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Transcript: Mayor Bill de Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray Deliver Remarks at Jewish Heritage Reception

June 29, 2016

Marco Carrión, Commissioner of Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs: Good evening, everyone. Everyone, welcome to Gracie Mansion. Thank you all for joining us and celebrating Jewish Heritage.

My name is Marco Carrión. I am the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs.

[Applause]

Thank you. And it is my honor and privilege to introduce your First Lady, Chirlane McCray.

[Applause]

First Lady Chirlane McCray: Good Evening and erev tov.

Welcome to Gracie Mansion. This is the people’s house. This is your house and you are always welcome here.

Bill and I are truly honored to host this gathering and celebrate all the ways our Jewish brothers and sisters are making the greatest city in the world, even greater.

[Applause]

Over the last year-and-a-half I have had many opportunities to witness the Jewish community’s resilience, selflessness, and strength – thanks to my work on ThriveNYC.

ThriveNYC is our plan – our road map – to change the way people think about mental health and the way the City and its partners deliver services. And I was drawn to this work because our own family has been touched by a mental health challenge. Bill’s father and both of my parents suffered from depression and our remarkable daughter, Chiara, suffered from anxiety, depression and addiction.

Now, I am proud to say that Chiara is well into recovery.

Thank you, thank you. You can applaud for that.

[Applause]

She is an advocate for other young people who are going through similar struggles and I am really proud to say that she graduated from college just a couple of weeks ago.

[Applause]

Thank you.

But even after our family’s crisis subsided, Bill and I wondered, what do other families do? How do they manage? This was so hard for us. So what do other families do that don’t have the resources, don’t have the network that we have?

So ThriveNYC is this administration’s effort to make sure that all of our families get the help they need. And from the very beginning, the Jewish community has been a valued and valuable partner.

One of the first big speeches I gave about mental health was a breakfast hosted at OHEL. Organizations like the Jewish Board of Family Children and Pesach Tikvah help shape our mental health plan. And I’ve shared my personal story and the story of ThriveNYC at synagogues all across the city.

At every visit and in every meeting I have been welcomed with warmth and sincere invitations to work together. And I know the people I have met are not just being polite. Jewish New Yorkers are eager – eager to help with ThriveNYC because their families have been touched and their city has been touched by what is really a public health crisis. And they want to be part of the solution.

I am reminded of a beautiful Hebrew phrase I have come to cherish – ‘Tikkun Olam’ or ‘repair the world’. When we see a break in our family, in our community, in our city, we are called upon to repair it.

And so, I hope all of you will help me answer the call to create a healthier, happier New York. If someone you know is struggling with a mental health challenge, for whatever reason, please listen. For whatever reason, just encourage them. Encourage them to share their feelings and seek some help. And if you would like to learn more about what we are doing and how you can get involved please visit nyc.gov/ThriveNYC because we hope you will join us in helping to create a city where every New Yorker can thrive.

[Applause]

It is now my pleasure to introduce my husband and partner in all things. As long as I’ve known him, Bill has been a proud partner to the Jewish people. As long as I’ve known him, Bill has always stood up to those who would discriminate against Jewish New Yorkers. And as long as I’ve known him Bill has identified with the core values that have defined Judaism for a millennia – values like service and justice. But I don’t want to steal his thunder. So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our Mayor, Bill de Blasio.

[Applause]      

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Well, welcome everyone. It is a joy to have so many friends, so many wonderful leaders of the community, so many devoted New Yorkers who do so much for the City all under one tent on a beautiful summer’s evening. So we welcome you all.

Shalom everyone.

I want to thank Chirlane. You know, I just – I think everyone knows that I am deeply in love with my wife. And so maybe I am not the most objective person but I think I can say objectively that the work she just described on mental health is not easy. It is long overdue, it is fundamentally necessary if we are going to cure so many of the other challenges we face.

And I am glad she used the phrase ‘Tikkun Olam’ because if we reach out to all the people of this city who have a mental health challenge, and help them get the help they need, that is healing this city and healing the world. Let us thank our First Lady, Chirlane McCray.

[Applause]

Tonight, we celebrate the extraordinary Jewish heritage of this city. I just came back from the United States Conference of Mayors in Indianapolis, and it dawned on me, meeting my fellow mayors from around the country, that as a New Yorker there’s a lot of things we say and do that are normal to us and might not make sense to other people.

So every time someone told me that they had got an award or done something great in their city, I immediately started to say ‘Mazel Tov’. And I realize that not everybody is clued in on that. And you know they told me about their political opponents I’d say, he’s ‘mashugana’ and you know it dawns on me, as New Yorkers – to really be a New Yorker you have to basically integrate a certain number of Yiddish words into your everyday life.

