Borough Hall Holocaust Memorial and QJCC KGH Headquarters Sketch Revealed
The annual Queens Jewish Community Council (QJCC) Legislative Breakfast is by far the premier local political event of the year, bringing light to the triumphs of the extremely diverse Queens Jewish community, as well as the trials and tribulations facing the borough, city, and state at large. This year’s shindig was filled with groundbreaking announcements and powerful words from leading legislators and their distinguished attaches.
The program took off strongly with opening remarks from the hosting mara d’asra, Rabbi Dov Lerner of the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates, where QJCC Executive Director Rabbi Mayer Waxman has led the annex High Holiday service for over two decades. A beautiful benediction followed by “The Rev and The Rabbi” co-host Rabbi Joseph Potasnik who, at 76, shows no signs of letting up on his advocacy for New York Jewry, primarily through his position as Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis. The rabbi urged Jews of all sects to “try to make life as beautiful as possible.”
Socialist Hears the Truth
“We thank our state and city legislators for the financial support to fight,” declared Michael Nussbaum, who celebrated his bar mitzvah year stalwartly leading the QJCC as its acclaimed and outspoken President. Nussbaum solemnly disclosed his intentions to step down over the year from the helm where he has so valiantly served opening the door to the next generation. Nussbaum has led the battle against anti-Israel sentiments in New York politics, notably speaking out against the BDS movement and rampant anti-Semitism.
The breakfast brings together all walks of legislators reflecting the various communities within the Jewish belief. From the far left to the far right, New York politics was well represented. Of note was the presence of former public defender Tiffany Cabán, whose socialist and progressive ideals helped her gain the district 22 New York City Council seat serving the neighborhoods of Astoria, Rikers Island, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Woodside. I had the opportunity to speak with the Richmond Hill native, who was quite cordial and listened intently as the speakers defended the rights of New York Jews.
Nussbaum has long advocated for Queens Jewry to unite, admitting that we are “very insular, staying within our own.” He pushed the community to “think out-of-the-box” and be less concerned with ourselves and our own blocks and neighborhoods, adding, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox. People look at us as Jews.” Nussbaum intends to set up an influential rabbinical leadership committee that will be a thinktank of “neutral territory” to combat collective communal needs. “During the wars of the past, no one asked which denomination of Jewish they believed in.”
Nussbaum was a producer of the 1987 American documentary nominated for an Academy Award, Who Killed Vincent Chin?, and worked with the Reagan administration and the Deputy Attorney General federal laws on hate crimes. “We’re still living with the issue of prosecuting hate crimes as Asian American, both Korean and Chinese are being targeted.”
As he had pledged a year ago, Nussbaum recommitted to ensuring that the “ribbon is cut” at the QJCC’s future home in the heart of the Queens Jewish community at 69-69 Main Street, just off Jewel Avenue in Kew Gardens Hills, even if he must “finish the painting and moving the furniture [himself].” The funding for this capital project was initially launched by then-NYC-Council-Member David Weprin and former Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz z”l ,whose seat remains in the hands of the Jewish community, now held by the overachieving Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal, whose political future is more than promising. Nussbaum hinted to a dedication in Simanowitz’s memory. QJCC will join other prominent Jewish organizations at this legendary crossroad: Chabad on Campus, Chazaq, Jewish Heritage Center, and TorahAnytime, amongst a handful of shuls.
State Executive Chamber Stands In Unity
“Love is what ought to be guiding us and helping us navigate these turbulent times,” said Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado. “Along with the largest Jewish community outside of Israel, this administration is going to continue all we can to provide resources and services to all regions.”
Delgado, co-recipient of the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. award, did not shy away from addressing the onslaught of anti-Semitism over the last few years, “We know that hate across the board has been intensifying, which has led to violence. He acknowledged that matters are made worse by “the so-called leaders who make it their business to be divisive and scapegoat certain communities for political gain.” Delgado championed “multicultural democracy” as the U.S. evolves to advance opportunities for White, Black, and Brown citizens.
Lacey Schwartz Delgado, the Lt. Governor’s wife, is a proud Black Jew and mother to their nine-year-old twins Maxwell and Coltrane. She is also a member of Woodstock Jewish Congregation. “Children can’t inherit what’s going on right now with all the divisiveness and all the hate and all the extremism,” she stated. “We’re going to continue to invest in public safety, invest in hate and bias prevention, invest in youth, our Jewish communities, which includes nearly $100 million for security at nonprofits like synagogues and JCCs and increasing state police protection for at risk communities. Last year, we invested $35 million for a new round of capital grants support securing communities against hate crimes. We also added $3.5 million for staffing, training, conferences, toolkits and other education for public awareness and outreach efforts to combat hate and bias incidents.” To accomplish the outreach and prevent incidents by building bridges through communication, Delgado announced that he heads a newly-established statewide hate and bias prevention unit within the Division of Human Rights.
