Photo Credit: Marc Gronich
COJO Flatbush CEO Louis Welz.

The Brooklyn-based COJO Flatbush legislative breakfast, now in its 45th year, saw fewer attendees than in previous years because state lawmakers were called back to Albany for an unusual Sunday legislative session to negotiate the budget. The $335 billion-spending plan is nearly two weeks late, but at the end of the day, the negotiations were behind the scenes and no debates took place to pass agreed upon bills.

Assembly candidate Kalman Yeger accepts plaque on behalf of Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein.

Many lawmakers, including Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (D – Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn), who chairs the budget-writing Assembly Ways and Means Committee, was represented by New York City Councilman Kalman Yeger (D – Borough Park, Brooklyn). Weinstein, 71, who was first elected in 1981, is the most senior member in the Assembly.


“[Helene’s] service is legendary. The things we take for granted as a community were instituted by Helene,” Yeger said. “If you sent a kid to yeshiva anytime in the last 35 years in this city you have Helene Weinstein to owe for making the burden that much less for bringing the services, the resources, the funding to yeshivas that would not exist.  She’s an untold hero about it. She doesn’t ask for accolades; she doesn’t take a bow. We’re talking about $100,000 here and there. We are talking about institutionalized change in the way the state government and the yeshivas have combined to provide resources to yeshivas that had been going on for three decades. That’s Helene. A visionary.”

Dov Hikind (left) and a guest protesting Senator Schumer.

Also absent from the two-and-a-half-hour event, which attracted 300 people, was U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, who has made a point of attending each year. In light of his comments about Israel standing down from the war with Hamas and calling for new Israeli elections to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, many at the event said his remarks would not have been well-received. Former Assemblyman Dov Hikind stood in the lobby at the Kol Yaacov catering hall with an unnamed cohort, planning to protest Schumer if he attended.

Larry Spiewak, chairman of the board of COJO Flatbush, received the Distinguished Chesed award. He was introduced by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.

“This would have been impossible if the board did not support the hard-working staff. My friend Larry, for more than a decade now, has given his time and effort to support the board and chairperson,” Gonzalez said. “Larry has been a true friend to the law enforcement community. As district attorney, keeping this community safe is important. It’s impossible without people, who through the liaison, accomplishes this. Larry, you’ve been a true mensch and a friend to me.”


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Spiewak heaped praise on Gonzalez and COJO as an organization.

COJO Board Chairman Larry Spiewak at podium speaking to attendees.

“Mr. D.A., you are always there for us and always there for the community with love. You are a person that cares about us and who is there for us and his office,” Spiewak said. “I’m doing work that I love and I truly love it. I don’t come by my love for community work in a vacuum. I’ve learned from the best, my parents who were Holocaust survivors. Tragically, my father was murdered and my mother was critically injured shortly after my 18th birthday. The organizations that stepped up to help us were my first exposure to community involvement. I was lucky enough to marry into a family who are equally committed to the idea that you don’t only give with your pocket but with your heart.”

COJO Flatbush CEO Louis Welz said he has an ulterior motive for holding an event like this. “Very little fundraising takes place here,” he told The Jewish Press. “The city council and the state government account for a big chunk of our funding. It’s also a networking opportunity for the attendees. Most of this is to highlight the work of COJO year-round.

“I want to get more people involved. More volunteers, more people to join the board, it’s also important for the elected officials to come out and help, more people in the community to realize that we can’t do it on our own. We need help. We have volunteers between the ages of 18 to 90.”


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Welz described how COJO Flatbush provides assistance and aid throughout the community. “All of COJO’s programs and services transform lives and create opportunities for all segments of our communities. I say all segments because, while our office sits in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, our clientele is drawn from virtually every racial, ethnic and religious group in our multicultural city,” he said. “My commitment to the community is that COJO will continue to provide more services to the less fortunate among us in every possible way until they no longer need our help.”

Although there was a legislative session on Sunday, Senator Zellnor Myrie (D – Crown Heights, Brooklyn) attended the COJO event, receiving the Lena Cymbrowitz State Legislator award. He was the only member of the upper house to attend the breakfast.

