May 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

We Must Expand Intercommunity Bridges

If we were all to practice what we preached, we could accomplish true greatness. One individual who has truly lived a life based on his ideals and standing up for what he feels is right is Walter Mosley.

Narratives and perceptions are a product of one’s own home and environment. Growing up in the mostly Orthodox community of Englewood, my experience of the Jewish community’s relationship with the African-American community was uncomfortable interactions and/or apathy. I found the African-American community to either not care for or explicitly disdain the State of Israel, so when I witnessed an African-American elected official present himself as a sincere and fervent supporter of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, my perceptions quickly began to shift.

This summer I interned for the Simon Wiesenthal Center Government Advocacy Internship Program (SWC GAIP), where Jewish college students from the tri-state area are placed into local and state government offices. There, they learn the ins and outs of what goes into running the office of an elected official. The participants of the program represent various sectors of the Jewish community. Traditional, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews from both urban and suburban communities are given the opportunity to befriend and better understand their fellow Jews and their larger communities. Working for the constituents of diverse communities helps us better understand the intricacies of a community with which the majority of us have had limited to no contact. With this all-important knowledge and set of skills, participants of the program are able to better advocate for the Jewish people in their respective communities and campuses. Once a week the interns convene for a seminar on different aspects of policies and procedures given by various vaunted speakers. A few weeks ago, in the Shirley Chisholm State Office Building in Brooklyn, New York, Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley was gracious enough to give a seminar.

One thing that I believe made an impression on all of us was the discrepancy in level of comfort between the office building of an elected official and the office building of prominent members of the private sector. The unventilated conference room of Walter Mosley’s office can only be described as plain, at best, and the disparity between that and the luxury at subsequent seminars located at beautiful office buildings in private-sector conference rooms was apparent. This speaks volumes to the character of local elected officials. Men and women like Walter Mosley do not spend countless hours campaigning in order to seek glory and fortune. They get elected in order to fight for their passions and ideals on a tangible level. I think the stifling room and lack of air conditioning in the building during that seminar gave me and my fellow interns a new and somewhat refreshing perspective on the character of politicians.

The assembly member made a strong impression on us from the outset of the meeting. He spoke of his early memories of being told of the commendable exploits of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Rabbi Heschel had shown solidarity with Dr. Martin Luther King when he walked arm in arm with Dr. King during the legendary march on Selma, Alabama. This, Mr. Mosley explained, was his first indication of how well the Jewish and African-American communities could work together. He explained that both sides had experienced tremendous adversity in their respective histories and it only made sense to work together.

From that point on the group knew we had an ally in Assemblyman Mosley. Mr. Mosley began to speak of his unwavering support of the State of Israel. His many trips to Israel’s agricultural, religious, cultural and economic sites spoke volumes. He spoke about the evil and destructive boycott, divestment, sanctions movement, otherwise known as BDS. Later I learned that in an op-ed on kingscountypolitics.com, titled “BDS Movement Is Bad for New York, Bad for Israelis and Bad for Palestinians,” Mosley wrote: “We should applaud anyone who cares about both Jews and Arabs. Uncertainty is far better than indifference. However, BDS is both morally wrong and practically bankrupt, while it solely and unfairly holds Israel to a standard that other nations in the region are excluded from.”

Mosley’s passion for protecting what is truly right is evident from his aforementioned statement. Not surprisingly, Mosley was instrumental in helping pass anti-BDS legislation in the summer of 2015, a bill he introduced and co-sponsored. Mosley’s support of Israel is multifaceted. This coming fall Mosley will be traveling to Israel to attend seminars discussing the country’s flourishing medical marijuana industry.

I believe I can speak for the majority of my fellow interns when I say we were in awe of this man’s conviction. The nature of almost all of the questions were of a similar pattern. I inquired of the assemblyman how he is able to deal with what I assume to be backlash from his colleagues in response to his views on Israel. Mosley began to speak of the importance of not compromising on one’s belief system. He gave various examples throughout his career where he could have gotten ahead if he were to vote for a bill that contradicted his moral compass. Support of the State of Israel may not always be the most popular stance in the left-leaning state of New York, but Assemblyman Mosley had done his due diligence on the topic and refused to give in to the pressure.

Mosley’s commitment to Israel’s economy really proves that his commitment to the Jewish people is no charade and that he genuinely stands up for his beliefs. That is something from which every single one of us can learn. We all need to have the utmost respect for those who are different from us, and look to build bridges in whatever ways we can. Everyone has so much to offer to the world. In our short time with Assemblyman Mosley we learned this invaluable lesson.

By Rafi Jacobs


 Rafi Jacobs is a lifelong resident of Englewood and a  2018 graduate of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Government Advocacy Internship Program. Upon his completion of studies in Israel at Yeshivat Torah Shraga in January he will be attending the Yeshiva University Honors Program.

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