“I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”
These are the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While it is quite basic and a bit of a tongue twister, this message is filled with depth that requires contemplation. King once related this idea in a dynamic speech on leadership at King Chapel at Cornell College, Mount Vernon, Iowa, on October 15, 1962. Now, read the passage again and realize how the orator desired to remove the stigma of people speaking, as if he was giving a monologue, and instead open a dialogue. This is precisely what Mayor Eric Adams accomplished this past Thursday evening, August 10, when I was a chosen representative of the NYPD Shomrim Society, a fraternal organization of Jewish members of the New York City Police Department, to share Jewish culture with those less familiar. I was joined by Queens community members Brad Martin, a QBSP-Shmira Board Member and volunteer, and his wife Jennifer, a Community Board 8 member, in support of the Mayor’s B4 initiative “Breaking Bread, Building Bonds,” being led by the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit (CAU). The Martins and I thank Inspector Richie Taylor, Commanding Officer of the NYPD’s Community Affairs Unit, Community Outreach Division, whom I was privileged to escort into the event; Detective Josh Zucker, Second Vice President, National Shomrim Society; and Lieutenant Ben Gelber, who serves at the 112th police precinct in Forest Hills, for finding us to be in good standing from the Queens Jewish community where we serve as positive community contributors, amongst other mentors, volunteers, advocates, innovators, enthusiasts, and spiritual leaders.
Inspector Taylor’s officers were on hand at nearly every one of the few dozen tables that dotted a spacious light-filled loft in Building 5 at Industry City in Bush Terminal Piers Park, Sunset Park. The event successfully cultivated the immense diversity of our city and brought tables of New Yorkers together to learn about common bonds, share cultures and traditions, and break down silos between communities. We all learned that there is more that bonds us than divides us. I was proud to attend an event where New Yorkers felt united regardless of their background. Per the Mayor’s direction, B4 is determined to organize one thousand meals and conversations across the city, with ten or more everyday people from New York City’s diverse communities where the group comes together to learn about one another. My conversations were in tandem with the Mayor’s hope to bring tolerance and appreciation, tearing down walls that allow us to better respect one another. In kind, the venue was doing its part to positively impact the greater Sunset Park neighborhood by being accessible and inclusive to the Mayor’s aesthetic and aspiration. The signature venue was right on the Brooklyn waterfront in view of the iconic Statue of Liberty, a symbol of New York’s diverse multi-generational ecosystem and the embodiment of hope and opportunity for those seeking a better life in America while stirring the desire for freedom worldwide.
Speaking to his fraternal organizations, Mayor Adams stated, “The bad guys are lining up together; the good guys now need to know each other. We should be the biggest gang in town: a gang of very good people solving our everyday problems on the ground. Nothing would be more powerful than this room here; go into a shelter where our new arrivals have been to the city and just say we want to spend a day helping. We opened a new center to help people fill out their applications so they can become citizens and be given the right to work.” The Mayor then spoke of the generosity of New Yorkers. “I was blown away, when I went there yesterday: the number of attorneys who were volunteering their time. They are saying, ‘We don’t want to go back to our law firms. This has been the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had.’ There’s something contagious about giving back and helping someone else. If you were to close your eyes and listen to your own story, everyone in this room came from somewhere. Can you imagine upon your time landing here, if your parents or grandparents were told that you can’t work, nor provide for your family. There’s nothing more anti-American than not having the right to work. That’s the precursor to sleep that allows us all to experience the American dream. That’s the nightmare that is happening to 97,000 human beings that are saying to me every time I see them, we don’t want anything free from anyone in New York; we want to contribute to New York. We just want to work.”
The Mayor concluded, “I found that as I moved through Brooklyn, which is one of the most diverse boroughs in the country, if not the globe, that many people didn’t know each other.” The Mayor pointed to examples of people who wear a kufi, hijab, yarmulke, or turban, why people sit in a sukkah, or what stands behind a celebration like Kwanzaa. “We live in the city with all of this diversity, but we don’t communicate with each other. The conversation of breaking bread to building bonds is because food has the value of allowing people to just engage and talk.”
Industry City felt like being at home for the members of law enforcement in attendance as described by the grandson of the owner whose grandfather served in the Bronx’s 41st precinct: “My mother carries a picture of my grandfather in his uniform everywhere she goes. She wears his ring on her hand every single day. Those are the two most prized possessions that she has, and it is such an honor for us to be a part in some way of this great family.”
The venue was spectacular, the conversations were thought-provoking, and the kosher dairy cuisine was on par with the Mayor’s vision for allowing everyone to feel at home. However, New York City’s most famous vegan did not force his personal food choice on his guests, who feasted on chicken and rice. I was quite content with my baked ziti and garlic knots, while other frum Jews enjoyed eggplant parmesan. Many thanks to Inspector Taylor for personally bringing in these meals. We were each happy to find a table where we knew nobody and lean into the discomfort to emerge with new acquaintances.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Employee Relations Lisa D. Whitefor spoke passionately about the need for New Yorkers to have respect. “Where can we find over 800 languages where we all can come together and be a part of the united nation,” adding, “This is a pivotal time within New York where we see each other come together and break the stigma amongst the various cultures gathered.”
Inspector Taylor spoke on behalf of Police Commissioner Ed Caban, Chief of Department Jeff Maddrey, and Deputy Commissioner Community Affairs Mark Stewart, “We have 36,000 police officers in New York City. The vast majority of them have families, and they are working around the clock to keep people safe between arrests, overtime, and their children. We work to make our city better and better.” Taylor added in the name of the Mayor, “We are made of the best stuff on earth and there is no place we would rather be.”
By Shabsie Saphirstein