As one small example of the power of the Jewish heritage of this city – what an impact over hundreds of years in making this the greatest city in the world. Now I do not think we have to debate that we are the greatest city in the world, and if you say one of the absolutely essential, foundational, cultural, religious, human elements of this greatness has been the Jewish community – then you have something immediately to applaud for, so thank you for making this the greatest city in the world.

[Applause]

Now this is where I do my boastful statement that I like to do. Some of you heard it, some of you haven’t but as recently as last year when I was in Israel, I like to do a thing where I talk to the Mayor of Jerusalem – in this case Mayor Barkat and the Mayor of Tel-Aviv – in this case Mayor Huldai. And I like to remind them in a kind of ribbing way that within the city limits of Tel-Aviv, within the city limits of Jerusalem there are not as many people in the city limits of New York City. And it’s very embarrassing for them but I do it, every chance I get.

So, this is the city on this great Earth with the largest Jewish population of any city in the world – we’re it. 

[Applause]

And it’s a city that values that status by embracing, respecting, and protecting the Jewish community, as we do all communities. But here, that core idea, that core notion of a place where this community can be respected and at peace – it is being achieved in this time in New York City. It has been a struggle for centuries and centuries, on continent after continent for the Jewish people, and yet, today, in New York City, we largely realize that dream of a place where the Jewish community can live in peace with the full respect of their government, which is right and proper.

Now, I’ve said this before, but I want to note it again, there are places in the world this is not true, including places that we think share our values. Some of our brother and sister nations in Western Europe still have more work to do when it comes to protecting and respecting their Jewish communities, and we will remind them of that fact.

[Applause] 

And they have to recognize, you cannot be a healthy democracy if you don’t confront every attack of hatred and intolerance. In this city, we learned a long time ago, when there’s an act of bias, when there’s an act of intolerance, confront it. Don’t let it stand. Don’t let the cancer spread. I’m going to continue to be a voice, calling on governments, and cities, and countries all over the world to live up to that standard and protect their community. 

[Applause]

In that vein, I want to quickly mention some of the wonderful people from our administration, and elected officials who are here tonight, but I want to start with those who are responsible for our public safety, because I am so proud of the work they do, and I hear compliments every day, and it’s a time to reflect on how blessed New York City is with our Police Department, our Fire Department – the extraordinary work they do every single day in this city.

[Applause]

Let’s thank NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.

[Applause]

And let’s thank our Fire Commissioner, Dan Nigro.

[Applause]

While we’re at it, we’re going to thank some other people. Let’s thank the Deputy Mayor who brought pre-K all over the city, including to Yeshivas all over the city – Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, thank you; our Small Business Services Commissioner, Greg Bishop; our OATH Commissioner, Fidel del Valle. You heard earlier from our Community Affairs Commissioner, Marco Carrión – he has a fan club here. Veteran Services Commissioner Loree Sutton; our Chief Actuary, Sherry Chan; the woman who puts on these great events – our Special Events Director, Carla Matero; and my Director of Appointments, who hires everyone, Rachel Lauter, thank you very much. 

[Applause]

Let’s thank the elected officials who are here. From the New York State Assembly, David Weprin, thank you; from my old neighborhood, Dov Hikind, thank you; Rebecca Seawright, from this neighborhood, thank you; from the City Council, Chaim Deutsch, thank you; Andy Cohen; David Greenfield; Helen Rosenthal; and the newest member of the Jewish Caucus, Ydanis Rodriguez, thank you. 

[Applause]

It’s a little only-in-New-York moment. 

[Laughter]

We, in a moment, are going to celebrate a great man. I’m not going to tell you it’s Ido Aharoni. I’m not going to tell you that in advance, but I can tell you that his parents are here and they’re remarkable people who helped bring us Ido. So, let’s thank Ahouva and Emmanuel for a wonderful son they brought to this world. Thank you – right over there – thank you so much. 

[Applause]

And I know a lot of Ido’s family is here tonight. We welcome them warmly. I’ll say something about him in just a moment, but let me finish a couple of other quick thoughts. 

A debate in this country – I’ll keep this broad, but I think I’ll make my point – there’s been a debate in this country where the phrase, New York values, was used pejoratively. Now, we in New York, do not take kindly to New York values being used as a negative. New York values are – inclusion, respect, tolerance, all faiths, all peoples working together in harmony.

I think that’s very resonate with Jewish values. I think that’s very resonant with American values. And we in this city stand as a beacon – because you can see it all the time. In this city, you can walk down any street and see a harmony, a real, practical harmony on our streets, in our subways. It’s not perfect, but, boy, could the rest of the world learn from it. And we stand as a beacon, and we’re proud of that.

