Photo Credits: Yaakov Katz Studios

Last week, readers of the Queens Jewish Link read of New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ visit to Shevach High School in Kew Gardens Hills as arranged by area Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal. The uniqueness of this event on the first day of Chanukah warrants an in-depth look at the attendees and their remarks.

To Daniel’s left were Joel Eisdorfer, the mayor’s Senior Advisor; Fred Kreizman, Commissioner of the mayor’s Community Affairs Unit; Menashe Shapiro, whose hometown is Kew Gardens Hills, the mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff; and Inspector Richie Taylor, Commanding Officer, NYPD Community Affairs, all frum Jews.

“We all know the story of Chanukah is that of a small pitcher of oil that holds the potential for great miracles. The flickering flame we light each night of Chanukah can illuminate and eliminate the darkness of hatred and fear,” began Menashe’s father, Rav Mordechai Shapiro, mara d’asra of Congregation B’nai Abraham of Kew Gardens Hills, housed beside Shevach, in his opening remarks. “We are fortunate to have a mayor and police commissioner who are committed to make our city safe for us, our children, and our future. They have devoted their entire careers to make the entire city safe.” Rabbi Shapiro noted how the Jewish community has seen firsthand how the mayor has protected the Jewish community safe from anti-Semitism with intervention breakfasts, interfaith meetings, and to a few weeks ago when every branch of government worked to stop a threat at an area synagogue. “We know the mayor is leading from the front. The mayor says Acharai – Follow me.”

“Our concerns for safety are very, very foremost in the city,” stated Rabbi Herschel Welcher, mara d’asra, Congregation Ahavas Yisrael, who had two granddaughters, current students at Shevach, in the audience. “The mayor addresses head-on the issue of crime, which has reached tremendous spikes, and is counteracting and taking measures against it.” Rabbi Welcher went as far as reminding the mayor of the incident many years ago when the mayor’s own son was shot at in the back of a car. Rabbi Welcher applauded the mayor for “boldly” taking on the long-ignored issue of the mentally unstable, especially about acting in favor of the homeless and providing them with a means for help and safety for the community. Rabbi Welcher returned to the focus of troubling anti-Semitism and recent upticks in Central Park, Flatbush teenagers chased with a taser gun, and chasidim having their shtreimels knocked off in Williamsburg. Rabbi Welcher stated the NYPD’s own statistics of a rise of 125 percent in such incidents locally over the past year. “It is my hope that the mayor, police commissioner, and their esteemed colleagues persist and resolve this problem.”

AM Rosenthal began by wishing the attendees a happy Chanukah, which was significant, considering how the Jewish community of Queens put aside their holiday festivities and programming to meet with the mayor midday. Rabbi Welcher added, “Chanukah is a day when we celebrate religious liberty. We were saved from tyranny, and we were secured in our ability to teach our Jewish heritage, our Torah, to our children. We appreciate the mayor and his people coming to see what they can do to foster the safety, security, and growth of the Jewish community, and all the communities of the City of New York.” Hosting the communal discussion in the multipurpose room of Shevach took on more significance as it is a longstanding center for Torah education in Queens, dating back to when my own aunt and sister graced the very same walls. Special recognition is extended to community members Nechemia Hoch and Yosef Levin of Shevach for their assisting in coordination.

Rosenthal referred to Rabbi Welcher’s mention of the anti-Semitic uptick and noted he was bothered that this this has been a yearly trend. “We cannot allow that headline to continue or become the new normal.” Rosenthal then spoke of words from the Auschwitz Museum: “The Holocaust did not begin at the gates of Auschwitz; it began first with stereotypes, then biases, then words in public spaces, slowly acts of violence occur, and eventually that seeps into our institutions, and the norms of our governments start to break down. Fortunately, what we have here in New York is a government that is friendly to the Jewish people, and a mayor who is no stranger to the Jewish community – he is from Brooklyn. He is someone who has stood up aggressively in support of the Jewish community.” Rosenthal noted that the mayor came on the first day of Chanukah with his top brass to reassure us that “we are welcome here and should feel safe.”

