The Queens Jewish Community Council’s legislative breakfast held this past Sunday morning at the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates was complete with rousing speeches in support of Israel and thunderous applause denouncing antisemitism. While the topics might seem cliché, each energetic oration reaffirmed the New York political scene’s allegiance to Israel as a strong, unwavering ally. It was the words of Michael Nussbaum, President of the QJCC, that set a tone for all to stand up for the values that matter most. “I have spent my life fighting for other people. Today, I am asking people to fight for the Jewish community; we must do it together.” In the last election cycle, Nussbaum launched the Committee for Sensible Government PAC, designed to oppose any candidate who gets the support of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
The annual celebration recognizing now 52 years of communal service for the QJCC brought arguably the largest showing of local elected officials since the onset of COVID-19. The vaccine-mandated and masked event, convened with selective seating availability, was a tad different from the conventional buffet that guests were accustomed to in the past, but it solidified a universal stance to health safety. Sponsored by Abrams Fensterman LLP, Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Democratic District Leader Simon Pelman, and Schwartz Brothers/Parkside Memorial Chapels, the event allowed for critical issues affecting the Jewish community to be discussed with elected officials from Federal, State, and City levels.
In thanking the community for their “support and friendship,” Israel Nitzan, Deputy Consul General at Consulate General of Israel New York, wasted no time “denying and rejecting” the nonsensical Amnesty International report that named Israel an apartheid state. In conversation with electeds, I came to realize that the report was released simply to reignite the national conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians while distorting the legal genuineness of life in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza when compared to international law in the same region. It was explained, “The narrative shown must be politically motivated because life in Israel does not compare to the institutionalized racism of the apartheid system in place in South Africa, and Israel is not out to create a racial superiority.”
The invocation delivered by Rabbi Dov Lerner, hosting rabbi, sought to “heal all wounds,” particularly those that have plagued the Jewish people and divided us.
It was the compassion of Attorney General Letitia James that brought unity throughout the ballroom. “Antisemitism is a cancer that must be stamped out,” proclaimed James as she offered an “open hand to those who need,” in her pledge to keep the Jewish people and their affiliated organizations safe. “We must put aside politics and focus on what’s important, keeping our synagogues safe.” James followed by inviting all past and present QJCC board members for a formal swearing-in ceremony.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, reminisced of comments delivered by Senator Joe Lieberman where he described the spine of a lulav as its backbone. “You want to be a leader, you have to have a backbone. A Jewish leader? Then, you must stand up for your people.” Potasnik urged the legislative body to remember that the phrase “Never again!” ends with an exclamation point, not a period. “You must pass resolutions that not only condemn anti-Semitism but are also against anti-Semites.”
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has forged a great relationship with the Jewish community, and in his work vows “to make sure that nobody gets left behind in the shadows.” DiNapoli asserts that his office seeks “opportunities to be more effective.” Their list of New York State’s commitment to the Jewish people includes being the number one purchaser of Israel bonds, a divestment from Unilever in conjunction with a 2016 policy not to be invested with anyone supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, a $400 million investment in Israel’s tech sector, and close to $1 billion invested in the State of Israel itself. On reporting hate crimes, the Comptroller admitted that better laws need to be implemented, but he stated that regular audits are conducted on the process.
Congress Member Gregory Meeks recently completed his first year as Chair of House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he chose to make a resounding statement with his first international congressional trip being to the State of Israel to meet Prime Minister Bennett and members of the Knesset. On his accomplishments, Meeks said, “It has been a very tough year, but I am proud of what we have done in Washington, DC.” On his bond with the Jewish people, Meeks added, “As a kid I was told to put my money where my mouth is.” To this, Meeks pointed to a $1 billion aid package for the Iron Dome system, $500 million for missile defense, and pledged to ensure that the allocation of $3.3 billion in security assistance to houses of worship would not be stopped or tied down with conditions. “We will continue to show and pressure those who stand against us.” Meeks called the Abraham Accords “a gamechanger,” explaining, “For me it is not about politics, rather about values and where we stand.” In condemning the Amnesty report, Meeks undertook to consistently set the record straight. “The civil rights movement would not have been successful if we did not stand with our Jewish brothers.”
Fellow Congress Member Thomas Suozzi noted that he is on every single piece of pro-Israel legislation. “I will stand up to any voice in the House of Representatives that speaks out against Israel,” acknowledging, “It is awful and difficult to stand up to our colleagues.” Suozzi, a gubernatorial candidate, is well-known in the community as the former county executive of Nassau County and four-term mayor of Glen Cove, the area he now serves in Congress.
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz is known to comb through each case and ensure that the most apropos justice is administered using what she calls a “steady hand in turbulent times.” The DA explained that her office “prosecutes for hate crimes and the underlying crimes that lead to those crimes.” But she conceded that there “needs to be a discussion in the criminal justice system,” expressing, “If you are a gang member and making it unsafe for a parent to go to a park, then we must make sure that youth can’t pick up guns.” She, as well, noted an endeavor to halt the construction of plastic guns in basements. The DA depicted her conversation with President Joe Biden and a coordinated effort with the Federal government to make the streets safer.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards pointed to the QJCC’s efforts during the pandemic. “When an emergency, who runs towards that burning building? The QJCC stepped up during the pandemic to make sure that those who needed a meal or assistance had where to go.” Recognizing rising anti-Semitism and in affirming Israel’s right to exist, Richards said, “An afront on you is an afront on me,” adding, “We will never be divided when we are united. We have an obligation to build a strong coalition, so safety is something that must be prioritized.” Richards thanked residents for helping Queens lead the city in vaccinations.
Council Member Eric Dinowitz, Chair of the City Council’s Jewish Caucus, spoke of the need to strengthen Holocaust education in schools and related legislation that is in the works to this effect.
Judge George Grasso, Administrative Judge for Criminal Matters in the Queens County Supreme Court, passionately speaking on criminal justice, reiterated words he said two years prior: “We need to reform the reform; we can do better.”
In his closing notes, President Nussbaum informed the gathering that the QJCC received its final funding for its upcoming site at 69-69 Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills and could still expect a ribbon cutting ceremony in 2022. “We are building our new building to be an advocate for Queens and for our voices to be heard well beyond.” The new funding is part of a Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) grant initiated by Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz a’’h. Following the passing of the Assembly Member, Assembly Speaker Jeffrion Aubry championed the cause.
The breakfast was a partnership of the Free Synagogue of Flushing, Met Council on Jewish Poverty, the Queens Jewish Center, and UJA-Federation of New York.
By Shabsie Saphirstein