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Sat. May 18th, 2024

 

I arrived just after midnight on Monday at JFK after an intense couple of days in Israel with Mayor Bill DeBlasio.

As we all know, the situation in Israel is very tense as the wave of terror attacks persists. Clearly evident is the sparseness of pedestrians on the streets and the visibility of law enforcement, both civilian and military. The presence of the Mayor of the City of New York, in my view, made a palpable difference to the Israelis whom we encountered and likely to those who learned via the media about the visit.

The small group that accompanied the Mayor, including my colleagues UJA-Federation’s CEO Eric Goldstein and Managing Director of Government Relations Jeff Leb, began the trip with a lovely Shabbat dinner on Friday night. The Mayor is no stranger to Shabbat dinners in Jerusalem, having already been on two previous JCRC-NY missions, once as a City Councilmember and a second time as Public Advocate. After Kiddush, Motzi, a delicious meal, followed by Birkat Hamazon, there was a collective decision, with the consent of the security detail, to walk into the Old City to the Kotel (Western Wall).

Walking into the Old City at 10:30pm one usually encounters tourists and revelers. In this instance, there was utter silence. We walked through the shuk, the narrow alleys of the Arab market, which was all shuttered up. However, there were two armed and alert border soldiers (Mishmar Hagvul) posted about every 20 meters. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the Kotel we found it silent, as well, with no more than a half dozen individuals praying. The mayor requested of us that we give him some space so that he could “absorb” the spirituality of the place which, of course, we did. Those were meaningful moments of silence for all of us.

On Shabbat morning, Eric and I walked to the Kotel for morning prayers, again through the shuttered and well protected shuk. We found a visible diminution of attendance at the Wall. The minyan we prayed among was supposed to begin at 8:00am but did not start until 8:30am because the organizer was not able to recruit a tenth participant for the quorum.

After Shabbat ended, we joined Mayor DeBlasio and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on a visit to Hadassah Hospital (Ein Kerem) to meet some of the terror victims. Our first encounter was with Maria Veldman (photo #1), a Christian woman from Holland, who has been living in Israel for over 3 decades and has dedicated herself to raising 20 Arab children as a foster mother. One of her daughters sat at her side with tears welling up as her mother recounted for us the harrowing experience she had on the #78 bus. Maria was the first stabbing victim of one of two Arab terrorists, who had been joking around on the bus, moments before the chilling yell of “alahu achbar” and the knife to her chest. The wound was visibly bandaged and it was evident how perilously close it was to her heart. She was fortunate to have escaped from the bus and while stumbling and bleeding was picked up by a Jewish man “with a kippah” who wrapped his shirt around her as a tourniquet and drove her to the hospital. IMG-20151017-WA0000

Our second visit was with Pesach Krishevsky (photo #2), a 75 year old Chassidic man, who was waiting for a bus when a terrorist drove his car into the bus stop, killing Yeshaya Krishevsky, and then got out and began brutally hacking at the elderly man with a meat cleaver. Here is a link to a video of the attack which I warn you is violent and graphic –http://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2015/10/14/israel-attack-surveillance-footage-jerusalem-orig.israeli-police. As you may be able to see in the attached photo (his kippah is covering a very deep and stitched forehead gash), Mr. Krishevsky’s wounds are somewhat disfiguring and yet his spirits were so uplifting. For those who say prayers for the ill, his Hebrew name is Pesach ben Rachel Miriam Hadassah (yes, Hadassah!) and please pray for Maria too, among all of the wounded. israel2

The two mayors then held a press conference at the hospital (photo #3)where Mayor Barkat, first in Hebrew and then in English, expressed his deep appreciation for Mayor DeBlasio’s visit and  Mayor DeBlasio responded: “Specifically [with regard to] Jerusalem, New York City . . . feel[s] extraordinary closeness – our people, by blood, by history, feel such a connection. So when you are going through pain too, when you are under attack, we feel under attack too. And so, I am honored to be here.” We were also joined throughout the trip by Amb. Ido Aharoni, Israel Consul General in New York, who was instrumental in organizing the visit (photo #4). israel3

Later that night, several of us walked to the Mamila Mall, which is usually teeming with tourists, Israelis and Palestinians. As you can imagine, there was hardly anyone there. We patronized one of the restaurants that was still open to enjoy a light meal and show our solidarity, which was sincerely appreciated. israel4

Sunday morning we joined Mayor DeBlasio at the Kotel for an official visit (photo #5) where he saw some archeological excavations and went down into the tunnel area parallel to the Wall. In the guest book he was handed to sign, the Mayor wrote: “It is a profound honor to be at this holy place. We are reminded here of the power of faith. Thank you for preserving this for all the future generations.” (photo #6) israel5

From there we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum, where the mayor was given a brief tour and then delivered a powerful address on the scourge of anti-Semitism. (photo #7) israel6

The group parted with the mayor and several of us decided to leave the hotel and go up to a popular falafel and shawarma place on King George St. for lunch. The streets were sparsely populated and the shop owner was very grateful that we showed up, once again, in solidarity with the residents of Jerusalem.

We flew back Sunday night on a 7:15pm El Al flight after an experience in Israel that was difficult to absorb. On the lighter side, I happened to know the pilot who captained our flight and was able to arrange for the Mayor to join me on a visit to the cockpit. 32,000 feet over the earth, as we flew over Copenhagen, it was so peaceful and quiet for the 30 minutes we were there. Would that on terra firma, 32,000 feet below us, it might be as serene.

 

Shalom,

 

Michael

 

Michael S. Miller
Executive Vice President and CEO
Jewish Community Relations Council of New York
225 West 34th Street, Suite 1607
New York, NY 10122
(w) 212-983-4800, ext. 130
(f)  212-983-4084
www.jcrcny.org

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