Vaad Harabbonim of Queens held an very successful legislative event last Sunday afternoon, May 23, at Shimi Pelman’s Union Plaza Care Center in Flushing. The program drew dozens of Queens County rabbis and Jewish communal professionals, thanks in large part to the outreach of Rabbi Avraham Hecht, Executive Director of Project Lead. For two and half hours, the contingent fought back on anti-Semitism and encouraged others to be cognizant of the world where we live. The event was designed as a means for newer Queens rabbonim to meet our elected officials and learn of potential resources available at their disposal.
“The Queens community has been blessed with wonderful and scholarly spiritual leaders,” explained Rabbi Hecht. “Recently, many of our long-serving pulpit rabbis have retired. With many new younger rabbonim joining our ranks, the Vaad felt it was important to introduce these rabbinical leaders to our hard-working city, state, and federal elected officials.”
“VHQ is a rabbinic force showing allegiance and alliance with the elected officials ensuring that funding is allocated for Jewish causes on a city and state level,” explained Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president of Rabbinical Alliance of America. “The meeting was very tachlis-oriented. It is vital for rabbis to be informed of all avenues that may enhance the lives of their congregants, especially considering the spike in anti-Semitism.” Rabbi Mirocznik detailed to the Queens Jewish Link vivid childhood memories of the Vaad from yesteryear when his father, then rav of Queens’ Congregation Derech Emunoh Synagogue at 199 Beach 67th Street in Arverne, brought him along to Vaad meetings that were steeped in advocacy. Averne was created as a summer colony for prominent New Yorkers in the early 20th Century. Derech Emunoh, built in 1905, suffered a devastating fire in 2002.
“My amazing friends work every day to keep us safe and to make sure that the United States recognizes the Jewish people and the State of Israel. We could not be where we are today without the leadership of Congress Member Gregory Meeks, whose position as chair and now ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee allowed a lot to transpire,” said Pelman.
Like his colleagues in government, Congress Member Meeks spoke of the magnificent work of District Leader Pelman, who continues “to work hard on behalf of all of the people of Queens County to make sure that they are living a life that it is free of pressure, free of violence, and free of hate.” In acknowledging his strong commitment to both the local Jewish community and the State of Israel, Meeks spoke of fellow Congress Member Grace Meng. “We are locked at the hip, particularly as it pertains to Israel.” Meng mentioned via phone that Israel is America's only democratic ally in the Middle East and pointed to millions of dollars in funding appropriated to the State of Israel without any pre-conditions, as well as funding for local institutions to upgrade security. She made a special mention of the rise of both anti-Semitism and hate crimes. Meng expressed her heartfelt gratitude to the Jewish community for supporting their Asian neighbors when they were hit with an increase in bias incidents and noted concern for a rise in anti-Semitism and hate crimes.
Meeks, who just returned from Yom HaAtzmaut celebrations in Israel and already has plans for a late August return trip, passionately spoke out against anti-Semitism, and said, "I'm proud that in the United States Congress, by and large, every member Democrat, Republican, or Independent, understands the significance and importance of the State of Israel our strongest ally.” Meeks reiterated remarks from his initial trip to the Holy Land, his first as chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee: “The United States will stand by Israel every step of the way, unconditionally making sure that we recognize and continue to move forward to protect Israel from its enemies.”
Meeks, a firm believer who pushed for the Abraham Accords, stated that Congress recently passed a bill appointing a special envoy to oversee the furtherance of the Accords, which give Arab countries a unique position “to stand up and say that Israel has the right to exist, and that Israel is a neighbor of ours, and we're looking forward to working collectively together.” It is his hope that Saudi Arabia will soon sign onto the Accords as true peace looms closer in the Middle East.
Aaron Cyperstein, Managing Director, Legal & External Affairs at Met Council, thanked Meeks for his continued fight against hunger in America. “I wanted to thank you personally, because not only are you helping internationally with Israel, but you also recently helped with allocation to Met Council to feed the poor where you brought cultures together with food.”
Pelman, emcee of the program, noted Assistant Chief Kevin A. Williams, Sr, Commanding Officer of NYPD Patrol Borough Queens South. “The chief has proven to be a very effective leader and police officer who rose through the ranks and has helped us.” Williams noted, “Although we're seeing a reduction in overall crime in Patrol Borough South, whenever we get a report of a hate crime, we are going to vigorously investigate it and will refer to our Hate Crimes Task Force.”
