A historic event that paves the way for other states to follow. Hellenic Culture, architecture and philosophy to be included in the educational curricula
Princeton, NJ.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
New Jersey made history by becoming the first state in U.S. that has a special commission on Greek issues. N.J. Governor Jon Corzine signed the executive order creating the Hellenic-American Heritage Commission, in the presence of more than 350 prominent Greek Americans of the Garden State, during a ceremony at the Drumthwacket, in Princeton.
The commission will be headed by Zenon Christodoulou, vice-chair of the Somerset Democratic Committee, a member of the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes and son of the late Christopher Christodoulou, former President of the Cyprus Federation of America.
Speaking to the “Greek News” at the ceremony he spoke enthusiastically about the committee, which is the first in U.S. , pointing out that using the Stateʼs facilities and resources, “we can spearhead educational, cultural programs” and even be able “to start trade negotiation for trade deals with Cyprus and Greece”.
Governor Corzine said that he expects the commission to be meaningful and work not only to built economic ties between New Jersey and Greece and Cyprus, but also to see that through the educational curricula the children of New Jersey understand “the Hellenic cultural and the architectural beauty and the logic”.
Council Generals of Greece and Cyprus, Agi Balta and Andreas Panagiotou witnessed and spoke at the ceremony, that was honored by the presence of former U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes, a close friend of the Governor and a colleague at the U.S. Senate. Paul Sarbanes is a Princeton University graduate with family ties to Southern New Jersey. His late wifeʼs family was among the founders of the St Thomas Greek Orthodox Parish of Cherry Hill, NJ.
“I don’t know whether our generation has created a Plato, but it has created a Senator named Sarbanes,” Corzine said opening his address. Corzine also said it was because of Sarbanes that he took this strong stand on Cyprus reunification.
Paul Sarbanes called Corzine one of his dearest and closest friends during his time in the U.S. Senate.
“We lamented his leaving the U.S. Senate, but he faced the great challenge of fixing New Jersey,” Sarbanes added, calling Corzine one of our strongest supporters on Cyprus.
Speaking about the Hellenic Commission, Sarbanes said it can play a very significant part not only with respect of our community but also with respect to the rest of the people of the State, in coming to understand and appreciate what the Hellenic heritage represents. After all, it all begun in Ancient Greece”, he added.
In his remarks before signing the executive order, Governor Corzine said “thirty-percent of people in New Jersey today are first or second generation immigrants. This state has always welcomed people who have thought of this place as one of opportunity, who recognize the wonder of our diversity.”
Jon Corzine spoke about his strong ties with Greek American Community and its leadership. Including Metropolitan Evangelos, Congressional candidate in the 6th District, Middlesex County James Polos and his regular visits to the Cherry Hills St Thomas Greek Orthodox Parish.
“The beauty of the culture is incomparable. The articulation of our philosophy with respect to democracy that was born of that great community is the heritage of America. When you walk through the halls of the U.S. Congress it is Greek architecture that is everywhere that is defining what our democracy is about. That Greek culture infuses and makes us better every day of our lives.”
Corzine stressed that is only right, New Jersey that is blessed by generations of Greek Americans who have contributed here but they also keep ties with their heritage, to be properly recognized.
“It is important to take this commission and make it more than a name. That is actually gets into our school curricula and make sure that our children and future generations of children understand from where our democracy comes and how we have learned to frame how our world works. We need to make sure that the cultural and the architectural beauty and the logic and all of those things are part and parcel our childrenʼs education.”
Corzine also stressed the trade and other business opportunities of economic advantage between U.S. and Greece and Cyprus could be explored.
“As we work together I would expect that we are a working commission, that we are exploring how we can tie our communities better together in the future”.
Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey, speaking about the Hellenic American Foundation and Heritage Commission, praised Governor Corzine for honoring all Hellenes and Philhellenes by creating the commission and thanked him on behalf of all Greek Orthodox. He also dedicated the day to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who was celebrating his name day and he announce that during his upcoming pastoral visit in the U.S. (fro October 16 to November 6) the Patriarch will visit the Parish of Sts Constantine and Helen in Annapolis, MD.
