Following the unprecedented attack on Israel almost two weeks ago, the 54th Queens Jewish Community Council Gala almost didn’t happen this year.
The annual fundraising event helps fund various social services that QJCC carries out in Queens, including a food pantry and assistance acquiring affordable health insurance. As an umbrella organization, they connect 130 Jewish organizations in Queens and host the yearly Jewish Music Under the Stars at Cunningham Park. While the group is non denominal, it works to advocate for the concerns of the Jewish community.
This year’s event held on Wednesday, Oct. 18, at Da Mikele Illagio in Elmhurst specifically honored Michael Nussbaum for his lifelong achievements to the Queens Jewish community. It also hoped to designate some of the raised funds for new QJCC offices.
But with the surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, and the subsequent war that is unfolding in the region, the conflict was on everyone’s minds. Elected city officials, including Mayor Eric Adams and City Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli delivered remarks. From the borough, District Attorney Melinda Katz and Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. also expressed solidarity with Israel and the Jewish community in Queens.
“Especially in Queens now, after the way politicians have reacted over the last eleven days, it’s been kind of heartening to hear that they have a grasp of the situation and understand the vulnerabilities and what the concerns are,” said Mayer Waxman, executive director of QJCC, who organized the event and mentioned that they strongly considered canceling this year.
Council Members Lynn Schulman, Linda Lee, Joann Ariola, Selvena Brooks-Powers, Sandra Ung and James Gennaro collectively presented QJCC with a proclamation and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams made an appearance early on in the night to express solidarity, but did not deliver remarks.
“The unwavering support from America has fortified us during this exceedingly challenging period, and will play an instrumental role as we undertake resolute campaign to dismantle commerce and secure the release of the kidnapped hostages,” said Tsach Saar, the deputy and acting consul general of Israel in New York.
Israel’s military estimates that over 200 people were taken hostage by Hamas in their Oct. 7 assault that killed at least 1,400 people. Since then, at least 3,785 Palestinians have been killed in retaliation, and 12,493 have been wounded by Israeli strikes, according to officials.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is the highest ranking Jewish elected official in the United States, Attorney General of New York Letitia James and U.S. Reps. Grace Meng and Gregory Meeks could not attend, but sent video remarks that were played for attendees.
“I’m also reminded on an evening like this, that it’s so important for leaders such as myself, to support, to be here, during your time of grief,” said Borough President Richards. “I’m reminded of the days of the civil rights movement, how Blacks and Jews came together. And somehow over the course of the last few years, there’s been an unspoken tension. But we stand together.“
City Comptroller DiNapoli reminded everyone that New York continues to be the largest holder of Israel bonds in the United States, and its pension fund acquired $20 million in state of Israel bonds just last week. The state’s Common Retirement Fund currently holds $267.8 million in Israeli bonds.
While all speakers expressed their support for Israel defending themselves, they also took the time to honor Nussbaum, who is the current president of QJCC. He is also the publisher of the Queens Daily Eagle and is on the NYC Civic Engagement Commission.
“We’re here to celebrate this wonderful 54th anniversary and to honor the great legacy of Michael Nussbaum. But as we all know, our hearts are heavy reflecting on events unfolding in Israel and the Middle East,” said DiNapoli. “And we are here not just to celebrate, but also to reaffirm our commitment to support Israel law to support Israel’s right to defend itself and to support Israel in its mission to make sure such a terrorist attack by Hamas never happens again.”
A memorial candle was reserved for each seat at dozens of tables. Following a prayer by Rabbi Potasnick, everyone lit theirs and placed them together.
“I stand with the communities of this city, and evil is evil. And we should not allow evil to exist in our city,” said Mayor Adams. “If you can’t feel safe in New York City where can you feel safe.”