The Executive Board of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens (VHQ) organized a special recognition event this past Sunday afternoon, January 28, to acknowledge the unrelenting commitment of Congress Members Gregory Meeks and Grace Meng to the Jewish People and the State of Israel. Like their staff, the Congress Members have taken on abuse online, at their offices, and have even been followed home by unfriendly observers. Protestors have not been silent in placing immense pressure on those they disagree with, but these two officials have stood, unwavering, in their defense and advocacy of Jewish causes.

The program, held at District Leader Shimi Pelman’s Union Plaza Care Center, included remarks of praise from Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, State Senators Leroy Comrie and John Liu, and Assemblymember Sam Berger. “I was very proud of Greg for standing up in a room faced with unnecessary hostility and supporting his views on Israel,” related Comrie of a recent closed-door situation where Meeks stalwartly stood with Israel. Collectively, the speakers prayed for the hostages’ release and noted the trailblazing efforts of Meeks and Meng, who have built an amazing pipeline of future leaders. “They understand the future and the vision and what it means to be an ally and a leader,” stated New York City Council Member Linda Lee in her observations.

Pelman shared emcee duties with Rabbi Avrohom Hecht, Executive Director of Project Lead. “The Vaad event was organized to enable the Queens Jewish community to express their true appreciation to the Congress Members,” noted Rabbi Hecht. “We are truly grateful for their strong commitment to our security and safety.” Attendees included various rabbanim, including VHQ President Rabbi Shmuel Marcus, VHQ’s Director of Chevra Kadisha Rabbi Elchonon Zohn; Rabbi Leibel Rockove of Khal Nachlas Avos; Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik; and dignitaries like Deputy Consul General of Israel in New York Tsach Saar; Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to Mayor Adams Menashe Shapiro; former New York City Council Members Barry Grodenchik and Karen Koslowitz; Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Michael Cohen; and Mike Sullivan aka Sully from Metropolitan Park and the New York Mets.

Rabbi Herschel Welcher, VHQ’s Chairman of the Board, delivered a rabbinic address on behalf of his organization. In the last 55 years, Rabbi Welcher has taken countless trips to Eretz Yisrael and, like many of those he represents, has family who live and serve in the IDF. The rabbi’s father and his esteemed wife’s mother both survived the Holocaust, and today stand as community role models. This generation operated under the belief that an event like the Shoah could never resurface.

But post-October 7, a scary surge in anti-Semitism plagues Jews worldwide, forcing those in alliance with Jewish ideals to realize our vulnerability. “Events that we thought were part of history, that our grandparents told us about, are now part of our lives. Perhaps even worse was the wide support for Hamas on October 8.”

The rabbi pointed to examples of repeated pro-Palestinian demonstrations throughout New York City, and how universities have sanctioned this repugnant behavior of calling for the genocide of the Jewish people. “I have lived in this city for a long time. My grandfather came here 110 years ago from Poland. I’m a New Yorker. I grew up in the City of New York.”

Reminiscing on a New York where it was unheard of to have security posted outside of a synagogue or Jewish school, the rabbi noted how they are now “armed camps with fences around them” that have guards concerned with passersby snapping photos of the campuses they protect. Rabbi Welcher spoke of our community’s political influence, appreciation of the NYPD, and growing involvement of voters, adding, “We have only begun to flex our muscles…What was tolerable in the past years is no longer tolerable to us.” The rabbi called on those with influence to raise the bar of support for the Jewish community by being more vociferous in denouncing the DSA and their Left-wing Progressive Squad in each layer of government when necessary.

Rep. Meng spoke of her colleague Rep. Meeks as one who passes the true test of a leader by shaping the narrative and advancing conversations. While raising her Bring Them Home Dorit Judaica-designed dog tag, Meng pledged to continue acting against Hamas and fighting for the Israeli hostages to return home. The tag seen on the necks of leading public figures bears “7.10.23,” the day Hamas infiltrated into Israel, killing over 1,200 and taking over 250 hostages, starting the Swords of Iron War. Its Hebrew text, “Ha’leiv sheli shavui b’Aza,” translates as “My heart is held captive in Gaza”; the dog tag was gifted by families of the hostages during a DC visit.

Meng acknowledged the post-massacre surge in anti-Semitism – a recorded 260% increase per the ADL – which has seen double standards and a lack of outrage while many persist with their public acts of hate. She noted the House resolution where 425 Representatives condemned Hamas, and how she stood on Capitol Hill, outraged, when university presidents could not clearly state that calls for genocide against Jewish students violated their code of contact. “I cosponsored a resolution with my colleague from across the aisle, Congress Member Stefanik, to condemn testimony when South Africa claimed that Israel is committing genocide against Hamas, an enemy that promised genocide against the Jewish people and Israel into its founding Charter.”

Reaffirming Congress’ patronage, Meng said, “We have worked on the House Appropriations Committee with Senator Schumer, Chairman Meeks, and Leader Jefferies to secure a dramatic increase in funding to the NSGP.” The Nonprofit Security Grant Program will now award $305 million to nonprofits requesting the coveted security grants that go directly to providing our schools with funding for security upgrades like cameras, locks, and lighting, and have gone towards saving the lives of our families.

On the hate crimes front, Meng noted, “We are working to increase funding for the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Investigation, which keeps track and investigates types of incidents that need to be done more vigorously.” Meng said that the HEAL Act would direct the Holocaust Museum to study and report on the state of Holocaust education across the country, thereby helping to stop anti-Semitism, hatred, and bigotry with education, ensuring “that if history is not learned, it’s due to be repeated.”

Rep. Meeks is the ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee and Chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, who made visits to Israel primary on his agenda. Meeks praised Meng for being a straight shooter who took on a leadership role in the National Democratic Committee by bringing people together. “I wish that we did not have to accept these beautiful awards because you really don’t do what you think is right to accept an award.”

Meeks articulated the significance and importance of the historical context of his relationship with the Jewish people and the State of Israel by reflecting on his youth watching as “Dr. King and various rabbis walked arm-in-arm eradicating, fighting, changing, and not being silent as they tried to change and make America and the world move into a different direction. Then, when I went to school, I learned that even here in the United States, the government was slow and negligent to come out against the Holocaust.” Meeks vowed that “the Jewish State of Israel must and will stand and stay,” using Egypt and Jordan as examples of nations that eventually agreed with Israel’s right to exist. “I found when I made my first visit to the other side, you can’t have peace when one side says we want peace, and the other side says you don’t have the right to exist. There’s no way to have peace. Peace takes two.”

Before October 7, Meeks, like many of his colleagues, were hopeful for change. “When I was the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I was a major proponent of the Abraham Accords.” On those calling for a ceasefire, Meeks stated that it was Hamas that said Israel did not have the right to exist and set out to destroy the State and all its people on October 7. Evoking Dr. King, Meeks proclaimed, “I can’t be one that is not without hope. Jews and Gentiles, Protestants, and Catholics can live as one, share, understand, and be true to us as human beings if we just lock arms and continue to fight together, because it will make tomorrow better than today or yesterday.”

 By Shabsie Saphirstein
Photo Credit: Debbie Petry Killen