He stressed that “through various events and educational programs will be at the forefront in introducing the vast cultural and historical contribution of Hellenism into the life of all. As Greek Americans we are proud for our heritage, history and language and this is the work of this commission thatʼs been established here today, people from all the parts of our state to be able to share our pride and feel a bit Greek”
“Through this commission we shall be all able to work together and to seek new ways to benefit our people, young and old, irrelevant of race and color and all who call New Jersey their home. Working together with the newly formed New Jersey Hellenic American Heritage Commission, we can insure not only the preservation but the promotion of our Hellenic and Christian values, for the edification of all.”
Metropolitan Evangelos pointed underlined that “Greek Americans are honored for their profound influence and impact upon the social, religious, economic and political life that is experienced by the residents of this state. As an ethnic community we are very proud of the gifts of service and the dedication that we offer these gifts in order to improve the quality of life and to insure a promising future for our children and grand children. We offer our selves with dignity and purpose, building upon the achievements and the ethos of our forefathers as well as our rich timeless history as progressive and visionary people”
Metropolitan Evangelos is the spiritual leader of 100.000 Greek Americans leaving in the State of New Jersey. Metropolitan Evangelos praised the Greek Orthodox of the State of New Jersey for their deep involvement, not only with the life of the Church but also in their local communities.
“They have been highly successful in business, education, politics and many other areas that comprise the fabric of the Garden State”.
Finally, Metropolitan Evangelos offered the Governor an icon of Virgin Mary.
Consul General of Greece Agi Baltas spoke about the strong partnership for freedom, human rights and justice shared by the United States and Greece, forming through the years and unbreakable bond, that is becoming stronger with the presence of the Greek American Community.
“Here in New Jersey, the heart of a very vibrant Greek American Community beats. A community that excels in all its endeavors and makes proud, not only their new country but also their old homeland that is watching and itʼs proud of them”.
Consul General of Cyprus Andreas Panagiotou commented the Governor for recognizing the contributions of the Greek American Community of New Jersey, pointing out that is the first time such a commission is formed in U.S..The Consul General also praised the Greek American community for struggling for a just and viable solution of the Cyprus problem.
The guests enjoyed Greek cuisine, folkloric dancing by the group of St Thomas Cherry Hills Parish and a dramatic reading of Plato’s Apology by actor and Director Loucas Skipitaris.
The names of the 24 members of the commission will be released on Monday. Besides Chairman Zenon Christodoulou, some of the other members are: Stavros Antonakakis, Steve Corodemus, Bill Matsikoudis, Chris Floudas, Demetra Maurice, Patty Bardis and James Fountas.
The Chair of the newly founded Hellenic Commission Zenon Christodoulou, told the “Greek News” that it is critical that we formed this commission trying to integrate the groups that we already have and to try to open lines of communication with the state and with other ethnic groups. Up to now we were able to communicate amongst ourselves very effectively, but we havenʼt have the chance or the opportunity to really interface directly with the government. So we have our own board of directors, the secretary of State, the commissioner of Higher Education, the Commissioner of Labor and the Commissioner of Commerce so will be able to directly contact them to discuss issues of our concern, We will be able to start trade negotiation for trade deals with Cyprus and Greece, and we have the opportunity to use state resources and we can spearhead educational, cultural programs using the Stateʼs facilities and resources.
Zenon Christodoulou said that he and other Greek Americans worked on the project for at least two years. There have been two Greek Americans elected Governors of states, Michael Dukakis in Massachusetts and Charlie Crist in Florida, but there have never been formed such a commission.
“Itʼs is unprecedented for the entire country, it is the first for its kind for the country”, Zenon Christodoulou told the Greek News.
“It is very important we are the first and I hope others will follow. Maybe no one ever gave us enough credit that we are able to do something like this. Maybe now that everyone sees it is possible, I guarantee you will have one in Illinois, in California, in New York, Virginia, Florida and I will be more than to help anyone to start this. .
Savas Tsivicos, former President of Cyprus Federation of America and also a member in a committee various ethnicities formed in the past by Governor Jim Florio, said it is an historic day for the State of Jew Jersey.
“Especially for the Greek American Community it is the conclusion of an effort that started a couple of years ago and ended became reality tonight, with the signing by Governor Corzine of the executive order creating the Commission. Now it is up to us, the members of the commission, to take it to the next level and really serve the Greek American Community in the best possible way.
The Greek American Community has been playing a very important role in the affaires of the State of New Jersey and now with the formal establishment of this commission we can bring the community closer with the state government but also work like a bridge between the State of New Jersey and Greece and Cyprus.