest striving to retain the support of his biggest fan, the rest of Fair Lawn should benefit greatly from its newest council member. Yasher koach.
By Larry Bernstein
Larry Bernstein is a freelance writer for hire. To learn more about his services, visit http://larrydbernstein.com/