An overflow crowd gathered in the cavernous lobby of the stately New York Surrogate Courthouse in lower Manhattan on Monday evening for an evening dedicated to the majestic heritage of the Jewish people. Sponsored by the Agudath Israel, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), the Met Council on Jewish Poverty and the UJA-Federation of New York, the Jewish Heritage celebration was the brainchild of New York City Comptroller John C. Liu, a native of Taiwan, who was the chief organizer of the event.
Among those present were German born Jewish psychologist and sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer. radio personality Nachum Segal, Helen Freedman, Executive Director of Americans For a Safe Israel (AFSI), New York State Assemblyman David Weprin, Consul General of Israel, Ido Aharoni, former New York City Councilman and current Deputy Comptroller for Budget and Accounting of the City of New York, Simcha Felder, Judith Shapiro of Jewish Heritage NY and NYS Assemblyman Michael Miller.
“I not only consider myself a friend to the Jewish community, but one who developed a true appreciation and understanding of the rich cultural and religious traditions of this timeless and eternal nation”, said Mr. Liu. In his introductory remarks, mentioning that he had just returned from his second trip to Israel and found it to be “a most magnificent experience in every way.”
Mr. Liu made reference to his participation in Chanukah menorah lighting ceremonies and his introduction to eating Hamantaschen on Purim. “Being a part of these traditions is very important to me and I salute the Jewish people for not only representing a beacon of light and hope to the world but for teaching the world the true meaning of freedom, democracy and liberty.”
Quoting the late David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York, said, “Being a realist in Israel means that you must believe in miracles. Our very existence as a people since the dawn of time has been solely dependent of the mercy and compassion of the G-d of Israel and tonight we celebrate the heritage that we clung to and sacrificed for throughout the millennium.”
Among those honored at Jewish Heritage of New York were Anna Rachmansky, the president of the Shorefront YMHA of Brighton Beach. Ms. Rachmansky arrived in the United States 30 years ago from the former Soviet Union and has dedicated her efforts towards creating a wide variety of social service programs that assist the Russian-Jewish community. Deborah Hes, the executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Washington Heights was honored for her work in helping Russian Jews integrate into the network of the New York City community. Also honored was Steven Goodman for four decades of Jewish communal service through the YMHA system of programs that help the less fortunate.
“We must never forget that there are those out there who struggle with hunger and poverty on a daily basis”, declared Alexander Rapaport, who was honored for operating soup kitchens in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn. With the assistance of the Met Council on Jewish Poverty, Mr Rapaport serves over 500 meals every day to those in need.
Praised for his work of saving Jewish lives 365 days a year through his work with Hatzolah, was honoree Rabbi David Cohen. Hatzolah, as an organization, is the largest volunteer ambulance service in the world. Chevra Hatzolah in New York has more than a thousand volunteer EMTs and paramedics who answer more than 250,000 calls each year with private vehicles and a fleet of more than 70 ambulances. Hatzolah members were among the first responders to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 and alongside other rescue workers, Hatzolah volunteers risked their lives to rescue, treat, and transport countless victims of the terrorist attack. In the process they earned great respect from their peers in the emergency service community.