From the patrol side, Williams spoke of action taken at the 107th police precinct where Deputy Inspector Kevin implemented high visibility employment to put extra resources into the community, because regardless of whatever religion you are, whatever your faith is, you should be able to practice freely, openly, without any worry about any type of retaliation.” Williams, a resident of the Patrol Borough, related how he is “uniquely fitted to be in this assignment as he understands all the issues firsthand.” He employs enforcement and education through outreach in the borough to combat acts of hate. “We have enhanced our overall deployments in the command in the face of a personnel shortage and changed the way we do field training,” commented the chief. New recruits now train in their assigned precincts instead of together at a solitary command. This has translated into extra officers on hand for patrols to keep our streets safe and subsequently, an overall decrease in crime. Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz had the honor of opening the meeting with a commitment to keeping our neighborhoods safe. (The Queens Jewish Link wishes the DA and her family mazal tov on her son’s graduation from Talmud Torah.)
Israel Nitzan, Acting Israel Consul General and a Queens resident, spoke about the close relationship between the State of Israel and the United States of America. "We're very proud of our very unique and complicated home, sometimes too complicated, but we know that if we have your support and friendship for the wellbeing of the State of Israel and the security of the state of this world and for everything that you do to build this very special relationship that we have with the United States.” Nitzan singled out Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal for his “leadership and efforts in actually pushing back against such forces,” speaking of a combative effort he led in face of a blatant attack against Israel. “There are no such other cases or initiatives against any other country.” Nitzan condemned all acts of anti-Semitism and thanked the community for fighting against the phenomena alongside law enforcement.
“We welcome and we embrace our rich diversity, and we all learn from one another here in the world's borough we understand this inherently because there is no place like Queens,” remarked City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. Adams addressed food insecurity, where one out of four children living in NYC are in poverty and committed to uplifting all children from all walks of life to succeed. “I've taken an inclusive approach to leadership that is focused on deliberate solutions for our city and addressing the inequities that have gone unaddressed for far too long.” Pesach Osina, Community Outreach Officer and Director of Communications and Outreach for Jewish Affairs for the Speaker, took on a coveted role of ensuring a strong political presence at the informative event.
“Service is such an important part of our job as City Council Members and an extension of serving the community,” declared Council Member Linda Lee, a former social worker who first traveled to Israel in 2008 with family.
“I had the honor of traveling to Israel last year with the JCRC,” voiced Lee’s Council colleague Sandra Ung. “It was a learning experience and was unbelievably valuable. The Jewish community and the Asian community are great friends. Let us always keep the dialogue open.”
Council Member James F. Gennaro spoke of his strong connection to the Jewish community and how he is honored to be involved with the sale of chametz every Passover alongside many local rabbonim. Rabbi Mirocznik notes how this effort is a shining example of an elected official and local rabbis working for the betterment of the Jewish people while carrying the positive experience to their colleagues in government.
“Queens is such a diverse world with so many opportunities for us to build relationships and this is one great opportunity to celebrate each other and recognize each other's culture and background,” voiced State Senator Lerory Comrie, who is on a mission of building understanding and respect amongst people in face of negativity. The Senator promoted an anti-hate program in Kew Gardens with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, pledged to host mobile pop-ups, agreed to attend as many meetings as he is invited to, expressed disappointment in Governor Hochul for not better funding healthcare, and thanked local Assembly Members for fighting anti-Semitism that sneaks into state chambers - even from a fellow Queens Assembly Member. “There are people that are using social media to put out divisive messages and we need to push back hard because it's that kind of division that should not happen in New York State.”
Assembly Member David Weprin spoke of his longtime commitment to the Jewish community and his new role in the Assembly as chair of the Insurance Committee. Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal, who traveled in from Baltimore for the morning’s program, spoke about his leading role in combating antisemitism.
For over 60 years, the Vaad Harabbonim of Queens has relied on the volunteerism of its rabbinical membership to keep our neighborhoods relevant and updated on Jewish concerns. The VHQ has ensured that our local food establishments and caterers provide the highest standards of kashrus services. They have also continued to ensure that our funeral and burial services adhere to the highest levels of dignity and halachah.
By Shabsie Saphirstein