“Chanukah tells us a story of the Jewish people coming together on their own to fight back against an invading force,” said Congress Member Meng at her Chanukah party, held traditionally on the Sunday morning prior to the holiday. “As Israel defends itself against terror and as the world faces horrifying instances of anti-Semitism, you are not alone. We saw what happened, we witnessed what happened. We believe you, you are not alone, you will not be abandoned, and you will not be neglected.”

The event was held at Union Care Plaza Center for the third-year running, and drew a wide range of elected officials, each praising Meng’s unequivocal support for the State of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole. “We’ve learned in the last 60-odd days about achdus, the togetherness of the people who understand what happened and are together to defeat evil,” said Shimi Pelman, proprietor of the Flushing senior care and rehabilitation facility and longtime Meng advocate, also noting the presence of Mrs. Esther Friedman, a partner at the center. While highlighting the miracles of the holiday, speakers took note of the unacceptable rise in anti-Semitic sentiments in educational institutions and reaffirmed commitment to combat this issue. Entertainment was provided by a well-received performance showcasing Bukharian heritage, sung by a segment of Conductor Itzhak Haimov’s Atid Boys Choir.

AM David Weprin (second from left), Yaakov Serle, R' Aaron Katz, Hon. David Greenfield, DL Shimi Pelman

“We’re living during very perilous times,” opened Rabbi Daniel Pollack, Meng’s Jewish liaison. “What’s going on in Israel has struck the very heart of our people, the Jewish nation.” Pollack noted that Jews are under attack on an international level, with anti-Semitism running rampant, but brought a message of hope. Chanukah’s story of the Hasmonaean priests standing up to wage war against the Syrian Greeks over a period three years to cleanse the influences of Greek society culminated in reestablishment of the holy Temple and the lighting of its menorah. The short days and darkness that pervades its long nights allude to the light and hope that are the essence of winter holiday. Life prevails through the darkness. “We’re going to have hope that by coming together as a team as an effort among all our society and our community, we’re going to work to bring people to shine the light of Israel upon the world.”

“It’s okay to be fair and equitable and still be for Israel,” stated Queens DA Melinda Katz of the qualities Meng brings to her office daily. “We are a county of 190 countries and 200 languages. We can stand for Israel,” its right to exist, thrive, and protect its people while still having fair and equitable prosecution here in the borough of Queens County for any hate crime. “It is the time of miracles. So, let’s have the miracle of peace in the next year to come,” Katz concluded.

“This morning, we woke up knowing that 137 members of our extended family are being held in captivity,” related Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “Our community is showing up in a way that I have never seen before.” Levine spoke of all spectrums of the Jewish religion standing in unison against “the haters who are out in full force.”

Members of Conductor Itzhak Haimov’s Atid Boys Choir, a Bukharian boys group, sung uplifting tunes at CM Grace Meng's pre-Chanukah celebration

NYC Council Member Lynn Schulman, Queens’ only Jewish Caucus member, spoke as well. “Last week, the house unanimously passed a resolution demanding Hamas to immediately release all hostages taken. That speaks to the deep bipartisan support for Israel’s people in Congress.” She added, “In the past few years, when there was a rise of hate and discrimination against our Asian American community, it was many in the Jewish community here and around the country that reached out to me and asked how they could help. They literally helped me write legislation like the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act.”

“Chanukah is the holiday of life,” said Consul for Public Diplomacy at the Israeli Consulate in New York, Yuval Donio-Gideon. “It was never so obvious who’s righteous and who’s evil.” Donio-Gideon called the gathering a celebration “on what’s good,” noting that Israel will prevail because “our spirit is stronger” and that we are “confident in the righteousness of our way.”

“Our people are bonded for life and that this is one of the reasons that we have to be in Congress, to protect the Jewish community and to make sure that our communities are working together,” said Meng of her first Congressional run, when her grandmother revealed a tattered black and white booklet bearing the title Jews in Shanghai, explaining the need to learn its history. NYC Council Member Kalman Yeger’s grandfather was one of the Shanghai Jews described in the work. Yeger has built a lasting friendship with Meng, spanning longer than most in her political circle. Yeger often thanks the large Asian American population in his Brooklyn district for their historical generosity to the Jewish people.

CM Grace Meng joined by friends Linda Spiegel, on left, and Francine Raubvogel at her Chanukah party

Meng spoke of Simchas Torah night when she visited district shuls and cried with constituents as she broke the devastating news coming out of Israel. “It’s okay to express sympathy. It is okay to even disagree with how a government may make decisions. We do that with our own government here in the United States, but it is not okay to do it in a way that puts a target on the backs of any community, including the Jewish community. In many circles around this country, around the city, around the world, it has been trendy to become anti-Semitic. Is it really about the decisions of the Israeli government or is it about the Jewish people because the lines have been blurred very frequently in recent weeks.” Meng continued by highlighting local and national anti-Semitism in our schooling system, stating that we must speak out and educate by smaller incidents like graffiti, or mutterings of peers.

“It is at times like these when we see who our friends are,” stated David Greenfield, CEO of Met Council, after praising those present. “A lot of the people we thought were our friends, not only are not our friends, they’re actually our enemies.” Greenfield discussed the shock Jewish businesspeople have been facing as “milky toe,” “wishy, washy friends” are revealed. “It is overwhelming to be a Jewish American leader today,” he said, adding, “We will never forget your friendship.”

“They’re protesting your offices, they are threatening you, they’re cornering you in hallways. It’s really just terrible,” said former Assemblymember Daniel Rosenthal, Government Relations at the UJA-Federation, of Israel’s political allies.

Jason Koppel, (second from left), R' Michael Miller, Robert Zimmerman, R' Daniel Pollack

“It’s an unmasking of antisemitism. It’s an antisemitism that’s already there,” declared Yeger. “But societally people have decided now is the time to show it and they’re getting a free pass to do it by too many people in public office, the Hamas caucuses of our various legislative chambers. They don’t like when you say that because they don’t want to be called out for what they are. But there are members in Queens in the state legislature who are vicious, violent, the Semites, they’re proud of it. They don’t like to be called in the Semites, but they’re proud of it in what they say and what they do and what they think about us.”

“Chanukah is a commemoration of bravery, a festival whose bright lights cut through the darkness and oppression, bigotry and ignorance,” said Bennett Golub, President at JCRC-NY. “The Maccabees had to fight bravely to obtain our freedom to be Jews.” Golub concluded with Meng’s bravery as a leader who withstands “the slings and arrows of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist bigots who constantly post on social media,” and “stands with her community when hate filled protesters gather at her door and the leader who rises on the floor of the United States Congress to condemn the murderous barbarous fanatics of Hamas.”

“Chanukah literally celebrates the victory of people who all wanted life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” concluded Yeger.

 By Shabsie Saphirstein