It seems the mayor was right – former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, that is. On his WABC radio show Chat With The Mayor, Giuliani took a question from a caller asking the mayor’s take on the planned caravan in Queens. “Rabbi Moses, I do hope the cars will be socially distanced,” he quipped. The mayor then blessed the program with success and hope for its safety.
Indeed, this past Sunday afternoon’s “Back the Blue” community appreciation parade in acknowledgement of our local NYPD went off without a hitch. Over 500 Queens families in vehicles participated in the procession that departed the 107th station house on Parsons Boulevard in Kew Gardens Hills shortly after 11 a.m. As the caravan of residents honked in thankfulness as they passed the front doors of the precinct, they were in turn greeted by waves from police officers, Assembly Member David Weprin, and area one board members of the local Community Board 8. Members in attendance included interim chair Meshulam Lisker, Sorelle Bennett-Idels, Joshua Glikman, Jennifer Martin, Shimi Pelman, and Jacob Weinberg. As the procession passed the intersection of 71st Avenue and Parsons Boulevard, they were greeted by the 107 commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Scott Henry, who was amazed at the turnout. “There are hundreds upon hundreds of cars here stretching to both corners. It is humbling to see the community come out so strong,” said the Deputy Inspector, as the convoy departed for the 112th precinct in Forest Hills. Department rules forbid officers to join a march, even a pro-cop rally, but officers can ensure safety and wave to onlookers.
At the close of June, the media portrayed growing worldwide tensions against law enforcement following several unfortunate incidents involving police officers. Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, rav of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, conceived an idea for neighborhood families to salute the local NYPD precincts with a honking convoy passing both the 107 and 112 stationhouses. A Sunday afternoon was chosen when both commanding officers would be on hand to witness the expression of admiration for their hard work. “We are so proud we were able to offer our beleaguered police the encouragement they need. This is not just a message to the police, but to all city elected officials including our local ones: “We stand by our police. You should, too!’” explained Rabbi Schonfeld. Later that afternoon, the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills was set to host a virtual synagogue reception, yet the rabbi set aside time to lead the parade as a symbol of respect and devotion for the exertion of the NYPD.
The nationwide resentment for law enforcement drew particular interest from the Queens community, beckoning some 20-odd homegrown organizations to call on the community to exhibit their backing of the police. Yaakov Serle, co-publisher of the Queens Jewish Link and the Bukharian Jewish Link, noted the unprecedented collaboration. “What a tremendous kiddush Hashem it was for Queens families to show support for the NYPD. Such an undertaking was only possible with the team effort of the various organizations, schools, shuls, and leaders who lent their time to make a positive impact on New York’s Finest.”
Other pro-police events throughout the borough and around the State were at times met with negative resistance. In the days leading up to this expression of solidarity, various personalities and outside media took notice. Like Giuliani, another WABC anchor and mayoral candidate, Curtis Sliwa, brought attention to the parade on his program Curtis & Juliet. Back in 1979, when crime was rampant in New York City, Sliwa formed the Guardian Angels, a volunteer safety patrol group that marched in red berets voicing the need for justice and empowerment of individuals. The group continues today, and a couple of their members participated in the Sunday convoy. Veteran CBS2 News reporter Dave Carlin portrayed a positive representation of the event and covered the entire procession. Carlin took a moment to speak with Assembly Member David Weprin, who supports various levels of police reform. “We have already seen an increase in gun violence. I have no tolerance for disrespect and violence from anyone.” Making a splash in his pickup truck clad with American flags was Republican congressional candidate Tom Zmich, who proclaimed, “I am a proud American who served in the US Army Reserve and understand the daily dedication of service from our police officers.”
Shimi Pelman built a career caring for those confined to a nursing home. In 1979, Pelman began to dedicate his time to Tomchei Shabbos of Queens, delivering meals to the needy, and now sits as its president. Pelman is also well-versed in the political arena as the male Queens County Democratic District Leader for the 27th Assembly District. Upon arrival at the 107th precinct, Pelman had prearranged for the delivery of meals in recognition of the officers. “Our police officers took an oath to protect and serve. Each day, these officers put their lives on the line to safeguard our neighborhood. Watching the event unfold so seamlessly with smiles all around was an absolute delight,” proclaimed Pelman.
The fleet of cars and trucks of all shapes and sizes, filled with community members sharing messages of support for the police, was met by officers at the intersections of Main Street and Park Drive East as they drove along Jewel Avenue toward Forest Hills. Some vehicles displayed window art reading, “Thank you, NYPD,” “Back the Blue!” and “G-d bless the NYPD.” One passerby wondered if these families went out to purchase the liquid pens, used for this artwork, special for this occasion, or if they had it readily available from a recent quarantine graduation celebration. Other cars printed out their own colorful, considerate signage to display from their windows: “We support our police. Thank you for protecting our families and community,” “We appreciate our police. Thank you, NYPD,” “Cops are tops,” read some, while one brought the hometown message that exemplified the essence of the parade: “Raised and living in KGH, thank you for working to keep us safe,” read the sign bearing an American flag.