Baseball Takes Centerstage
American hedge fund founder and New York Mets owner Steve Cohen has launched a community conversation to reinvigorate into an entertainment venue the 50 vacant acres of asphalt used as parking lot space designed for the 1939 World’s Fair that sits opposite Citi Field. The neighboring community is a hot zone for car repair shops offering quick tire or muffler replacements. Cohen sat on the dais at the breakfast and was given the chance to highlight his five core principles of this project: put community first, build dedicated open space for the public, connect surrounding neighborhoods to the waterfront, bring year-round entertainment to life, and create good-paying local jobs and small business opportunities. Cohen was pleasantly surprised to see a handful of Mets kippahs in the audience, most notable on community advisor Alan Sherman.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” iterated Cohen after mentioned an idea like high-speed ferries connecting Citi Field to the Flushing Meadow Park waterfront as one way to excite the surrounding community, and the many Mets fans eager for a post-game activity. Michael Sullivan, Chief of Staff and Head of External Affairs at Cohen’s hedge fund Point72, has been tasked with seeing the fruition of this project.
Attorney General Awarded Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award
It was impressive to scan the ballroom as QJCC board members stood with their right hand raised, repeating their pledge to serve as dictated by Attorney General for the State of New York Letitia “Tish” James, co-recipient of annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. award. “This organization helps the poor, the hungry, visits the homebound and the elderly, and fights for the Jewish community. They fill the air with culture and music, while helping keep Jewish institutions and members of the community safe,” praised James. “Anti-Semitism is a poison that is ancient, resilient, and a deadly form of poison that all of us must fight shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, with no space between us. But our wisdom is older and when we stand together, we can overcome all types of hate.”
James spoke of the closeness between King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in their fight for social justice. “Dr. King showed our entire nation that treating each other with dignity and respect and recognizing everyone as deserving of kindness and fairness and respect, was how we heal wounds and how we make social progress,” adding, “When someone is targeted because they are deemed different, that is truly an assault on everyone that cannot be tolerated by anyone.”
Israel Is More Than Our Homeland
Consul General of Israel in New York Ambassador Asaf Zamir attended, alongside his Deputy Consul General Israel Nitzan, and Chief of Staff Francine Raubvogel; he even brought his toddler daughter along for the program. Zamir explained that we are in “a time that is mostly defined by great divide and polarization by the people that shout as loud as they can.” He acknowledged the elected officials who have traveled to Israel via JCRC Congressional trips, “This week there was another terror attack in the heart of Jerusalem, and in that terror attack six-year-old Yaakov Israel Paley, and his eight-year-old brother Asher Menachem were brutally murdered just for being Jewish. This makes ten Israelis who were killed this month.” Zamir spoke to all the Jews in the room: “Israel is a spiritual connection. It’s not 100 percent, but it’s 90 percent of Jews that feel a feeling towards Israel. No other group feels towards their homeland, their family’s land, and their eternal land that bond goes way beyond history. It’s spiritual, religion, and family based.”
Zamir also evoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “When you criticize Zionism, you are criticizing all Jews. There is no difference and it’s anti-Semitism.” Zamir urged leaders – even those where we don’t see eye to eye – to have critique, criticize governments and their policies, and similarly urged them to listen when Israelis explain their plight. He added that visiting the land will help to be more understanding of the complexity, and of the region and its history, making the visitor into a better champion of the eternal relationship that is maintained annually at the QJCC breakfast.
Zamir, alongside Howard Ingram, Associate Executive Director, Long Island, JNF, and Ben Golomb, President, JCRC-NY, presented Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. awardees Attorney General James, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards their plaques for championing the American Israeli relationship.
Outdoor Queens Borough Hall Holocaust Memorial Announced
Richards spoke of the hatred on the streets of New York. “We saw some key indicators going back to my time as Public Safety Chairman almost four or five years ago.” At the time, he helped pass legislation to create the Office to Prevent Hate Crimes and an ensuing task force through the District Attorney’s office. Richards then revealed plans for a stunning Holocaust memorial as an everlasting tribute at Queensborough Hall, to be designed by a Ukrainian paying homage to those lost at Babi Yar, a site Richards previously visited. Richards has the support of Mayor Eric Adams to stand with Israel. “Even as I get around the borough and I see the investments in schools, libraries, and hospitals and see as they are being constructed with new industries taking flight, it is so important to remain connected to the Jewish community that plays a major role in the fabric of Queens.”
