The stars aligned as the glitterati in the Boro Park Jewish community came out for a legislative barbeque last Wednesday evening to receive awards from the Borough Park Jewish Community Council and to support the recipients as guests feasted on hot dogs, hamburgers, deli meats, salads and sushi. There was no charge for the event, as Fidelis Care, Metropolitan Community Bank and Brooklyn Square sponsored the cost.
Before a crowd of more than 250, six major community, political and appointed individuals were honored for keeping Boro Park a safe and family-friendly place to live.
Receiving the Congressional Leadership award was Hakeem Jeffries (D – Crown Heights), 53, representing the 8th Congressional District; the Lifetime Chesed award was given to Olga Lipschitz, a Holocaust survivor, the founder of Heritage Levavot [hearts]; the Community Guardian award went to the Senior Vice President for Sales at Fidelis Care Scott Averill, the Hakaras Hatov (the appreciation for good) award was presented to Fred Kreizman, the New York City Commissioner for the Community Affairs Unit; Simcha Eichenstein (D – Midwood / Boro Park), 40, an Assemblyman representing the 48th Assembly District and a member of former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s legislative affairs team in Albany, took home the Distinguished Service award; and finally, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso (D – Williamsburg), 40, received the Borough Leadership award.
Others who spoke at the event included Isaac Stern, president of the BPJCC, Rabbi Avi Greenstein, CEO, of the BPJCC, Israel Nitzan, the acting consul general from Israel, Inspector Richie Taylor, the highest-ranking frum officer in the NYPD, who currently serves as the commanding officer of the NYPD Community Affairs Outreach, Senator Kevin Parker (D – Flatbush) and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine (D).
New York’s senior U.S. Senator, Charles Schumer (D – Park Slope), also the Senate Majority Leader, made a grand entrance into the Brooklyn Square Rooftop on 14th Avenue precisely at 6:00 p.m. It was the usual scene of Schumer trying to navigate his way through the throngs of supporters. Schumer, 72, who occasionally attends services at Congregation Beth Elohim, a Reform synagogue near Prospect Park, appeared to revel in all the attention.
Once he started to speak, the audience continued talking over his remarks, to which Schumer said, sheket bevakasha [quiet, please], and after the crowd quieted down, he said Todah Habah [mispronouncing Habah which should have been Rabah meaning thank you very much]. Referring to the Covid pandemic he said, Tzuris af tzulachis [troubles abound], and ended his remarks with Hatzlacha.
“I made sure Boro Park got hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with the Covid crisis. We got money for our shtiblach, we got money for our shuls, we got money for our yeshivas, we got money for every major Jewish organization,” Schumer proudly said. “There were some in my party who said we don’t give to religious organizations. I said, ‘Oh yes we do.’ The yeshivas got as much money as all the other public schools, more than $300 million.
“Remember when they gave out the checks for $1,400 for families with three children? I got calls from the rabbonim here in Boro Park and in Williamsburg. The Bobov community and so many other communities who told me no one has just three children. I made sure the checks went to everybody. That helped pay the tuition during the time when people weren’t working. We worked very, very hard and we’re going to keep fighting. Wrapping up his remarks, Schumer said, “To this community, we wish you the best, to everyone in Boro Park and to this great JCC, hatzlacha [continued success].”
Jeffries, a Crown Heights native, serves as the House Democratic Leader in Washington. He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his remarks, saying, “An injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere. What Dr. King was saying to us is that whenever we see a community under assault, particularly a community that has been targeted throughout the years, the Jewish community, 2,000-plus years of pain, persecution, pogroms, of course the Holocaust, and continued antisemitic attacks. Whenever we see a community under assault, it is our moral responsibility to stand with that community. Our pledge in this era of rising antisemitism is that we will always stand with the Boro Park Jewish community and Jewish communities all across the country until we crush antisemitism, bury it in the ground, never to be seen again.”
In attendance and given an opportunity to speak, though he did not receive an award, was Israel Nitzan, the acting consul general from Israel. Nitzan arrived in New York five years ago and is ending his tour of duty as he is returning in a few weeks to his homeland. Israel. He offered one parting message to the dinner attendees.
“It is important for us to acknowledge the fact that antisemitism is here,” Nitzan said. “We cannot and should not ignore it. We should fight it decisively all together. We are all with you in fighting antisemitism. The state of Israel is grateful for your friendship and your support.”
Jeffries announced at the dinner that he would be taking a congressional delegation to Israel on August 4, making this his seventh trip to the Jewish state.
“One of my colleagues said, ‘You’ve been to Israel six times and you’re heading there a seventh time, more than any other country that you’ve been to throughout the world?’ I said, ‘That’s correct.’ He said, ‘Don’t you think that’s a lot of time to visit one country?’
“I said, ‘Understand something. I’m from Brooklyn where we consider Jerusalem to be the sixth borough. So, I’m just trying to catch up. We’re going to value the special relationship that exists between the United States and Israel. It’s a special relationship anchored in our shared democratic values, our shared strategic interest, and perhaps even above all of that, we will reaffirm that as I lead another congressional delegation to Israel. We will always stand with Israel and its right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people in a safe and secure fashion,’” Jeffries concluded.