“We have to strike against injustice wherever it is, and what COJO Flatbush does every single day, helping our most needy New Yorkers, that itself is a strike against injustice. We must also keep our families in our prayers for the folks who still have hostages that they don’t have contact with, we must continue to stand with them. We must continue to urge for their return home,” Myrie said.

“We hear so much from world leaders about humanitarian aid and concern for the terrorists and supporters. Eighty percent of their Palestinian supporters, why aren’t the hostages and the elderly discussed and mentioned and made as a condition for the supposed glorious ceasefire, which the world opinion will not allow Israel to finish their job to enter wherever the areas are necessary to liquidate these sub-human terrorists. Certain world leaders now have the nerve to even advise and demand the government of Israel to have new elections by mixing into their internal policies and telling the local population whom to vote [for].”

Left to right, Joel Eisdorfer (Adams advisor), Mayor Eric Adams, Menashe Shapiro (Adams deputy chief of staff), and Fred Kreizman (commissioner, community affairs unit).

New York City Mayor Eric Adams received the Distinguished Public Leadership award.

“You believe in the things that I believe in. You believe in faith. You believe in family. You believe in business. You believe in education. Most importantly, you believe in public safety. You support your police department. I would never, never give up the right that we can have public safety and justice, they go together. You have witnessed the resiliency of this city and at the cornerstone of the resiliency [is] the diversity we have in communities like this community and so many others. This is a community where you won’t have to take off your yarmulke to walk the street because of hatred. That’s not going to happen. We will stand up to hate no matter where we see it,” Adams told the crowd. “Hamas must be destroyed and the hostages must be returned home and we can end this violence by taking the necessary steps to do so.”

Giving the most fiery speech of the morning event was Michael Lawler, who received the Distinguished Statesman award. He was the only speaker to mention Senator Schumer’s remarks on the floor of Congress.


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“Let’s be clear. There can be no ceasefire without the complete and total surrender of Hamas and the release of the hostages. Let us also be clear. Israel has a right to exist, it has the right to defend itself and it has the right to its citizens choosing its elected leadership. We cannot and should undermine the state of Israel now and forever,” Lawler (R – Pearl River, Rockland County) said.

“To my colleagues in government, including our United States Senator [Charles Schumer], we have an obligation to support the state of Israel and its government. We cannot and should not ever tell the Israeli people what to do with their government. We don’t want others interfering in our elections and we should never interfere in theirs.

“If we are to combat what occurred on October 7, it starts with education. It starts with stopping antisemitism dead in its tracks. Not just in Gaza but here in the United States of America. I introduced legislation, the Stop Antisemitism on College Campuses Act, which would defund institutions of higher learning that promote and sanction antisemitism on their campuses. That’s why I introduced the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which would require the Department of Education to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism for all discrimination and enforcement actions. We must combat antisemitism wherever it rears its ugly head, whether it’s in the streets of New York City or in the halls of Congress, they must be rooted out, everywhere it exists. It’s hard to believe that in 2024 we have members of Congress from New York who ooze in antisemitism. They must be defeated at every turn.”

Welz honored the lay leadership of COJO, saying, “Moshe Zakheim, president of the COJO Board; Larry Spiewak, chairman of the COJO Board and Leon Goldenberg, first vice president of the COJO Board are all successful businessmen in their own right but they are all more known for their chesed than for their actual businesses. They are the foundation that supports everything COJO does. Their hineni, can-do attitude, are vital to the success of COJO and much appreciated.”


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Other award recipients were Yitchok Landsman, vice president of Stat Electric and Maintenance Corp., who received the Volunteer of the Year award; Stephen Bush, chairman, president and CEO of Apple Bank, received the Excellence in Banking award and NYC Councilwoman Susan Zheng received the Distinguished Freshman Leadership award. Acting as the Master of Ceremonies was Yakov Brisman, founder of the Bristol Law Firm, which specializes in labor, employment and education law.


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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].