“An event like tonight’s has its clear positives – it is empowering, it is educational, it is about communities banding together, and it highlights the government support there is against hate,” stated Rabbi Mayer Waxman, Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community Council (QJCC), this past Monday evening, April 25, at an informative discussion held between Jews and Asian Americans to combat hate. The conversation, sponsored by the QJCC and StandWithUs, gave advice on how one should respond to the rising incidents of hate attacks and gave an understanding why these attacks transpire.

Community-based approaches dealing with hate crime prevention was the general theme of the talk. The keynote address delivered by Congress Member Grace Meng was well received. The Representative explained that although there is political and communal outrage to hate crimes, there is virtually no data on individual incidents. Meng, who encourages more collaborative events, pledged to work on the creation of a hate crime log and is leading the effort to put such legislation in place.

An event highlight was the revelations of survivors of such attacks. A Jewish and an Asian victim took to the podium to explain how they were confronted for what they represent to the outside world. These two individuals rose above the stigma of being labeled a victim and discussed how they overcame their troubles. Joseph “Joey” Borgen marked one year since the gang assault on the streets of Manhattan that drew national attention for the college student simply wearing his yarmulke as he headed to a pro-Jewish rally. Attendees also heard from Eun Hee Chang, a 61-year-old woman of Korean descent, who had been slashed outside an Elmhurst pizzeria, and Noel Quintana, a 61-year-old Filipino American man, who was slashed in the face with a boxcutter while riding the subway in a crowded car in Brooklyn.

Waxman pointed out, “There is clearly a deep connection between the American Jewish Community and the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.” Waxman was referencing the upcoming concurrent dates for Jewish American Heritage Month and Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.

Waxman also related the story of Father Martin Niemöller, a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany at the turn of the 20th century, who enthusiastically welcomed the Third Reich. “A turning point in Niemöller’s political sympathies came with a January 1934 meeting between Niemöller, Adolf Hitler, and two prominent Protestant bishops to discuss state pressures on churches,” explained Waxman. “At the meeting, it became clear that Niemöller’s phone had been tapped by the Gestapo. It was also clear that the Pastors Emergency League (PEL), which Niemöller had helped found, was under close state surveillance.” Ultimately, Niemöller spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum bears his words: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Waxman also quoted Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.” Waxman noted that Wiesel further averred: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

Remarks were also delivered by QJCC President Michael Nussbaum; Cantor Alan J. Brava, Administrator and Executive Director of event host Free Synagogue of Flushing, a historic structure located on Kissena Boulevard; Avi Posnick, Regional Director for StandWithUS; Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Executive Vice-President of the New York Board of Rabbis; Judge George A. Grasso, Administrative Judge for Criminal Matters in the Queens Supreme Court; Deputy Inspector Andrew Arias, head of the New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force; and Michael Brovner, Chief of the Hate Crimes Bureau of the Queens District Attorney’s Office, under the auspices of DA Melinda Katz, delivered the legal standpoint.

In addition to the Jewish community, there was a sizeable Asian contingency present, bearing several banners condoning hate that participated in a question-and-answer segment. Notable attendees included Council Member Linda Lee; Ben Golub, newly installed President of JCRCNY; Howard Pollack, Director, Jewish Communal Affairs for the JCRC and Celebrate Israel Parade; Eva Wyner, Jewish liaison to Governor Kathy Hochul; Michael Carlier for Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi; and volunteers of the local Community Emergency Response Team for the NYC Office of Emergency Management.

The program was a collective project of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York who was one of six “anchor” organizations that received forward funding from the Mayor’s Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (OPHC) to create programming for Partners Against the Hate (PATH). Rabbi Bob Kaplan, who is overseeing the JCRC’s effort, aims to continue cultivating community relationships that holistically work together to find solutions in challenging hate throughout the State of New York.

 By Shabsie Saphirstein