Mayor Adams labeled Rosenthal as a “reasonable voice in Albany,” and said the same of the other two elected officials in attendance, State Senator Leroy Comrie, and Council Member James F. Gennaro. “We started out this journey to deal with the crises the city is facing. The commissioner inherited a demoralized police department where the officers did not understand their assignments, and a headline would then add on to their uncertainty.” Adams noted that the commissioner took on the over-proliferation of guns, homicides, and shootings in our communities, added onto those crimes that are inflicted on people because of their race, religion, gender, or ethnicity – hate crimes. Adams noted the 125 percent increase and spoke of the commissioner making immediate changes in the Hate Crimes Unit because “we are not going to hide behind the numbers or downgrade a hate crime.” He added, “In order to fix the problem, we have to first identify the problem.”

Adams stated that to combat all kinds of hate there must be a real law enforcement response. “I do not know anyone who has gone to jail for committing a hate crime,” pointedly stated the mayor who admitted that “we have not done this correctly. If you hate you should be incarcerated; and if you do a hate crime you should do the time. There should be a no plea-bargaining rule for those who commit hate crimes. Do not downgrade it to harassment. Our prosecutors should have a firm line that if you commit a hate crime, that is the charge, and if found convicted, you will spend time in jail for committing that crime.”

Adams spoke of the longstanding relationship between the Black and Jewish communities but noted that the architects of it have transitioned. He pointed to Rabbi Michael Miller, CEO-emeritus of the JCRC-NY with whom he had worked early on. “We have to be intentional about building out that pipeline by going to college campuses.” The mayor promoted his ten-person interfaith breakfasts where people of all backgrounds interact. “If a public school is near a synagogue, they need to have a class trip to visit that synagogue or mosque.” Adams called for children to stand up to explain what a sukkah is, or why we acknowledge our faith on certain days of the week.

Adams pointed to social media as a culprit that manifests hate throughout communities and how we are downplaying its influence. “Social media goes to people who are in pain and tells them that this is who you are angry at.” Adams pointed to Kanye West as a credible messenger and influencer who was allowed by social media to influence upset and angry youngsters with toxic messages that radicalize them and help them identify groups to target. Adams demanded that we go after social media in a major way and insist that they become socially responsible and use their algorithms to dismantle hate instead of selling it throughout our city and country. “We are going to see the hate that came out of Nazi Germany amplified in ways we cannot imagine. Can you imagine if someone evil as Hitler had social media to get his message out globally and unchecked? I was at Auschwitz, I was at Krakow, I saw what happened in the camps, I know how devastating that time was. It started with words, and it led into action. We will not stumble into success; if we do not measure, we will not get it done.” Adams suggested that we use set tactics and see how each fare weekly. “New York City is a city of coexistence.”

NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, the first female in this role, spoke of the mandate the mayor gave her, the safety of this city by working with the communities. “No one should be afraid to walk in this city or feel victimized by hate.” Sewell pointed to deployment, in-depth and robust investigations, education, and outreach as tactics to make this a reality, but noted that community outreach looks like the room we stood in, filled with Jewish leaders. To her right was Edward Caban, First Deputy Commissioner; Jeffrey Maddrey, Chief of Department; John Chell, Chief of Patrol; Kevin Williams, Chief of Queens South; and Insp. Andrew R. Arias, Commander of Hate Crimes. “Those numbers that are up are unacceptable and concerning, but they represent people and families.” Sewell pledged to attack the fear and allow anyone to be who they are in the five boroughs. Sewell pointed to an 18 percent decrease in hate crimes, and arrests here for hate crimes are up, but she admitted that it is not enough and said that the room showed the light of the city.

