June 21, 2024
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JCRC Raises Funds at Gala Dinner

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. (Credit: Marc Gronich)

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) held its grand soiree at Manhattan’s famed Plaza Hotel near Central Park on May 20.

Even though this event was to be a celebratory function for special Jewish New Yorkers who give back financially, emotionally and through volunteering, the themes were more about relatively negative topics such as the October 7 attacks at the Nova music festival in Israel, a rise in antisemitism across the United States, hatred, unacceptable harassment towards Jews for no apparent reason, and vandalism on school buildings and houses of worship. Not very uplifting for what should have been a joyous occasion.

“The Israeli people and the Jewish people were hurt on October 7,” said JCRC CEO Mark Treyger. “They were hurt but they are not broken. Bullets pierced through windows, bullets pierced through doors and bullets pierced through flesh, but bullets will never shatter or destroy the spirit of the Israeli and the Jewish people.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul (Credit: Marc Gronich)

“Our history, our story is more than October 7,” Treyger continued. “Our history, our story is more than the Holocaust. Jewish Americans helped build New York and helped build the United States of America. That is the work of JCRC-NY and we are committed with every fiber in our being to strengthen that work for generations to come. We are not going to rest until our hostages are home, until Israel is safe and secure for generations to come. Until every Jew on New York City streets and on college campuses is safe, secure and celebrated. We’re not going back, folks. We’re moving forward.”

The only JCRC-NYsupporters who attended were Attorney General Letitia James and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who schmoozed with guests at dinner. United States Senators from New York, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, each sent in short recorded video messages.

After congratulating the four award recipients, Schumer said: “I’ve always been a tremendous supporter of JCRC. You’ve been a valuable resource, not just for me but for the entire New York delegation for so many years. You are at the front of grassroots coalition building to protect New York’s Jewish community and to guard against the terrible scourge of antisemitism. Without you our city can never hope to be the model of tolerance and prosperity for Jewish New Yorkers that we strive for.”

JCRC President Dr. Ben Golub MCs event.
(Credit: Marc Gronich)

Schumer was also missing from the Council of Jewish Organizations (COJO) Flatbush breakfast last month.

Gillibrand said: “JCRC-NY is an incredible resource for the Jewish community in New York especially in these challenging times. I’m so grateful for your leadership and advocacy as we work together to support Israel and the Jewish community and to combat antisemitism in all its forms.”

Governor Kathy Hochul said: “JCRC has been at the forefront and we’re here to celebrate that. Since Hamas’ brutal October 7 attacks Jewish New Yorkers have experienced unacceptable harassment with synagogues vandalized, yeshiva students fearing for their safety and an appalling spike in antisemitic hate crimes even on college campuses. “I want you to know that I will never tolerate these vial acts in our state. The safety of Jewish New Yorkers is non-negotiable. I’ll continue using the full force of our state government to combat antisemitism. I promise that as long as I’m governor, as long as I have a breath in my body, I will stand and protect the Jewish community.”

In an emotionless, monotone delivery, as if he was reading the script for the first time, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-Crown Heights, Brooklyn) gave a 4 ½-minute speech that seemed endless.

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, in a pretaped message. (Credit: Marc Gronich)

“This is a challenging and searing time for the Jewish community where we will be able to defeat antisemitism, bury it in the ground and ensure it can never rise up again,” he said. “Congress has taken several steps over the last few weeks, including securing approximately $650 million in Homeland Security grants to ensure that not-for-profit organizations, synagogues, shuls, yeshivas and other houses of worship have the ability to secure the funding necessary to provide for the safety of its members and the safety of the Jewish community. We must do all we can to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge, that we assist Israel in its efforts to decisively defeat Hamas and that we work hard to return the hostages safely so that we can secure a just and a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinian people for the good of the region and for the good of the free world.”

Picking up on the theme of fighting antisemitism and collaborating with other groups, the leader of one of JCRCs partners spoke about her unique position with JCRC.

“We find ourselves in complex times with increased antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric,” said Linda Mirels, president of the UJA Federation. We are grateful to have JCRC as our partner as we tackle these issues strategically and effectively. JCRC weaves a tapestry of a more interconnected New York that ensures the Jewish community has the relationship it needs at this moment. Together with JCRC, we are finding effective solutions for the difficult challenges of today, including sponsoring missions to Israel for elected officials and influential New Yorkers working to combat antisemitism across our city and celebrating our Jewish pride with the Celebrate Israel parade.”

