The leading political lights were shining at the Chazaq legislative dinner that honored elected officials for their support of the organization and the Jewish community. “Wisdom begins in the mind and generous wisdom engulfs the heart,” said Rabbi Doniel Lander in welcoming the honored guests. “It is accompanied by a touch of compassion and a dose of sensitivity.”
The Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Ohr HaChaim was quoting the Ramban in quoting these leadership qualities before a packed ballroom at Simcha Palace in Kew Gardens Hills last Sunday. In the 16 years since Chazaq was founded in Forest Hills as a kiruv organization, it has grown into a multifaceted operation whose services include yeshivah placement for public school students, afterschool programs, counseling for addictions, pantry, kollel, publications, and lectures across Queens and beyond. The dinner kicked off with an inspiring performance by the Bukharian Boys Choir and a meal consisting of Bukharian food served by restaurateur Simcha Gurgov.
On the political scene, the supporters and students of Chazaq represent a sizable constituency that votes and participates in public affairs. As Chazaq raised the visibility of the Queens Jewish community, elected officials took note by supporting its programs as they benefit the community and the general population.
“We have a program called Nourish New York, to address food insecurity. We have put a significant amount of money to protect our citizens. We are addressing heroin and opioid addiction, and our Attorney General is suing people who are bringing these drugs to New York,” Governor Kathy Hochul said to the crowd, briefly listing the state’s budget priorities for this year. “This is a vibrant community; this is a growing community.”
Attorney General Tish James spoke after Hochul, thanking local District Leader Shimi Pelman for many years of friendship and support, as her guide to the Queens Jewish community. “This has been a difficult two years, but nothing can keep us down when we come together. Hate has no place in the State of New York. When you care for others, we do our greatest job.”
The first honoree at the dinner was Rep. Grace Meng, introduced to the crowd by Pelman. He noted that he first met Meng when her mother-in-law was a resident at Union Plaza Care Center in Flushing, where Pelman is the CEO. Meng thanked Pelman and acknowledged Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, the Chazaq CEO, and his wife Leora for their advocacy. She then spoke of the ties forged between Jews and Asian-Americans, as both communities faced a rise in hate incidents in recent months.
“Our communities have worked together in unprecedented ways. It’s important for me, as someone who is not Jewish, to speak out on anti-Semitism. I will say that one of the communities that has been prominent and proactive in standing up against anti-Asian hate is the Jewish community,” Meng said.
In the House of Representatives, Meng sponsored the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which seeks to help combat the increase in anti-Asian hate. The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support last year, and she noted the support of Jewish elected officials and community leaders in its passage. “It provides more resources for law enforcement and analyzing data. It is about reporting hate incidents to the federal government, so that we know where anti-Semitism and anti-Asian hate are happening.”
After Meng spoke, Rabbi Meirov offered Meng a Bukharian cloak that she wore for the remainder of the event. She was then followed by Mayor Eric Adams, who was welcomed with cheers and offered a joma adorned with Jewish stars woven in golden threads. This coat is worn at special occasions in this community. Adams spoke of food insecurity, highlighting the Lev Aharon Community Food Pantry, which Chazaq runs as an affiliate of the Met Council. “What you are doing is amazing. There’s an Eric Adams out there, six or seven years old, and that food pantry is giving him dignity.”
As Adams spoke, Senator Chuck Schumer looked on approvingly and spoke of his role in funding such programs. “My job is to bring money to New York. This year I have done that more than in any other year.” Noting that he is the nation’s first Jewish Senate Majority Leader, Schumer spoke of his role in providing security funding for nonprofit institutions, which have been a benefit to synagogues and yeshivos at a time when hate attacks have increased against Jewish targets.
Met Council CEO David Greenfield was honored by Chazaq for his support of its programs. “Rabbi Yaniv Meirov is a force of nature and an askan of the highest order. What he is doing at Chazaq is truly revolutionary,” he said. “A food pantry right here in Queens served over 220,000 pounds of food for 22,000 people.”
Echoing Meng’s speech, Greenfield spoke of his visit to Chinatown last week where he attended a vigil for Christina Yuna Lee, who was stabbed to death by an unstable individual in an act of hate. “It is reminiscent of the murder of Josef Neumann in Rockland County,” in reference to the Orthodox Jew who was fatally stabbed in 2020 in a hate attack. “Hate crimes are like a pandemic. We must take the side of the citizens.”
Councilman Jim Gennaro, whose district covers Central Queens, was introduced by Yaakov Serle, Co-Publisher of the Queens Jewish Link and Bukharian Jewish Link. Gennaro spoke of his love for the Jewish community, noting his past visits to Israel and support for local Jewish causes. Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal was the final honoree of the evening and also gave a short speech thanking Rabbi and Rebbetzin Meirov for their work and the honor of being their partner in their many charitable and educational projects.
Among their elected colleagues who attended to recognize Chazaq were State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, and Council Members Lynn Schulman and Sandra Ung. While the list of aides to elected officials and community leaders who attended is quite extensive, it is important to note a handful of notables, including NYPD officer Inspector Richie Taylor, Rabbi Daniel Pollack, Pinny Hikind of the City Comptroller’s office, Shea Rubenstein of JCCMP, Aaron Cyperstein of Met Council, Simon Sebag of the Public Advocate’s office, Josh Melman of FJCC, Rabbi Mayer Waxman of QJCC, Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik of RAA/Igud, Rabbi Avrohom Hecht of Project Lead, Rebbetzin Faigie Horowitz of JWOW!, and the sponsorships that made the evening possible: Boulevard Assisted Living Community, FM Home Loans, Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation, and Community Advisor Alan Sherman, Daily Giving, Olami, and E-Squared. Israel Peskowitz of Chazaq’s government affairs and grants bureau is also credited with the evening’s success.
Demonstrating unity in purpose, Rabbis Shlomo Nisanov of Kehilat Sephardim and Nahum Kaziev of Ohr Natan, whose respective organizations have their own kosher food pantries, also attended the event to show support. Security was provided by Queens Borough Safety Patrol-Shmira and the 107th Precinct Community Affairs Division.
By Sergey Kadinsky
Photo credits: Saul Joseph of Universe Promotions
(212-685-4040) and Natan Behar of Chazaq