As Jeffries finished his remarks about antisemitism and mentioning the Holocaust, one of the other award honorees took the stage. Olga Lipschitz, 91, a Holocaust survivor, grew up in a village in Hungary.
“I was all of seven years old when we were in the Holocaust,” Lipschitz recalled. “That’s how the Holocaust started, where we didn’t have what to eat. My mother brought along a small bottle of vinegar because we were together with seven children, we were thirsty, it was summer. She used to take her finger into the vinegar and put it on our tongue. When we arrived [in the United States] all the children’s mouths were swollen from the vinegar but we didn’t care because it was something to drink.”
In the 1980s, Lipschitz worked for a state health commissioner considered to be one of the finest administrators to lead a major state agency. Dr. David Axelrod hired Lipschitz as deputy to the commissioner of health in Albany.
“I want to mention someone who was able to achieve my purpose with the senior citizens, Dr. David Axelrod, who helped me many, many years ago when I was a young woman starting with this, and he was the one that says ‘You’re going to be the one who is going to work with me personally.’ He was one of the best, best visionaries and a best friend for the senior citizens,” Lipschitz concluded.
Axelrod suffered a stroke in February 1991 and died three years later at age 59 and never achieving the designation of “senior citizen.”
The tone of the speeches changed to the suffering and problems plaguing the Big Apple, focusing on the person who devises the plans to mitigate catastrophes.
“There’s a lot of pain behind many apartment doors right here in Boro Park. There’s a lot of suffering behind those doors. A lot of suffering inside many homes. Fred [Kreizman] is at the forefront. He brings the resources of the entire city of New York,” said Inspector Richie Taylor, the highest ranking frum officer in the NYPD. “It takes the best [Mayor Eric Adams] to know the best and appoint the best. Fred doesn’t do this because he has to. He does this because he wants to.”
Kreizman, Adams’ commissioner of the Community Affairs Unit, began by relating to the audience that his grandparents were Holocaust survivors.
“This is really a coming-home for me. My parents were immigrants. My grandparents came in 1974. My grandfather was a butcher in Boro Park. I grew up on Ninth Avenue and 48th Street. I went to a yeshiva in Boro Park,” Kreizman said. “I don’t accept this award only for me but for the whole administration because it is teamwork but in dedication to my grandparents who came to Boro Park as Holocaust survivors. At the mayor’s office, we don’t take anything for granted. This is a mayor who believes in appointing people with empathy. Each and every day we look on not wasting the day.”
Eichenstein took time from his schedule to stay for the entire two-and-a-half-hour program. As time was running out and he was the final speaker of the evening, he kept his remarks to a minimum.
“The truth is, I should be presenting this award to the Boro Park JCC. Avi, Yitzy Stern, Jules Fleischer and the entire team, I want to thank you for the partnership,” Eichenstein said. “Avi, to you personally, you have taken this organization and you’ve really turned it into a multi-faceted social services organization.”
Reynoso, the Brooklyn borough president, expressed his gratitude for the BPJCC helping in ways the government might not be able to work fast enough.
“What the Boro Park Jewish Community Council does is take care of the people who need the most help. If you listen to the way Avi speaks about these issues, you know that he’s not in it for the money, the fame, the glory, all of which he doesn’t get a lot of. He did it because he actually cares about people. That is the kind of organization we need to pay attention to and support,” Reynoso said.
Then Reynoso turned to quote a Brooklyn rapper, The Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Christopher Wallace, recalling the rapper’s famous expression, ‘Spread love. It’s the Brooklyn way.’
“No one has done that better than the Borough Park JCC,” Reynoso said.
Fidelis Care’s Scott Averill had the least to say during the program.
“We are on a mission to provide as much health insurance to as many New Yorkers as possible, particularly those in need,” Averill said. “As the state’s largest safety net provider with more than 2.6 million members, we’re on a mission to continue that, especially now with redeterminations going on where people have to requalify for coverage. It’s with partners like the BPJCC that we accomplish that mission.”
Ever the promoter of Borough Park, Rabbi Avi Greenstein sees the bright side of his world, a contrast to the police department mention of pain existing behind the closed doors of Boro Park apartments.
“Boro Park is a thriving and growing and vibrant community. A story that is not being told often enough and loud enough,” Greenstein told The Jewish Press. “[Boro Park] is a story of businesses prospering, families that are being raised in the most beautiful and safest environment, minimal to zero crime. You see children who are well-dressed, well-fed, well-mannered. This is not by accident. This is the core of an educational foundation of institutions that from the cradle, as they grow, teach children ethics, teach families to lead a Torah life. We are not a religious program. We are a community-based program that has to look out for this community’s needs and make sure that nobody falls through the cracks. We want them [the elected officials] to appreciate this community for what it is contributing to society. At the same time, you want to hear from them that we have partners at all levels of government that are caring for us and when there are issues of a hate crime, we can know that they have our back.”
The emcee for the evening was New York City Councilman Kalman Yeger, 49, whose district includes all or part of the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bensonhurst, Borough Park, Gravesend, Kensington and Midwood. Yeger is in his final term serving on the city council.