This past Friday morning, January 21, the Queens Jewish Community Council (QJCC), Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Queens College, and The Ibrahim Program hosted a breakfast forum at the Student Union Building Ballroom of Queens College welcoming Ambassador Asaf Zamir, the Consul General of Israel in New York.
Zamir who began his tenure just over three months ago, represents New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Delaware in addition to New York. Born in 1980, Zamir assumed the role of Deputy Mayor of the Tel Aviv City Council in 2008 and was responsible for the city’s educational system. Zamir was appointed Minister of Tourism in May of 2020 under the national unity government as part of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid’s Blue and White Party, resigning shortly thereafter to help form the current and most diverse government in Israeli history under Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Frank Wu, President of Queens College, visited Israel on a study tour with the American Jewish Committee in 2001 and has since admired their “propensity for technological innovation.” Wu recognized that Queens College has a student body representing over 145 nations with 96 languages spoken. “Our campus, our institution, an engine of the American dream, boasts one of the most diverse student populations of any institution of higher education in the great nation of ours.”
Michael Nussbaum, President of the QJCC and a Queens College alumnus, noted of the organization, “We are proud that the Council, although we have the name Jewish in it, is more than that. I’d like to think that we are the umbrella organization for the Jewish community and Jewish programs and institutions in Queens, but we reach out and work with the diversity in Queens and the great people of the City of New York.”
Sophia Salguero McGee, Director of the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding, quoted the Abraham Accords as being an example of the interfaith programming of her group. “The parties undertake to foster mutual understanding, respect, coexistence, and a culture of peace between their societies in the spirit of their common ancestor, Abraham.”
In attendance were Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, Senators Joseph Addabbo and John Liu; Assembly Members Ed Braunstein, Nily Rozic, David Weprin, and Daniel Rosenthal; Council Members Linda Lee, Lynn Schulman, Sandra Ung, and Natasha Williams; and District Leader Shimi Pelman, amongst diverse interfaith leaders.
Queens Borough President Richards, who previously visited Israel with the JCRC, noted, “There is a long tradition in this borough and in the Borough President’s office in working with the Israeli community, and I reconfirm my commitment to the Israeli community right here in Queens.” Richards took note of the Texas hostage situation and ensured that anti-Semitism and its ignorance will always be stomped out in Queens, using the words of Dr. Martin Luther King: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Ambassador Zamir explained, “Since arriving, I have learned and gotten acquainted with many amazing communities, leadership, elected officials in the City, and looking at some of the challenges that some of my friends at the Consulate have, the amount of partners we have to tackle these goals is enormous.” At the event, Zamir found good leaders who understand that the only way to better lives is together.
On the rise of anti-Semitism at college, Zamir added, “For the Jewish student, campuses present a different reality than they did five, ten, 15, and 20 years ago. I say this sadly, that we have a lot of work to do.” There are campuses where youth cannot wear a Magen David or a yarmulke proudly.
Mayer Waxman, Executive Director of the QJCC, expressed, “Ambassador Zamir was in good spirits when he addressed the crowd, making all feel welcomed. The ambassador made the attendees feel that Israel has something positive to offer to them.”
Zamir acknowledged that while there is no longer complete bipartisan support for Israel in the US, there are many opportunities to develop a conversation about Israel that goes deeper than the binary ones happening today. “You can be pro the Jewish person’s right to self-determine himself and his ancestral right to Israel, as well as his rights for humanity and equality.”
Queens’ diversity represents the world, and we must respect our communities and our individualities. Nussbaum noted that when “we go back into our shtetls, we have to engage with everybody and learn to work and pull together.”
By Shabsie Saphirstein