Before the outbreak of the current war, group of 17 elected officials and Republican party leaders from Nassau County, including one Congressman, headed for Israel for a six-day exploratory mission from September 4 through 9. The group, some of whom were visiting Israel for the first time, explored new business ideas, learned how to fight antisemitism, and received an intelligence briefing from the Center of Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya.
The visit also incorporated some sightseeing which included Yad Vashem, the Peres Museum of Technology, a winery in the Shomron (Samaria), and the Kotel. The Nassau County delegation also visited with members of the Shomron Regional Council, consisting of 35 Israeli settlements which fall under Israeli jurisdiction.
The group stayed one night in Tel Aviv and the rest of the time in Jerusalem. “We had a very good time at a restaurant called the Whiskey Museum in Tel Aviv,” said Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman.
The trip was sponsored by the Wichita, Kansas-based group Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), a non-partisan, global grassroots movement of individuals and organizations, across all religions and faiths, united to combat antisemitism, according to the organization’s website. The organization boasts that it forges relationships with policymakers at the global, national, and local levels: “Jewish communities are under attack from extremists on the far left and far right as well as radical Islamists. At CAM, we devote equal energy to addressing all modern-day manifestations of Jew-hatred, as outlined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism.”
The highlight of the business portion of the trip was meeting elected officials from Israel. “We met with the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, as well as many members of Jerusalem’s city government. We met with some members of the ministry of foreign affairs as well,” Assemblyman Jake Blumencranz (R – Oyster Bay, Nassau County) told The Jewish Press. “We were there [in Israel] to meet with them and understand some of the struggles within Israel.” Nassau County has signed a joint agreement with Samaria and Judea. “We went to Samaria to meet with those groups and communities,” he explained.
Blumencranz, 27, said that in the next legislative session, he wants to join with Senator Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick (R – Malverne, Nassau County) to sponsor a package of bills to combat student illiteracy about hate and antisemitism. “A big portion of the new way we need to begin looking at combating antisemitism is not only through education. I think our ability to audit whether or not schools are properly teaching the mandated course on the Holocaust and making sure they understand the gravity of the atrocities of the Holocaust is very important,” he explained. “Antisemitism in general is such a pervasive and hidden aspect of our society that it is something not easily quelled with a law or a solution. It’s a bottom-up educational campaign and that will be needed with the support of many in our education system.”
He explained his plans to probe the spread of antisemitism online. “As a new member of the Assembly Subcommittee on the Internet and New Technology, it is important to look at how the technologies that are emerging today and the Internet [are] used as a weapon within antisemitic groups. We also need to look at the ways the state can be proactive on both fronts as we enter the next legislative session.”
One month after returning from Israel war broke out with Hamas. “[Having been] in Israel before the war began puts this war in a different perspective tremendously,” Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino told The Jewish Press. “My empathy for my brothers and sisters who are in Israel has grown tenfold. I can better understand how difficult it is to live there.”
“There are people trying to have the same freedom as we have in this country. They are trying to run their business, raise their family, go to college, and [have] normalcy, and yet it is outrageous for them to be under fire by people who do not value life. It is a very dangerous time. We take it extremely seriously,” he continued. “I urge people to visit Israel when things settle down because it is a life-changing trip. [While we were there in September] we also saw 18-year-olds with submachine guns and automatic long guns. The teens carry very high responsibilities that we don’t have a lot of in our country. Most people in their teens are not in the military. In Israel, everyone in their teens is in the military.”
The chief executive of Nassau County has some sharp criticism as he reflects on the visit. “We went to a lot of very interesting and important places in Israel. While we were there, we felt safe and we did not feel that there was any imminent threat, certainly not of the depravity and savagery of Hamas. It was a very different time,” Bruce Blakeman (R – Atlantic Beach), who is Jewish, told The Jewish Press. “Now when I speak to people in Israel, friends and family, there is a sense of insecurity. There is a sense of sadness. There is a sense of fortitude to eradicate the threat from Hamas. It is a war that Israel must win, and all peace-loving people should be standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel.”
Blakeman, 68, became emotional when talking about the war. “This is a war carried out by baby-killers and rapists. They are evil. Can I say more? I stand with Israel and we demand the immediate return of all hostages. Any mistreatment of the hostages will be treated as the most serious war crime,” he said.
