Assemblyman David I. Weprin convened a gathering of community leaders and elected officials this past Monday morning at Bagels & Co. in Fresh Meadows to denounce the recent antisemitic threats made against the establishment on November 10 by an unidentified individual who approached patrons and employees and made threats to burn the store down. Staff of the establishment, located at 188-02 Union Turnpike, reported the incident to the NYPD, who are investigating it as a hate crime as they seek the whereabouts of the dangerous individual.
“This incident is shocking and disturbing, but when the perpetrator made these threats against Bagels & Co., two staff members stepped up,” said Weprin as he honored the two staff members who bravely confronted the perpetrator without hesitation, behind the backdrop of local news station news cameras and the Israeli flags still waving. The idea to honor the staffers was first broached by Lenny Brafman of the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates, where Weprin davens.
Bagels & Co. employee Kevin Vasquez explained, “I spoke up because I did not want anything bad to happen to this community. I hope everything will work out and we pray for everyone’s safety.” Employee Juan Yax added, “I did not act to be a hero; I was just doing my job.”
“We are proud of our Israeli flag in Queens Country and we stand with the Jewish community each and every day every step of the way,” exclaimed Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who has confronted hate in the borough before. “We understand in Queens County that our diversity is our strength. There is a reason why we are technically considered the mecca of the world with 109 countries represented in our borough. Nearly 350 dialects and spoken languages exist in Queens Country.” Richards continued, “There are those we know that seek to divide us and think that hate is acceptable. Here in Queens, we will continue to stomp it out every single time. To combat hate, it takes every single one of us to stand up against these acts.”
Community Board 8 Chair Martha Taylor, Councilwoman-elect Linda Lee, and others also addressed the crowd.
Rabbi Manes Kogan, rabbi of the Hillcrest Jewish Center, wants everyone to be confident when they walk outside. “Displaying your heritage is an important value. We stand here at a kosher bagel shop that proudly displays both the American and Israeli flags.”
Following the meeting, I walked to local Jewish shops sharing wanted fliers regarding the incident. Karen, the office manager at Julia Shildkret, noted that two detectives had visited their office to obtain video footage to assist in the ongoing search.
By Shabsie Saphirstein