Queens Borough Safety Patrol (QBSP) – Shmira – brought a lineup of its members to assist the police officers in keeping order. Members also readily offered their services to help officers reorganize metal barriers at the 112 at the conclusion of the event. QBSP volunteers are unarmed safety patrol officers who are often called to serve the community for a variety of safety and security issues throughout our neighborhoods. Yoni Fricker, a coordinator at Shmira, voiced his appreciation for their partnership with the local precincts of the NYPD. “Shmira regularly interacts with police officers and we see their devotion firsthand. It was most apropos for our members to stand in unity, showing admiration to the NYPD for their daily sacrifice,” pointed out Fricker.
Alan Sherman, a longtime Queens community advisor, took a leading hand in the promotion and coordination for the event’s logistics. “Events like this caravan make me proud to be an American,” detailed Sherman. “There is definitely a silent majority of Americans who believe in law and order,” he continued, referencing those who are dismayed by the lack of respect shown to police officers throughout the nation. “We are blessed to live in this country. I hope the few loud opponents do not mess it up; it does not matter what your race, gender, or sexual preference is, we are all Americans and must learn to respect each other for our differences.”
Rabbi Yaniv Meirov joined the convoy along with his wife and family to show support for the everyday work of the local police departments. The Chazaq Organization, where he is CEO, took on a part to inform the community of the parade. “Similar to voting and partaking in the census, showing allegiance with our commanding officers and their officers is part of what it means to be an American. The unity of the many local Jewish organizations that organized this program is a testament of our support for the NYPD,” said Meirov.
Cynthia Zalisky, executive director at the Queens Jewish Community Council (QJCC), joined the procession along with her son Jonathan. Mrs. Zalisky has much pride for the neighborhoods of Queens and is often front and center dealing with the issues that beset the borough. “It was an honor to join my friends in organizing this display of care for our officers. All year, the QJCC works to better the lives of those in need of a helping hand, and today we were able to extend that hand to thank the members of law enforcement who protect us without fear.”
As the motorcade of hazard lights and beeping horns made its way down Yellowstone Boulevard, they were met by officers from the 112th precinct. Once again, applause for the officers was returned with warm waves of greeting from the members of law enforcement. For much of the demonstration of support, Lieutenant John (Sean) Dolphin, who works out of the offices in the 112th facility, was on hand to usher the automobiles at the busy intersection of Austin Street and Yellowstone Boulevard, the crossroads of the Forest Hills precinct. Our show of solidarity was certainly a breath of fresh air for the lieutenant, who had seen appalling detestation for the badge he so proudly dons. Further along the boulevard, the precinct’s commanding officer, Captain Joseph E. Cappelmann, who took over the reins roughly five months ago, was on hand to greet the local citizens. As the caravan of care drew to the back at the 112th stationhouse, Captain Cappelmann remarked, “I truly appreciate all the support; it was a beautiful turnout from the community.”
In advance of the event, the Alliance of Bukharian Americans (ABA) had teamed up with our sister publication, the Bukharian Jewish Link, to inform and educate the neighbors of Forest Hills and Rego Park of how best to “back the blue.” In turn, the Bukharian community joined the spectacle, adding their cars to the mix on Yellowstone Boulevard.
Sorelle Idels, founder of the Queens Jewish Alliance, is one community activist not shy to display her appreciation for law enforcement. In recent weeks, Mrs. Idels has been busy distributing 20,000 masks to local causes in conjunction with the Office of the Mayor of New York, but on Sunday afternoon she stood proud beside friends and colleagues at the entrance of the 107th precinct, waving and cheering as the caravan of neighbors passed. “Seeing the camaraderie among our communities is something quite special to witness. The members of law enforcement work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep us safe, and the least we can do is show up to say thank you,” expressed Idels.
Jennifer Martin has spent the better part of the last quarter century serving our community as a funeral director and manager at Schwartz Brothers-Jeffer and Forest Parks Chapels on Queens Boulevard. Mrs. Martin also often works behind the scenes advocating for expansion of services for the Jewish community and beyond throughout Queens. “Assisting in the coordination for the honking caravan of appreciation for our local precincts was a special accomplishment,” stated Martin. With her husband at the wheel and her sons in tow, the Martins raised the American flag proudly from their glistening blue Jeep, standing as a beacon of unity as they drove from Kew Gardens Hills through the streets of Forest Hills. Both neighborhoods house an array of institutions and houses of worship alongside tens of thousands of residents who have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with their local police departments. “Our nation is in the midst of a tough discourse that has put the work and dedication of law enforcement on the frontline. This event was our community’s way to acknowledge the daily and tireless service of the NYPD,” concluded Martin.
No matter what one calls this past Sunday’s event, it most definitely was a successful showcase of communal unity for a good cause. The combination of two-dozen neighborhood organizations, leaders, schools, shuls, and individuals all shared in the message of backing our local police, who work tirelessly on our behalf, especially among the difficult conditions of our current climate.
By Shabsie Saphirstein