Queens lawmakers and community leaders gathered outside of Bagels & Co. in Fresh Meadows on Monday, Nov. 22, to denounce the recent anti-Semitic threats made against the establishment and to honor two staff members who bravely confronted the perpetrator.
State Assembly members David Weprin and Clyde Vanel, Councilman Barry Grodenchik, Councilwoman-elect Linda Lee and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards voiced their support for the Jewish community while stamping out hate in the “World’s Borough” during a press conference at 188-02 Union Tpke. on Monday.
“No acts of anti-Semitism or hate of any kind is acceptable in this community. Queens is the most diverse county in the United States and we must try to embody and defend the spirit of welcome and acceptance in the greatest place in the world,” said Weprin, who represents the district.
On Nov. 10, just after 3:30 p.m., a suspect entered the establishment while recording with his cellphone as he approached an employee.
“The individual made threats to the staff, patrons and business owner saying he will break the windows and burn the building down unless they took down the Israeli flags that are flying with the American flags on display,” Weprin said.
The NYPD 111th Precinct and NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is currently investigating the incident as a hate crime.
After speaking with Deputy Inspector Kevin Chan of the NYPD 111th Precinct, Weprin noted that police have some leads on the individual, but cannot disclose the confidential information. Weprin says they hope to identify the individual who was caught on video surveillance wearing a gray hoodie with gray sweatpants, a black beret and white headphones.
After commending the two staff members, Kevin Vasquez and Juan Yax, for stepping up to the perpetrator, Weprin presented them with a proclamation.
Although they’re being hailed as heroes, Yax and Vasquez, who are both from Guatemala and have been employed at Bagels & Co. for seven years, say they were just doing their job.
“We don’t feel like heroes — we did what anyone else would do. When you live in this community, you don’t want something bad to happen,” Vasquez said. “We appreciate the award.”
According to Yax, he tried to stop the man from entering the restaurant.
“I didn’t know what he had in the book bag. I asked him twice and saw a gentleman and another customer outside, and I chased after him,” Yax said.
The lawmakers encouraged bystanders to step up and speak out against acts of hate and violence.
“To combat hate, it takes each and every one of us to stand up against these acts. It takes everyday citizens to stand up and speak out against these incidents,” Richards said. “We are also proud of our Israeli flag in Queens county and stand with the Jewish community, each and every day.”
While there was a spike in hate crimes against the Asian American community during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee noted the importance of communities across the borough supporting each other.
“We represent so many cultures, dialects, communities and faiths. Whether it’s the Israeli flag, the turban on your head, what you wear, your skin color, no one should face any hate discrimination based on what you wear or look like,” Lee said. “We have to make sure that we are fighting it.”
Rabbi Manes Kogan, of the Hillcrest Jewish Center at 183-02 Union Tpke., said people should not fear representing who they are.
“We need to make sure that we are equal before the law. We should keep the flags up, and be proud of who we are and not be afraid of showing what makes us unique in our communities,” Kogan said.