June 3, 2024
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City of New Rochelle Hosts Inaugural Jewish-American Celebration

New Rochelle City Councilman Matt Stern welcomes Jewish community leaders and elected officials to the New Rochelle City Hall Rotunda in celebration of Jewish-American Heritage Month.

On May 16, the city of New Rochelle, New York hosted its first Jewish-American Heritage Celebration in the City Hall Rotunda. Councilmember Matt Stern was the master of ceremonies.

New Rochelle Mayor Yadira Ramos-Herbert said: “There’s a lot of senior leadership here and I think it’s reflective of the support that the city as a whole shares for our Jewish community.”

The new mayor noted while doing research for Black History Month she came across some interesting facts about Jewish-Americans in New Rochelle. Michael Jechiel de Hass (Hays) is believed to have been the first Jewish settler in Westchester. After arriving from Holland, his family began a farm in New Rochelle. His sixth son was born in 1732, the first Jewish child born in Westchester.

New Rochelle’s new Mayor Yadira Ramos-Herbert joins the community at inaugural Jewish-American Heritage reception.

Ramos-Herbert focused on the present day. “I know we’re seeing the rise in antisemitism, and we’re looking at what’s going on and it’s easy to feel alone, or that you’re just screaming in the wind and no one’s listening. Then I see something like this, all of us together, and this spirit of levity. Seeing the pride that we have as a community, I know that we can do this together. I’m so proud to be a part of New Rochelle and I’m so proud to have the chance to serve as your mayor.

“Thank you for sharing your history and your talent,” she concluded. “Thank you for celebrating your joy with us. I have your back and I look forward to continuing to celebrate more with you and to uplift your communities during these really difficult times.”

Wilfredo Melendez, acting city manager, told the crowd: “Today we honor the history of a very special people marked by resilience and unwavering faith that has transcended time and adversity from ancient times. Today, Jewish people have shown us the power of community, as evidenced worldwide and in our microcosm of New Rochelle, as we commemorate this heritage. Let’s remember the lessons that teach us about tolerance and standing against injustice.”

Rabbi Evan Hoffman of Congregation Anshe Sholom recounted the history of the congregations of New Rochelle. “The Jews of this community struggled to form a house of worship for a long while, ” he said. The first services were in 1873 in a barn on Main Street, and the first synagogue was Anshe Sholom in 1896. In 1904, Temple Israel was founded as a breakaway, and in 1918 a Hebrew school was founded, which became Beth El. As time passed, everybody moved uptown except Anshe Sholom. The Young Israel was founded in 1957.

(l-r): New Rochelle City Council members Sara Kaye and Matt Stern; Judith Goldstein (center) flanked by her son and daughter; Mayor Yadira Ramos-Herbert and Acting City Manager Wilfredo Menendez.

Hoffman noted how people moved even further uptown, reminding everyone that Jewish Scarsdale is New Rochelle. “May we all have tremendous success serving our community for many years to come.”

Temple Israel’s Rabbi Jesse Gallop shared: “The Jewish community has been an integral part of the city of New Rochelle since the late 19th century. We live hand in hand with neighbors of all backgrounds, faiths, races and ethnicities. Together we have built a community based on our values of inclusivity, respect and social responsibility. As Jewish people, we have shared traditions and universal teachings to strengthen our city.

“We celebrate Jewish-American Heritage Month as a time to honor the many generations who have shown our neighbors how our Judaism and love for this great nation unite us in our civic duty,” he continued. “Thank you to the city of New Rochelle and its leaders for their continual support. We’d also like to recognize the assistance and protection of our synagogues and others who make a real difference in our safety, both physically and emotionally.”

Stern introduced Judith Goldstein, whom he met while campaigning. “When knocking on doors, you’re lucky to have someone willing to talk to you; even rarer still, someone who might sign your petition or have a substantive conversation. When I met Mrs. Goldstein, she moved me to tears and left a mark on me that I would never forget. She introduced me to her 100-year-old husband and asked if I wanted to see her art.”

Stern continued: “It wasn’t just about art. It was the story behind the art. It was about her time in her hometown, Vilna.” Goldstein described her survival in concentration camps and then a displaced persons camp. “She’s telling me stories about her family and incredible moments of heroism and tragedy.

“When I knocked on her door, I didn’t expect to be transported to another world entirely. Or to get such a whirlwind of history and art, tragedy and triumph. It’s an important reminder of unforgettable stories hidden behind all the doors here in New Rochelle. It’s on all of us to ensure that those stories continue to be told as the events of recent months remind us of just what’s at stake,” he said.

The celebration concluded with a performance by the klezmer band Elijah and the Not-for-Prophets.

 

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