On Thursday, May 23, over 200 people attended the annual UJA Westchester Government Relations Legislative Breakfast held at Temple Israel Center in White Plains.
In his opening remarks, Joseph Rafalowicz, chair of UJA’s Westchester Government Relations, revealed that “this is the largest breakfast we had for someone who is not running for president of the United States.”
“This annual forum is a collaborative effort of UJA and Westchester Jewish Council (WJC) to provide an opportunity for the Westchester Jewish community to hear from our elected officials and other key decision makers in our local, regional and national governments,” he continued.
In his welcoming remarks, Westchester County Executive George Latimer reflected on the recent Yom HaShoah event at the Garden of Remembrance in White Plains: “What that experience tells us is what happens when government goes off the rails. What today is about, as I see it, each one of us has a role to play, and if we play that role well, we serve as the bulwark against the types of things that happened in Germany and Eastern Europe almost 100 years ago. And we have to be mindful, as we all understand, that that spirit is still out there.”
The keynote speaker of the event was the Honorable Letitia James, New York State attorney general. “As a member of the New York City Council, I represented Fort Green, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights and Crown Heights. For 10 years I represented Crown Heights so I am considered an honorary Lubavitch,” she said. “There has never been a greater need for organizations like this and the message of unity, friendship and peace that you spread both near and far. Because we find ourself in deeply troubling times, we have seen an alarming rise in acts of anti-Semitism not just in countries far away but right here in our beloved New York.”
James revealed that “New York is among the top three states in the country when it comes to the number of anti-Semitic incidents. It is critically important that we hold hands and immediately respond together. There is no tolerance of hate of any kind, not here in Westchester, not in Brooklyn, not anywhere in New York or in our country.” She then discussed a trip to Israel, sitting with a Jewish friend on the bus. They were touring cities under attack over the green line. She recalled it being a hot and humid day and this friend took off his yarmulka and put on a baseball cap. “I said, ‘It is hot outside. Why are you putting on a baseball cap? And why are you taking off your yarmulka?’ He turned and looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘Tish, I can’t wear my yarmulka in this part of town.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘It is not safe.’” After a long pause, James continued, “I sat on the bus for a few minutes and then it hit me like someone had just stabbed me, because no one should be denied their individuality, no one should have to hide who they pray to, no one should hide their basic identity and that was totally unacceptable. For that reason alone, and because of that one experience, that is what holds me close to the Jewish community. Because I can recall, and still to this day, when individuals of African ancestry were spat upon, were discriminated against and were denied their humanity. That is what binds us together. That is what connects us. That is our common thread and that is something you and I will never forget.” James promised, “I will strongly take any action against any individual, or anyone or any group that thinks otherwise and use every tool at my disposal to protect New Yorkers and ensure truth and justice is served. And I will prosecute any and every one of any group to the fullest extent of the law.”
By Judy Berger