A hotly contested open seat race in eastern Queens could be decided by the Jewish community, as seven candidates seek to take the seat being vacated by Barry Grodenchik. The top two fundraisers represent platforms that vary greatly in regard to Israel. Jaslin Kaur has the endorsement of the DSA, which asks its favored candidates to boycott trips to Israel. In contrast, Linda Lee speaks proudly of her visit to the county in 2008, when she rented a car with her sister and they explored Israel on their own.
“We drove around every inch of it. I have a rule not to visit any place twice, but I’d visit Israel again and again,” she said. “I am a Christian and I visited the country during Ramadan.” In her experience, she saw how Muslims and Christians in Israel observed their faiths without any restrictions. “BDS is a very specific movement, it is only about Israel. It is not right to single out one country.”
This past Sunday, she met with supporters in Kew Gardens Hills, recognizing that in a tight race, the vote of the Jewish community could make the difference in the June 22 Democratic primary.
At the event, Lee met with Rabbi Moshe Taub and Yakir Wachstock of the Young Israel of Holliswood, and Hollis Hills resident David Mordukhaev of the Alliance of Bukharian Jews. They noted that besides their organizations, the Young Israel of New Hyde Park, the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates, Yeshiva Har Torah, Chabad of Eastern Queens, among others, are also located within the 23rd Council District. “We need to have someone whom we can trust and who can provide for our causes,” said District Leader Shimi Pelman. “Linda has been to our causes.”
Pelman recognized that although Lee’s district does not have a Jewish population as sizable as in the 24th District, every seat matters in its impact on the community. “This is not an island,” he said in reference to Kew Gardens Hills. “This is a community. If we don’t recognize our neighbors, then we are isolated.”
Without mentioning Lee’s DSA opponent, Pelman said that their campaign is very ambitious as they have candidates running in almost every district. “Tiffany Cabán is running for speaker and she has not even been elected,” he said of the leftist running for the seat in Astoria.
Lee was born in upstate New York and grew up on Long Island. “Growing up on Long Island, I’ve attended many bar mitzvahs,” she said. She attended church in Queens, which became her home 11 years ago. In the meantime, she graduated from Barnard College and Columbia University. “It wasn’t until I pursued my master’s degree in Social Work that I realized the most effective way to ensure impactful policies make it across the finish line is to have a seat at the table where important decisions are made,” she said.
That meant a seat in City Hall, where policies are legislated to ensure that marginalized communities have access and an understanding of the benefits to which they are entitled. Council District 23 is overwhelmingly comprised of seniors, aged 65 and above. In her current role as CEO of the Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York (KCS), Lee transformed the 48-year-old nonprofit into a full-service agency serving all age groups and extending its work beyond Korean-speaking New Yorkers.
Her models for transforming the KCS were the Jewish nonprofits JASA and JBFCS, which serve the wider population while maintaining sensitivity towards Jewish cultural needs. Coincidentally, her organization is located inside the former Bayside Jewish Center. “We still have the stained-glass windows in the banquet hall with the sponsors’ names. It’s a history that overlaps. We want to be a community resource.”
To this extent, the KCS building is used for COVID testing, vaccination, and early voting. Lee noted that at the onset of the pandemic, it was difficult to communicate with the center’s clients. “We started off doing it one by one, signing people up for COVID testing and unemployment insurance. Initially, the forms were only in English and we translated. We opened our building and we did it safely.”
Lee was joined at the Kew Gardens Hills meeting by Sandra Ung, who is running for the Council seat in the 20th District, which covers downtown Flushing, Queensboro Hill, and Auburndale. At the event, they received the endorsements of District Leader Facia Class, Councilman James Gennaro, and Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal.
“The election is around the corner, and almost the entire New York City government is turning over,” Rosenthal said. “Linda and Sandra are two people who have reached out to our community. They will be great allies to us, who will bring New York City back in a professional and common-sense way.”