One of those hostages is much beloved 22-year-old Omer Neutra, a Plainview resident. He went to Israel for a gap year from his studies and ended up staying and joining the IDF. His parents have dual citizenship. He is a tank commander and was at the base that was taken out by Hamas terrorists.
At a Solidarity Rally in Albany on Monday evening, November 13, 20-year-old Mayah Teplipskiy, a Bayside, Queens resident, held up a sign calling for the release of Omer. They both attended the Williston Park-based Schechter School of Long Island, where he was on an engineering track before heading to Israel. Teplipskiy is now a senior at Schenectady-based Union College, majoring in mathematics. She attends services at Shelter Rock Jewish Center, a conservative synagogue in Nassau County and has been to Israel twice.
“It’s really hard for me to focus right now as we have finals coming up. If I wasn’t in school now, I would go back now to help out in any way I can. I love it there,” she said. She noted that Omer’s birthday was in October – he turned 22 while in captivity.
Teplipskiy’s parents know Omer’s parents. She shed some light on the torment they are feeling right now. “Omer’s parents are staying strong. They’ve been traveling all over the place. They are convinced he is alive and he’s supporting the other hostages who are with him. They are really hopeful he will get home soon. It’s heartbreaking to think about what he’s going through.”
Blumencranz, who became a bar mitzvah on Masada, said, “Israel has experienced a heinous terrorist attack from a known terrorist entity, and I wholeheartedly believe that we should do everything in our power to make sure that Israel has safe and secure borders and that they don’t face an immediate terrorist threat from their neighbor as no country should.”
“We have another friend who is over there and is actually fighting,” Jeff Pravato, 55 (R – Massapequa Park) told The Jewish Press. “The group that he’s with was supposed to train with the Shayetet [Flotilla] 13 forces so they were ready to go in. They were ready for combat because they were having combat maneuvers the next day.” Shayetet [Flotilla] 13 is a unit of the Israeli Navy and one of the primary reconnaissance units of the Israel Defense Forces. It specializes in sea-to-land incursions, counter-terrorism, sabotage, maritime intelligence-gathering, maritime hostage rescue, and boarding. The unit is trained for sea, air, and land actions and has taken part in almost all of Israel’s major wars as well as other actions. It is one of the most secretive operations in the Israeli military.
The slogan “From the river to the sea” used by supporters of the Palestinians is troubling to Pravato. “[It] means the destruction of every single Jew in the world and the destruction of Israel itself. That’s what Hamas wants. That’s all they want. No more Jews. They want to kill the one democratic, elected government in the Middle East. Israel is our greatest ally and we should stand behind them 110 percent,” Pravato said. “The Iranians don’t want to see peace in the world. They want to see the destruction of Israel and they have their little groups, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and all the little groups that are around Iraq and Syria to do their dirty work. They better watch it because they’re poking the bear and if you keep poking the bear it’s going to come back to bite them.”
Blumencranz agreed. “The call invokes the idea that there is no state of Israel and no room for a State of Israel because it is calling for the entire territory to be under Palestinian rule. I see any politician even repeating that call to be calling for a systematic elimination of the state of Israel. Many who are doing so are doing so very knowingly. It is extremely troubling that in 2023, politicians in the United States of America can be comfortable calling for the destruction of the state of Israel,” he said.
“The Gazans had a choice,” Pravato said. “They could have made that place a resort. You have Ashkelon right up the beach that is beautiful. They could have made billions of dollars.” Explaining his opposition to the calls for a ceasefire, he said, “[The Palestinians] can end the war very simply. Give up their leaders, exchange all the hostages. We need to get a government into Gaza that will govern so everybody can be free, enjoy life, and live together peacefully.”
He continued, “There was a ceasefire. Hamas started a war. That’s what disgusts me. Every drop of Palestinian blood in Gaza is on Hamas. It’s all their fault. Anything that happens. The entire war is contrary to the Abraham Accords. We have to keep supporting [the Israelis] with money and supplies.”
On the issue of a ceasefire, Blakeman said, “Israel would be foolish to enter into a ceasefire. It would only give Hamas an opportunity to rearm.”
Governor Kathy Hochul (D – Buffalo), U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D – Park Slope, Brooklyn), U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D – Crown Heights, Brooklyn), and Lt. Governor Antonio Delgado (D – Rhinebeck, Dutchess County) are all on the speakers’ circuit showing their verbal support for Israel.
Words offer a sense of comfort to people who are already on the same side. But words are not enough – they don’t do anything to change what is happening on the ground in Israel. We need action.