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Rep. Ritchie Torres, Israel’s Consul General Ofir Akunis Headline Press Conference at SAR

Consul General of Israel in New York Ofir Akunis (left) and Bronx/Riverdale’s Congressman Ritchie Torres addressing events in Israel, as three SAR principals look on from the side.

On Tuesday, June 18, Rep. Ritchie Torres (NY-15) and Israel’s Consul General in New York Ofir Akunis held a press conference at SAR Academy. Also in attendance were SAR Principal Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, CSAIR Rabbi Barry Dov Katz, HIR Rabbi Steven Exler, YCT Dean of Rabbinic Initiatives Yonah S. Berman, Rosh Kehilla Dina Najman, Chabad-Riverdale’s Rabbi Levi Shemtov, SAR High School Principal Rabbi Jonathan Kroll, HIR’s Rabbanit Bracha Jaffe and Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, founding principal of SAR High School and Dean of Machon Siach.

Torres began, “There is a special relationship between the Jewish diaspora and the State of Israel. Nowhere is that relationship more special than here in Riverdale, which I have the honor of representing. Just like Israel stood with the United States in the wake of 9/11 and our moment of greatest need, we will stand with Israel in the wake of October 7, in its moment of greatest need.

“The greatest moral imperative is the release of the hostages,” Torres continued. “I find it outrageous that there is rapidly growing amnesia about October 7. We have forgotten there are hostages, including American hostages, languishing in captivity and suffering at the hand of Hamas. We in the United States have an obligation to do everything we can to assist Israel in securing the release of the hostages and bringing them home. For a number of hostages home is not only Israel, but the United States of America.

Riverdale’s rabbinic leaders join Congressman Torres (left of center)and Consul General Akunis (center) at SAR Academy.

“Hamas is the single greatest stumbling block of peace,” Torres.stated. “There’s a ceasefire on the table that would end the war. Israel accepted the ceasefire. Qatar and Egypt accepted. The United States accepted. Hamas has repeatedly rejected every attempt at ending the war and releasing the hostages. The international communities should be putting pressure precisely where it belongs, on Hamas. I often feel there’s a double standard against Israel and Israel’s right to defend itself. I also have concerns about escalating tensions in the north. It’s a story largely untold in the United States. Israel lives in close proximity to the world’s most powerful terrorist organization. Hezbollah is more heavily armed than most nation-states and armies on Earth. The threat of Hezbollah is so severe. Sixty thousand Israelis have become exiled in their homeland. The international community has to intervene, to restore the sovereignty of Israel in the north, hold Hezbollah accountable, and enforce the Security Council resolutions that date back to 2006.”

Torres assured the Consul General that “Riverdale is on your side, and we stand with you.”

Speaking to those in the audience, he shared, “For me, SAR is special because it’s cultivating the next generation of Jewish leaders. I often speak of them as the Maccabees of the modern world; the next generation of leaders who are going to fight for the preservation of the Jewish people and civilization.”

Expressing the State of Israel’s gratitude, Akunis called Torres a brave leader for his support of Israel even before October 7 and even more so in the aftermath of October 7. “The world needs brave leaders,” expressed Akunis. Referring to Torres, Akunis stated, “He’s an example of a very brave leader. He said the right things and reflects the truth about the current situation in the Middle East.”

Referring to the situation up north, Akunis said, “Iran is there; they call themselves the Hezbollah but it’s an Iranian unit. We will do whatever necessary to defend our people. Israel always wants peace, but we need the other side to always want peace as well. We cannot sign peace treaties with ourselves. We need the other side.”

Akunis responded to Torres’s comparison of October 7 to September 11: “Radical Islam wants to destroy the United States. They say it all the time. They’re screaming here in the United States, ‘Death to America, Death to Israel, Glory to Palestine.’ It’s not about glory to Palestine; they want to kill you. Learn from history; if Fascists declare they want to destroy and kill you, you better believe them. It’s not a scam; they want to do it.”

Akunis explained, “The very first chapter in the Hamas agenda is destroying the State of Israel and building an Islamic caliphate.”

Akunis reflected on the ceasefire that ended at 6:30 a.m. that day. “I woke up from sirens near my apartment in Tel Aviv. They broke the ceasefire. You cannot say they’re neighbors because this is a very dangerous neighborhood. They are not good neighbors. They want to destroy. They brought gasoline from Gaza to burn people alive.”


Referring to the hostages, he said, “We talk about leadership. Moses was one of the very first leaders of our nation. He stood in front of Pharaoh and said, ‘Let my people go.’ Now, I’m saying to the international community, to the United Nations, to the Red Cross, ‘Let my people go!’”

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