[Applause]

And we know that we have to stand up when the values we cherish are under attack. I certainly felt that on my last trip to Israel. I went, joining mayors from all over the world, and as I was arriving, it was just as a wave of terror was beginning, and I saw the pain on the faces of so many Israeli’s, and I knew it was even more important to be there in solidarity at that moment to stand shoulder-to-shoulder. And I had the occasion to visit Hadassah Hospital – one of the most moving experiences you could possibly have. Let’s thank everyone from Hadassah who’s here.

[Applause]

Chirlane, you will not be surprised to know, one of the great hospitals in the world, with some of the greatest values of inclusion, and understanding, and harmony – of course, led by women the whole way. I’m sure you will not be shocked by that.

I saw – in that very painful moment, I saw something I didn’t expect. I expected – I was literally meeting victims of terror and their families – I was expecting to be sorrowful only, to be in pain with them only, and, yet, I heard such extraordinary, life-affirming stories – people who said, we’ll overcome this; people who affirmed their love of life, and their hope, and their resilience. And that hospital serves everyone, by the way. It serves everyone. It’s a model for the entire Middle East.

[Applause]

And I literally left the floor where I met with these patients and their families – I literally left with a moment of hope that one day there can be peace in the Middle East. I believe in a two-state solution. I believe that, one day, it will be achieved, but there I saw a living example of the fact that peace could be possible. I saw it. I went to visit an amazing organization called Hand In Hand. I saw Jewish children and Arab children learning together in peace, in mutual respect.

[Applause]

Learning each other’s language, so, if they know each other’s language, they can have a conversation about peace. There is hope. There is hope, and we prove it every day. As I said, we’re not perfect, but walk down Coney Island Avenue and see what peaceful coexistence looks like. 

There is hope.

[Applause]

In this city, we implicitly answer a call from scripture. We implicitly live out this instruction.

‘Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof.’ That is what, every day, we live out – “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” And we’re proud of that fact.

So, we will continue. We will continue to embrace all peoples in this city, and we will continue to embrace all faith communities. And I want to make this clear as a proud progressive – as is Chirlane – we think progressive change, and fairness, and justice comes by working shoulder-to-shoulder, arm-in-arm with our faith communities. We think it’s necessary to achieve the changes that we need.

[Applause]

And that is why we are building affordable housing with faith communities all over the city. That is why pre-K was done in public schools, and charter schools, and Yeshivas, and Catholic schools for the good of all.

[Applause]

That is why we restored funding for child-care vouchers – so important to this community.

[Applause]

That is why we are finally fixing a special education system that used to make it harder on parents who already had such burdens rather than offering them a helping hand.

[Applause]

We’ll continue that work here, and we’ll always continue to be in solidarity with the State of Israel. No one in Israel ever has to wonder about the solidarity that will emanate from this City Hall and from the City of New York.

[Applause]

And now is the perfect time to mention someone who really – I don’t know anyone who’s done more to bond New York City and Israel, and the people of the United States and Israel. I don’t know anyone who’s done it more or better than Ido Aharoni.

[Applause]

He is the most dynamic, the most effect, the most charming, and the tallest diplomat we have ever had. And he is beloved. I said earlier – I was talking with some people and I said, everyone I know in New York City, really likes Ido, and New Yorkers don’t like anyone.

[Laughter]

So, Ido has really done something over the last five years, and it’s time to honor him. You know he’s going back home. New York City is going to be a little less wonderful place because Ido won’t be here with us but it’s time to honor him with a proclamation.

Ido, come forward.

[Applause]

Hold the proclamation, Ido. Don’t be shy. Ido’s having a shyness moment.

[Laughter]

I’m going to just – just two quick selections from the proclamation. So, it says, “Whereas Ido Aharoni has dedicated himself to representing the State of Israel and worked tirelessly toward a more peaceful and tolerant future for our world. Therefore, I, Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City, do hereby proclaim Wednesday, June 29th, 2016 as ‘Ido Aharoni Day’ in the City of New York.’

[Applause]

Ido, will you please favor us with a few words.

[…]

Well, Ido, thank you for your wonderful words, and thank you for your kind comments. This is someone – again, we’re going to miss him a lot. But everyone, New York City keeps going, and we keep going with resilience, and strength, and energy, and joy, and love – that’s who we are, and that is the epitome of this beautiful community.

Enjoy the people’s house – Gracie Mansion. Thank you for joining us this evening. Thank you.

[Applause]

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