On Thursday, June 13, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio hosted the annual Jewish Heritage Reception at Gracie Mansion. The event was supported by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC), UJA-Federation of NY, the Sephardic Community Federation, the NY Board of Rabbis (NYBR), Bnai Zion Foundation and Plaza Jewish Community Chapel. Joining Mayor DeBlasio was former mayor David Dinkins and City Council Member Chaim Deutsch. Israeli Deputy Consul General Israel Nitzan and NYBR Executive VP Rabbi Joseph Potasnik were among the many Jewish religious and business leaders treated to a glatt kosher barbecue provided by Mendy’s and entertained by the a cappella group Six13.
In his introductory remarks, Rabbi Michael Miller, CEO of JCRC explained, “There are two threshold issues for the Jewish community: anti-Semitism and Israel. Regrettably, we have seen disturbing developments on both fronts; we have seen a spike in anti-Semitic expressions, coupled with challenges to Israel’s very existence.”
Miller added, “We are very fortunate in New York to have a mayor who has taken on both of these issues directly, bluntly and unequivocally, Bill DeBlasio believes the only way to address hatred is head on. He knows that the surge of anti-Semitism means that if it isn’t checked, it can lead to horrible violence.”
Miller said that the mayor is not all just words but also actions, and informed the audience that the mayor recently announced a new office for the prevention of hate crimes. He said that he and Mayor DeBlasio had been on three trips to Israel together, noting that, “as a prominent progressive here in New York and nationally, he has publically made a clear and unequivocal case against BDS. As a progressive, he views BDS as a threat to progress. To the mayor, BDS is horrible, unacceptable and utterly out of tune with the values of New Yorkers. Bill Deblasio’s commitment to battle anti-Semitism and to protect the Jewish community is in lockstep with his commitment to the safety, security and viability of the State of Israel.”
Miller then presented DeBlasio with “The Desert and The City Sing, Discovering Today’s Israel,” a unique multimedia gift box celebrating many aspects of Israel.
With a hearty ‘Shalom,’ the mayor welcomed his guests to the ‘peoples’ house.’ He began with a “thank you to all of you, because this community has done so much to define New York City for generations. This community is a core part of who we are.”
He commented that not only were some of the city’s greatest leaders Jewish, but also that many favorite local foods come from this community and how most New Yorkers use a few Yiddish phrases in their daily conversation. The mayor continued, “If you love New York City, if you love all that we stand for, if you love how we have become great, then you have to love our Jewish community. “
The Mayor then quizzed the audience on which city has the largest Jewish community. He was very proud that his 1.2 million Jewish residents exceed Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. “This City has been a place of welcome for Jewish people going back to 1654,” educated the Mayor. He noted that 23 Jews from Brazil arrived in what was then New Amsterdam and grew into one of the greatest Jewish communities ever.
“For millennia, the Jewish people have faced threats, have faced danger, and have faced exclusion. We never rest and we never become unvigilant in the face of these threats,” reminded DeBlasio. “This City has had to be a beacon, a place where Jewish people knew there would be respect, there would be protection, and there would be embrace. This is the magic of New York. An affront to one community is an affront to all communities. An attack on the Jewish Community is an attack on all of us.”
Touting his new Prevention of Hate Crimes office, the Mayor revealed that 60% of the increase in hate crimes this year has been against the Jewish community. NYPD has made 19% more arrests this year for these crimes. To anyone contemplating any type of bias against the Jewish community, the Mayor’s message is, “If you commit a hate crime in New York City, we will find you, we will arrest you, we will prosecute you and you will go to jail. It is as simple as that.”
The Mayor declared, “I am a proud New Yorker, I am a proud American, I am a proud Democrat, I am a proud Progressive and I oppose BDS with everything I have got!” He continued, “If you undermine the economy of Israel, if you make it harder for Israel to prosper, it takes away that great strength of Israel that it must have for its survival. That takes away one of the underpinnings of peace. I believe that peace is possible, peace requires a strong economy, peace requires opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians alike. BDS is undermining the possibilities of peace by trying to destroy that economy and we will not let them do it.”
Then the Mayor presented entertainer Joel Grey with an official proclamation that Thursday, June 13, 2019, was ‘Joel Grey Day’ in New York City. The Mayor explained that Grey, who has an Oscar, a Tony, and a Golden Globe award, has appeared in every show from the Muppet Show to Law and Order. He began his career in his father’s Yiddish Theater off-Broadway and returned to those roots, as he is currently directing the Yiddish version of Fiddler on the Roof.
In attendance were New Rochelle residents Meir Lewis and Susie Meyers, both representing Yeshiva University. “I thought it was a beautiful outdoor barbecue on a gorgeous, sunny day,” described Lewis and, “overall, it was an impressive gathering of Jewish community leaders.” Meyers added, “It was a lovely evening and so important to see so many representatives of the Jewish community present.”
By Judy Berger