The sidewalk on Broadway outside City Hall hosted a crowd of community leaders, elected officials, and activists in honor of Kew Gardens Hills activist Shimi Pelman and Rabbi Bob Kaplan of the Bronx.
“This is the first big celebration we’re having since COVID. I love being Jewish. I love the values that I was raised with. The value of community,” said Councilman Eric Dinowitz of Riverdale. “The temporary structure with open doors and open walls.”
He then introduced Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, noting that all members receive the same briefings as her, giving them a sense of empowerment in determining the city’s budget and legislation.
The sukkah at City Hall was first erected in 2018 by Rabbi Shmuel Butman, Director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization. Its location at the juncture of commerce, government, and tourism made it one of the most heavily used sukkahs in Manhattan.
With demographic changes, the number of Jewish members in the City Council has declined in recent years, though one wouldn’t know it as the event included lawmakers from districts with sizable Jewish communities, and those who came to show their support.
“We are a smaller group, but because of the Speaker, we have a large say in what goes on,” said Lynn Schulman, whose district covers Rego Park, Forest Hills, and Kew Gardens. “I recommended Shimi for the honor because he gets food to people in need. He is a political leader and a community leader.”
Born in a displaced persons camp in postwar Germany, Pelman became a leader in the healthcare industry, in particular as the CEO of Union Plaza Nursing Home in Flushing. Closer to his home in Kew Gardens Hills, he serves as the president of Tomchei Shabbos of Queens and as a Democratic District Leader. The Council Proclamation awarded to Pelman at the Sukkos event noted his leadership in Jewish and secular causes, as an active citizen who promotes volunteerism and political involvement.
In the latter role, he meets with candidates and elected officials, to give them an understanding of the Jewish community’s priorities. At the same time, he encourages his neighbors to vote in Democratic Party primaries, as they determine the direction of the state’s dominant political party.
“I’m here to support Shimi, a friend and a community leader. We have to show unity and know how our government works,” said Alan Sherman, a Kew Gardens Hills resident who shares Pelman’s interest in voter outreach.
“I am honored that the City Council recognizes his role in the community and how we can bring an end to anti-Semitism and poverty,” said Rabbi Mayer Waxman, the Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community Council. He described Pelman’s honoring as an example of “how integral the Queens community is to the city.”
The event’s second honoree, Rabbi Bob Kaplan, was recommended by Dinowitz, who spoke of his role in building bridges with other faith communities. He serves at the Commissioner of the city’s Commission on Human Rights, as a member of Community Board 8 in the Bronx, and as the founder and executive director of The Center for Community Leadership, the Shared Society division of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. Dinowitz added that with the many hats that he wears, he finds time for his family and neighbors. “The work that Bob does brings people together,” he said.
The Council’s Jewish Caucus is chaired by Dinowitz, and includes Julie Menin of the Upper East Side, Schulman, Lincoln Restler of Williamsburg, and Ari Kagan and Inna Vernikov of southern Brooklyn. Their colleagues Sandra Ung, Linda Lee, Justin Brannan, Selvena Brooks-Powers, and Kevin Riley attended the event, along with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Assemblyman David Weprin, and Israeli Consul General Asaf Zamir, among other public figures.
By Sergey Kadinsky