The JCRC leadership recognized that New York City Mayor Eric Adams could not attend the fete. Instead, Adams sent his A-Team, including: Deputy Mayor for Communications Fabian Levy; Commissioner of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit Fred Kreizman; First Senior Adviser to the Mayor Joel Eisdorfer; Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Adviser Menashe Shapiro; Jewish Liaison for Community Affairs Moshe Davis; and the pride and joy of the Orthodox Jewish community, NYPD Deputy Chief Richie Taylor, the first Orthodox Jew to rise to the No. 2 position in the city police department. Also taking the stage was Camille Joseph Varlack, Mayor Adams’ chief of staff.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (Credit: Marc Gronich)

“We are not all right if people use their voice to spew hatred toward each other,” said Joseph Varlack on behalf of the mayor. “Hate is not just an issue for one community. It is an issue for all of us. Those who want to spread hate, want to divide us. New York City will never, ever let fear and hate dictate how we live. The mayor has been extraordinarily clear: While New Yorkers have the right to peacefully protest, no one has the right to harass others or to spread antisemitism or hate. There is no place for acts of hate in our city, plain and simple.”

The awardees kept their remarks short and sweet.

“I hope to mentor the next generation of leaders. This award is more than an honor. It is a call to action,” said Anna Propp Riesenberg, 39, who received the Blumberg Family Young Leadership Award. She lives in the Riverdale section of the Bronx with her husband, Gedalia. “I’m excited to continue working with all of you to strengthen our community and to ensure a bright future for the JCRC.”

Riesenberg is currently a board member of the JCRC, the Jewish Education Project, Brown-RISD Hillel and co-president of the board of the American Friends of the Academy of the Hebrew Language. She holds a master’s of science degree in biochemistry from The Weizmann Institute of Science and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Brown University.

“Every year at tax time I go through the same ritual with my wife when it comes to calculating charitable deductions,” said Morton Sloan, 84, who now lives with his wife, Judy, in Sands Point, Nassau County, after growing up in the Bronx. “The Jewish Community Relations Committee is a lot more than a set of initials. Given the challenges that confront Israel right now and the spate of antisemitism facing Jews both here and abroad, its work is more important now than ever before.”

Sloan is a graduate of Brandeis University, and received a master’s in business administration from New York University. After working on Wall Street, he ran his father’s business, Associated Supermarkets. After folding that business, he developed an upscale supermarket chain, Morton Williams, based in Harlem. The company now has 17 grocery stores throughout New York City.

Sloan’s son-in-law, Avi Kaner, entered the family business and now holds the title of vice president of Morton Williams Supermarkets.

“As we celebrate tonight, our hearts are heavy and I don’t think anyone here has had a good night’s sleep since October 7. I believe the events of October 7 did not make us weaker but made us stronger and more united,” said Kaner, 59, a resident of Westport, Connecticut. “My wife Liz and I were in Israel on October 7. We experienced the heartache, the uncertainty and the terror. What we quickly realized was the resilience and the unity of the children of Israel. We were in our hotel room in Tel Aviv going in and out of bomb shelters all night.

“At last year’s Salute to Israel parade, there was a judicial reform group who were waving Israeli flags. It showed as an example of unity. You don’t have to agree on everything: You can be a Democrat, you can be a Republican, you can be secular, you can be religious, but at the end of the day it’s Kol Yisroel arevim zeh la-zeh [All Jews are responsible for one another]. We all watch out for each other regardless of our beliefs, and this is exactly what the JCRC does,” Kaner concluded.

The theme of unity was continued by the final speaker of the evening.

“In 1975, Golda Meir stated one cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present. This evening was woven with threads of the past in an effort to sew for the present and the future,” said Karen Spar Kasner, 68, who received the Communal Leadership Award. She lives in Southampton, Suffolk County, with her husband and family. “Each of us has a special role and responsibility … to find or provide the resources to educate, to have tough conversations, to connect … with those we agree with and those we do not agree with. We must take action in order to preserve the safety and security of the Jewish people here in New York and in Israel. The time is now.”

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