Photo Credit: Jerry Greenwald
L-R: Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez; Dr. Chaim Bernstein, recipient of the Distinguished Medical ROFEH award; Lin Mo, president, Mount Sinai Brooklyn; Louis Welz, CEO, COJO Flatbush.

The Council of Jewish Organizations (COJO) of Flatbush held its 38th annual legislative breakfast aimed at raising money for programs to aid the poor with daily sustenance, housing, health care needs, financial support, and making sure the needs of families are met.

A multi-faceted, non-sectarian, non-profit social service agency that acts as the eyes and ears of the community to address communal and individual concerns and needs, COJO provides assistance to more than 24,000 clients with more than 55,000 services.

Chaim Deutsch, recipient of the Councilmember of Distinction award.

“The legislative breakfast allows us to showcase to the community and elected officials the work that COJO does,” Louis Welz, chief executive officer of COJO Flatbush, told The Jewish Press.

“We rely on community support. It is almost impossible to survive on the government contracts because of the way the contracts work. There is always an inherent built-in deficit of about 15 to 20 percent with these contracts.”

“This event,” he added, “is our main fundraiser for the year. Fundraising for us is both on the elected-official side in terms of discretionary funding [and] the community side, which is philanthropic funding. That makes the difference. It closes the gap for us. We net more than $100,000 from the legislative breakfast.”

Congressman John Faso, recipient of the Distinguished Statesman award.

Freshman congressman John Faso (R – Kinderhook, Columbia County), who received the Distinguished Statesman award for his support of Israel, told the gathering, “I support people to live where they want, to work where they want, and I also deeply believe in our U.S. – Israel relationship. I am going to Israel this summer and it is vitally important that we in the United States of America defend and uphold the rights of the state of Israel to exist against all of its foes.”

New York’s senior U.S. senator, Chuck Schumer, sprinkled a few Hebrew phrases in his brief remarks, asking for “sheket bevakashah” (quiet, please) and declaring “hineni” (here I am). Schumer reminded the audience that he “helped found COJO when I was an assemblyman back in the ‘70s.”

Referring to the recent spike in anti-Semitic incidents, “We have seen a great deal of anti-Semitism on the left. We are now seeing anti-Semitism on the right and we have an equal obligation…to condemn that anti-Semitism on the right just as we do on the left.”

Rabbi Simcha Silverman, recipient of the Avodat HaKodesh award.

Later in the program, acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez echoed Schumer’s remarks. “As we move on, we know that New York City has had an uptick of hate crimes by more than 50 percent but anti-Semitism has increased by 95 percent in the city of New York. It’s a real issue and we need leadership. COJO is such an important part of this because you saw the people who were here today. It really represents why Brooklyn is one of the greatest places in the world to live and the diversity of this communities that we can all come together to address this issue.”

Receiving the Distinguished Freshman Leadership award was Assemblyman Robert Carroll (D – Brooklyn). The Councilmember of Distinction award went to Chaim Deutsch (D – Brooklyn). The Lena Cymbrowitz Distinguished Legislator of the Year award, named for the late wife of Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, was presented to Senator Jesse Hamilton (D – Brooklyn), a member of the Independent Democratic Conference.

L-R: Rabbi Shlomo Braun; New York City Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro, recipient of the Distinguished Public Service award; New York State Senator Martin Golden.

New York City Fire Commissioner Dan Nigro received the Distinguished Public Service award; Lee Nigen, an attorney who heads the Pikius Senior Enrichment Programs at COJO was awarded the Volunteer of the Year award; business owner Chaim Moshe Nussencweig received the Distinguished Chesed award; and Shawn Alyse Campbell, district manager for Community Board 14, was presented with the Distinguished Community Service award.

Rabbi Simcha Silverman, spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Chaim of Flatbush, received the Avodat HaKodesh award for his chaplaincy services at Lenox Hill Hospital.

“COJO is helping a spectrum of people with a spectrum of needs,” said Rabbi Silverman. “Their tagline ‘Help Starts Here’ is true to their word. Reflecting on the holiday of Purim and its observances allows one to think of the work of COJO and their plethora of programs. There are programs to help the most vulnerable in our communities and there are programs to assist our neighbors and the elderly. They have a focus on the community and on the individual.”

Dr. Chaim Bernstein received the Distinguished Medical ROFEH award for his work as physician-in-chief and director of critical care and pulmonary division at Mount Sinai Brooklyn.

Bernstein said of Mount Sinai Brooklyn, “Our mission is also to serve the people – the patients in this diverse heterogeneous community. We work 24/7 to provide the best care for the people of this community.” The food at the hospital is fully kosher, Bernstein noted.


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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].