On February 4, New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council hosted its annual Congressional Breakfast at the UJA-Federation’s Manhattan headquarters. Consistent themes included the safe return of Israeli hostages, cease-fire possibilities and ramifications, and rising antisemitism locally and domestically.
To a standing-room only crowd, Hon. Mark Treyger, JCRC-NY’s incoming CEO, began: “JCRC will be at the forefront of grassroots coalition-building to ensure that we protect and celebrate the Jewish identity as well as the safety and security of all New Yorkers.”
Ronen and Orna Neutra, parents of American-born hostage Omer Neutra, said: “We hear a deal releasing terrorists with blood on their hands is reckless. There is no such thing as a reckless deal. Twelve hundred murdered loved ones on October 7th is reckless; 241 hostages taken from their homes is reckless; burning kibbutzim and villages is reckless; humanitarian support provided to Gaza but stolen by Hamas is reckless. An agreement to release 136 hostages will be painful, but it’s not reckless. It’s a must!”
Representative Grace Meng (D-Queens) noted: “A one-sided cease-fire is not a cease-fire. The very definition of cease-fire is mutual agreement between more than one party.
“To advocate for a cease-fire without mentioning who broke that October 6 cease-fire is not OK,” Meng continued. “It’s also a signal to Iran to embolden its proxies, including Hezbollah, to fire rockets into Israel. Instead of a one-sided cease-fire, we must make sure Israel can defeat Hamas, return our hostages, and allow this heartbreaking war to end to start talking about building a real, lasting peace.”
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries stated: “We will always support Israel’s right to defend itself just like any other country in the world.” Describing the dangerous neighborhood that surrounds Israel, Jeffries assured that “we will never allow Iran to become nuclear-capable. We can’t handcuff Israel as it prosecutes a war of self-defense.”
Washington Heights Representative Adriano Espaillat, describing his close friendship with Yeshiva University, remarked: “Much is said about the so-called liberation of Palestine. The sexual assaulting of Jewish women is not liberation, it’s rape. Shooting defenseless senior citizens is not liberation, it’s murder. Abducting defenseless little kids is not liberation. The common denominator is terror.”
Congressman Mark Lawler (R-Rockland) reflected on visiting Israel twice in 2023—celebrating its 75th anniversary and after October 7—both showing solidarity. Lawler described partnering with Congressman Ritchie Torres (NY-15) to introduce legislation creating a special envoy for the Abraham Accords, signed into law in December. Lawler sponsors the “Stop Harboring Iranian Petroleum” or SHIP Act. China, Iranian petroleum’s biggest purchaser, helps Iran fund Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthis. “The unholy alliance between China, Russia and Iran is real. The world is in the most precarious position since World War II.”
Representative Daniel Goldman reflected on his family’s stay at the Tel Aviv Hilton on October 7. “To say that that had an indelible impact on me is gross understatement, especially on my children, who still struggle with the trauma we experienced.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) began his remarks directly to the hostages’ families: “When some terrible tragedy befalls you, the normal human instinct is to turn inward, be angry, turn to darkness. But the Bible also says that when you try to rectify a terrible injustice for yourselves and others, it’s lighting a candle. You keep that candle burning until we no longer have to light it, because the hostages are free.” Schumer was leading a delegation to China on October 7. He immediately left China for Israel.
“All of Israel was watching, wondering if the world stands with us.” He reminded Israelis his name is Schumer, which means shomer (guardian). “I believe God gave me that name to be a shomer of Israel.” He reflected on values he learned from his father that shaped his life. “If you’re doing something important, look in your heart. Make sure it’s the right thing to do. If you’re sure, persist, persist, persist, never give up. God will reward you and you will succeed. In our fight against antisemitism and for the beloved Eretz Israel, we persist, persist, persist. Never give up. God will reward us. We will succeed.”
Torres said: “Israel cannot tolerate October 7 being ignored, because the Jewish State cannot survive it being repeated. For me, October 7, was a crime against the Jewish state so barbaric, they cannot be ignored nor go unpunished.
“What is at stake is the future of our country,” he continued. “If we, as a country, cannot bring ourselves to condemn the massacre of children and civilians, butchering babies, with moral clarity, we must ask ourselves: What are we becoming as a society?
“Hamas supports a cease-fire because an immediate, unconditional cease-fire enables Hamas to remain in power, regroup, re-arm and launch even deadlier terror attacks than October 7,” Torres added. “I find it telling that the international community is pressuring Israel to enter a cease-fire that keeps Hamas in power and hostages in captivity. Very few are pressuring Hamas to surrender unconditionally, release the hostages and end a war.
“I never thought life would take me from public housing in the Bronx to the House of Representatives. Speaking at the national level in front of 300,000 people, I was reminded that 2023 was both the 60th anniversary of Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and the 75th anniversary of the rebirth of Israel. ‘I Have a Dream’ reminded me of a dream of Jewish emancipation through a Jewish state, a dream that’s both ancient and modern. I’m honored to be a small part in supporting that relationship,” he concluded.