For 18 years, Rabbi Shaul Wertheimer has led Chabad on Campus at Queens College. He spoke of an individual who stood outside the college spewing hate, and other well-documented instances of hate at CUNY. The mayor wants to be more aggressive with the individual at hand and use clear direction with hate speech and disorderly conduct to work toward his apprehension despite it working against us. “Lock him up every time he does it and let the courts say if he needs to leave,” stated the mayor. “Using an amplified device without a sound permit goes beyond yelling and screaming.” The mayor also spoke of a coordinated effort to attack hate on all area college campuses uniformly to stop the pipeline of hate.

District Leader Shimi Pelman thanked Deputy Inspector Kevin Chan, Commanding Officer of the local 107 Precinct. Deputy Inspector Joseph E. Cappelmann, Commanding Officer of the 112th Precinct acknowledged that he would have been honored to have attended. He spoke of an effort to work with communities who have dealt with similar hate crimes, for example the Asian hate, as a measure of attack. He also thanked the mayor for being an opponent of the Progressive anti-police ideas.

Eleventh grade student Adir Rhor spoke on behalf of the student body and offered the mayor a question drawn by listening collectively to her peers, noting the recent shooting a few blocks up Main Street at a public school. “We fear for our safety as we walk the streets. What measure will be taken to protect us?” Chief Maddrey said that his own daughter is in school not far away and that the department takes the issue seriously and pointed to extra patrols in areas where those leading crimes travel. Maddrey pledged to have more officers visit schools and build on connections. “Public safety is about people partnering together to accomplish a common mission and we will step up this effort.” The mayor added that to know about things beforehand, precinct commanders and principals will now be in regular contact citywide.

Sorolle Idels, Chairperson, Queens Jewish Alliance, spoke emotionally directly to Commissioner Sewell as a woman of strength: “We are living in strange times. We want more boots on the ground. Queens is a cozy little community and our students, elderly, and everyone in between are not feeling the coziness anymore.

Sewell noted that Maddrey has retooled the Field Training Unit to get more officers on the street walking or in a marked car. Sewell added that before the first of January she was set to graduate another 500 officers, and another 600 come next month since fixing an issue with the testing sites.

Mayor Adams stated that as he crisscrossed the city, he found not one community that did not want their officers. “Don’t read the headlines that people do not want to become police officers; that is just not true. Young men and women in the city are eager to put on that uniform.”

Baruch Rothman, Director of Institutional Advancement at Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, Queens, spent 15 years there, where he works together with the 101st Precinct. Rabbi Shlomo Nisanov, of Kehilat Sephardim of Ahavat Achim, founder of the largest kosher food pantry, serving 25,000, and clergy liaison to the 107th Precinct, spoke of the Bukharian movement as the new face to Kew Gardens Hills, adding the educational aspect: “Nobody is born to hate; people are taught to hate.” The rabbi noted his personal acts of interfaith strides, having local children volunteer at his pantry, and how the Bukharians who come from an oppressive upbringing are slowly becoming more open to allowing law enforcement, who traditionally worked against them, into their midst.

Kudos to those who attended, ranging from rabbis and principals to non-profit leaders and board members: Moshe Davis, Queens Jewish liaison to the mayor; District Director Adam Suionov; Moshe Vatch, Coordinator, Misaskim of Queens, Chaverim of Queens and Great Neck, QBSP-Shmira; Avraham Pinkhasov, Coordinator, QBSP-Shmira; Aaron Cyperstein, Managing Director, Legal & External Affairs, Met Council; Avi Posnick, Northeast & New England Executive Director, StandWithUs; Rabbi Daniel Pollack, Jewish liaison to Congress Member Grace Meng; Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, CEO, Chazaq; Shalom Zirkiev, a Chazaq board member, and his wife Victoria, a member of the mayor’s transitional legal team; Jennifer Martin, CB8 member; Pesach Osina, Jewish liaison to NYC Council Speaker Adrienne Adams; Rabbi Chaim Eli Welcher of YTM; PO Kevin McCarthy, Community Affairs at the 107; Rabbi Moshe Indig; Rabbi Moshe Taub of the Young Israel of Holliswood; David Aronov of the UJA; and many other leaders and influencers.

By Shabsie Saphirstein