Boro leaders take stand against hate

Photo by Rebecca Henely
By Rebecca Henely

Government and religious leaders from across the borough gathered at Flushing Town Hall last week to sign a pledge against hate in the wake of anti-Semitic crimes in Queens.

“I decided to do this because somewhat I’m angry, somewhat I’m sad and somewhat I thought it needed to be done,” said Michael Nussbaum, of the Jewish Community Relations Council, who organized the event.

The document, which was signed by about 30 leaders Nov. 23 at the hall, , is titled “A Pledge for Tolerance & Understanding” and calls for unity among people of all races, colors, nationalities and backgrounds.

“We all come from the same root and we must all learn the power of tolerance,” said the Rev. Floyd Flake, a former congressman and leader of the Greater Allen AME Church in Jamaica.

While the wording is different and encompasses more types of people, the document is based on The Flushing Remonstrance, a letter written in 1657 by Flushing residents to then-New Netherland Director General Peter Stuyvesant, condemning him for prohibiting Quakers to worship and seeking religious freedom.

“It really is the prelude to what Thomas Jefferson and others wrote in the First Amendment,” Nussbaum said.

The pledge also represented a widespread condemnation of swastika graffiti painted on libraries and religious institutions in the Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst areas in early November. A 40-year-old Jackson Heights man, Franco Rodriguez, was arrested in connection with the crimes Nov. 12.

“Anytime hate crime happens, anytime swastikas are painted on the walls, it’s very important for the community to speak out,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), the representative for the area where the attacks occurred.

District Attorney Richard Brown said acts of bias have become more common in recent years and that they should never be tolerated in Queens.

“They intimidate, they disrupt entire communities,” Brown said.

Borough President Helen Marshall and elected officials from all over the borough went to the hall, at 137-35 Northern Blvd., to sign the pledge.

Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said he was proud to sign the pledge and jumped at the chance when Nussbaum asked him to do so.

“I said yes immediately because I immediately understood what his desire was and wanted to be a part of it,” Comrie said.

State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said all people who visit New York come through Queens via its two airports, which made the pledge all the more important.

“It’s a very symbolic move to show we won’t tolerate hate and we’re all American regardless of what we look like,” she said.

Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Electchester) said his predecessor, Nettie Mayersohn, introduced legislation to make Holocaust studies a part of New York’s curriculum for children.

“I think we need to amend that and teach tolerance for all children,” Simanowitz said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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