Education Begins At The Dinner Table
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz spoke of partnership and the work of her office to use the judicial system to prosecute hate crimes because the victim wore a kippah or hijab. “It’s about holding people liable for the underlying crime; it’s about my office meeting with the UJA last week to figure out how to spend the money to protect our shuls; it’s about JCRC taking Jewish and non-Jewish City Council members to Israel.” When David Weprin, Howard Pollack, and Katz were in Sderot, the kibbutz next to them was getting bombed. They took shelter in the local mayor’s office and then returned to the kibbutz to show support for the Israeli people. “The lessons that I learned in partnership is remarkable. It’s about working with the RNSP – Rockaway Nassau Safety Patrol out of the 100 and 101 precincts to protect against a burglar who was in a residential home. He’s now serving two years.”
Katz mentioned how she corrects her children at the dinner table if they say anything about another community, or our community. “It starts in the homes, and we have to make sure that we explain to our children why nothing is appropriate, not appropriate in a locker room and it’s not appropriate at my dinner table.”
Meng Is A Crucial Friend To Israel
Congress Member Grace Meng, co-chair of the House’s new bipartisan task force vetting anti-Semitism, noted that according to the FBI, Jews are the most targeted group or religion in the US, but more frightening is that acts of anti-Semitism more than doubled over the last two years. The task force pledges to call out and condemning the words of politicians and candidates, and extremists who speak unacceptably. “Because of the collaboration between different communities, this legislation will now force the Department of Justice and our federal government to take a more serious look at what’s happening.” In singling out Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for his work with nonprofit security grants and their record-breaking $305 million for this program, Meng, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, added, “You cannot mend what you cannot measure, and there are multiple large cities [Chicago and Los Angeles], large law enforcement agencies that on any given year report that no hate crimes have occurred in their jurisdiction, and as much as we’d like for that to be true, we know that that is not true.”
As Vice Chair of the State and Foreign Operations Committee, Meng and her colleagues are responsible for funding all the activities of the State Department, “I helped secure the 3.3 billion in security assistance for Israel without conditions. We have continued to lead the effort to secure the annual $500 million in missile defense fund spending that the US provides to Israel from security priorities to our civil society. I will continue to champion bipartisan legislation that enhances cooperation between the US and Israel, and I look forward to continuing our partnership together.” Rabbi Daniel Pollack, a Special Liaison to Meng, was present for the program.
JCRC-NY Partnership Is Vital
Golomb, President of JCRC-NY, who attended alongside his Director of Community Affairs Howard Pollack, related, “We all had to live through the COVID experience, and we all can remember the excitement as we were able to begin to return to face to face meetings. I was talking to one of these engineers, and I said, ‘How does it feel now that you can actually leave your apartment in Queens and begin to go back to work?’ and he said, ‘Well, we’re not afraid of COVID, but my wife’s afraid to take the subway to the city because she’s an Asian American.’ Think about how sad that is at some deep level that we emerge from this horrible pandemic that kills hundreds of thousands of people, yet the fear was not the virus, it was the hatred of Asian Americans.” On the JCRC’s Community Security Initiative, Golomb spoke of how it saved lives. “The initiative was able to identify someone filled with hate who had weapons and was seeking to actually murder people.” On the importance of Israel, “It goes beyond the intellectual, it’s emotional, it’s deep. My father, a Holocaust survivor, was rescued and brought to Israel as a tremendously crippled orphan.”
Also present were State Senators John Liu, Toby Stavisky, and Joe Addabbo; Assembly Members Speaker Pro Tempore Jeffrion L. Aubry, Ed Braunstein, Catalina Cruz, Andrew Hevesi, Ron Kim, Stacey Pheffer Amato, Jennifer, Jenifer Rajkumar, Daniel Rosenthal, Nily Rozic, David Weprin, Alicia Hyndman; New York City Council Members Joann Ariola, Tiffany Cabán, Jim Gennaro, Linda Lee, Vickie Paladino, Lynn Schulman, and Sandra Ung; Judges Sid Krauss, former Supreme Court Judge George Grasso, and Criminal Division and Housing Court Judge George Payne were also present.
Also, Eva Wyner, Deputy Director of Jewish Affairs for the New York State Executive Chamber; Pinny Hikind, Special Liaison to NYC Comptroller Brad Lander; Pesach Osina, Special Liaison to NYC Council Speaker Adrienne Adams; Menashe Shapiro, Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor Eric Adams; Shraga Teichman, co-founder of the 7,000+ strong KGH Facebook group; Robert Zimmerman, who ran against Rep. George Santos in the Queens/Great Neck seat, topped off the list. Met Council helps the QJCC on their mission of needing the poor; CEO David Greenfield and managing Director for Legal and External Affairs Aaron Cyperstein were on hand.