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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Speaks at Jewish Heritage Reception

June 2, 2014

First Lady Chirlane McCray: Good evening. Shalom. I am so pleased to welcome all of you to Gracie Mansion. This is your house, the people’s house, and we’re here to celebrate New York’s vibrant and diverse Jewish community, and I am so thrilled. You are always welcome here. Again, this is the people’s house, this is your house.

Now some of you may have read a little bit about me, my background, but you may not know everything about me. One of the things I want you to know is that my first exposure to the Jewish community was when I was very young. My family home was in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and one-third of the community was Jewish, so our next door neighbors, our neighbors across the street were Jewish. And they were very kind in a neighborhood that was not always so nice to the only Black family – or, one of the only Black families in the neighborhood. So that was a good beginning. And my exposure to the Jewish community increased when I worked for Maimonides Medical Center for five years. I hear some cheering over there – it’s alright, you can clap.

[Applause]

But nothing, nothing could have prepared me for our journey to Israel, which Bill and Dante and I visited in 2011. And I want you to know, it was so incredible to see so much history and beauty in one place. I in particular will never forget visiting the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem, what a vivid reminder of our collective humanity to see so many pilgrims in one place. So many pilgrims from all around the world, and to see all those notes delicately placed in this ancient wall. I carry these memories with me always. Our family has truly had our lives enhanced by the wide and diverse community in this city, this great city of New York. And it is my pleasure to introduce the man who made our trip to Israel possible, and someone who has dedicated his life to serving our Jewish community and all New Yorkers. The CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Michael Miller.

[Applause]

[Michael Miller delivers remarks]

[Applause]

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Very good, very good. Thank you so much. Thank you. Well, I am so thrilled everyone is here, and so many friends here tonight, it’s like a very warm reunion for Chirlane and I to see so many people we’ve known along the way and who are so important to this city. And I have to let you know that Michael mentioned our trips to Israel, and because of that, you see me tonight dressed informally – I’m remembering all our meetings with Israeli cabinet members, where there was no ties, maybe there was a suit jacket, so this is my – I’m doing an homage to our meetings with Israeli officials. I think they have the right idea, especially for this weather. But I have so many powerful memories of my trips to Israel.

And Michael and the JCRC deserve tremendous credit, and I’ve always said to him, if there’s one smart investment it’s to get American policymakers to Israel to actually see the reality and feel it and experience it. And nothing will bond us more than being there, meeting the Israeli people, listening to the challenges, seeing firsthand. My life was different after these trips. My life was better, and my insight was greater. I also want to say, parenthetically – I think I can say this, this is a very subjective statement but I believe it with all my heart – the greatest breakfast buffet in the world is at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

[Laughter]

How many people have had the breakfast buffet at the King David Hotel?

[Applause]

Alright, if you can find a better one, call me. Because I don’t think it exists. So I really think of Michael very warmly because he introduced me to the breakfast buffet at the King David Hotel, among other wonders of Israel. But Michael is an extraordinary and passionate guide when we’re in Israel, he helps everyone to understand, and that is an incredible serve to the people of this city, the Jewish community of this city, and to the state of Israel. Let’s thank Michael Miller for all he does.

[Applause]

And thanks to JCRC for sponsoring tonight’s event. We have great friends and sponsors here. I want to thank UJ Federation of New York also for sponsoring tonight’s event.

[Applause]

And a lot of you know, we have some important personal announcements and personnel announcements tonight. It’s a very powerful night because some great friends are making moves, and people I’ve had such a pleasure to work with and who really have done a lot for the community. So a lot of you know that Ron Soloway has been the Managing Director of Government Relations and External Affairs at Federation, is retiring this month. And this guy deserves a round of applause for all he has done. Thank you so much Ron.

[Applause]

Ron has also been one of my guides in Israel, so we have the elite group of people I’ve been honored to teach me about Israel. I want to thank another incredible leader who is just – you know, there are some wise people in this world – a true wise man if ever I’ve met one in New York City is John Ruskay, and I want to thank him for his years as CEO of UJA Federation of New York. And welcome CEO – the new CEO Eric Goldstein, and we’re really happy that Eric will be leading that wonderful organization. You’re going to hear from my friend Ido in a moment, and I’m going to save that for later.

I want to thank Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, the President of the New York Board of Rabbis, such a wonderful presence in this city.

[Applause]

And who has a great radio show, he does it all. I want to thank our wonderful entertainment, the City College Klezmer Ensemble, give them a round of applause.

[Applause]

Now from our administration you already heard the most influential member of our administration, the First Lady. And her eyes – there was wonder in her eyes during so much of that trip to Israel. And for her – for Chirlane and I to watch Dante experiencing it was such an amazing moment as parents. And he has not stopped talking about it since, and so you know, for us that was a real blessing for our family in a moment. But I have to tell you, there is no First Lady who has ever worked harder on behalf of New York City than the one we have now. Let’s thank Chirlane McCray for all she does.

[Applause]

I want to thank our Commissioner of Transportation Polly Trottenberg, who is doing extraordinary work bringing us Vision Zero and protecting us. Our Commissioner for the Community Affairs Unit Marco Carrion, who does work in communities all across the city. Our wonderful Commissioner for the Aging Donna Corrado, thank you to you. We have elected officials who wanted to be a part of tonight: Tish James, our Public Advocate, just had to leave but we’re so glad she was here. Congressman Eliot Engel, thank you so much for all you do. You cannot turn on CNN nowadays without seeing Eliot Engel. He is speaking up for the needs of this country, and speaking up for the state of Israel – thank you always for that Eliot.

[Applause]

I saw Councilmember Corey Johnson, thank you. All the councilmembers who I may not know are here tonight, I thank you all for being here. All the elected officials, our wonderful friends from the government of the state of Israel who joined us, I had the honor of marching yesterday. And one last acknowledgement and then I just want to say a few quick words. This is a night of many wonderful things, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, my dear friend Herbert Block works there, among other wonderful people – is celebrating its centennial this year, that’s something to clap for, 100 years.

[Applause]

Now if you look around today, you’ll see people from every element of the Jewish community of this city. Ah-hah, I’ve just been handed a note. Thank you. The man who keeps New York City safe, and he’s doing an extraordinary job, just joined us. Commissioner Bill Bratton, thank you.

[Applause]

So the extraordinary diversity of this community is on display. Now, there’s different ways to say it, what this city means to the Jewish people around the world and the history of Judaism. I want to say it very simply. In terms of pure population within the boundaries of one city, I have a special honor that no one else in the world can say: I am the mayor of the city on this Earth with the largest Jewish population. And that is an honor.

[Applause]

And that comes with the responsibility to stand up for the Jewish people, to protect the Jewish people, to stand up for the state of Israel, and I take that very very seriously.

[Applause]

I can also say, and many people in this room have educated over many years, I can also say in the last 2000 years there haven’t been enough places in this world that said this is the people’s house and you are welcome in the people’s house. But in New York City, you are always welcome in the people’s house. This community is growing. This community has such a fantastic impact on this city. We would not be New York City, we wouldn’t have the dynamism, we wouldn’t have the creativity, we wouldn’t have the entrepreneurism, we wouldn’t have the chutzpah. We wouldn’t have so much if it weren’t for the Jewish community, which has been so quintessential to the city for years. I have a great quote from a well-known comedian, Lenny Bruce said years ago, ‘Even if you’re a Catholic, if you live in New York, you’re Jewish.’

[Laughter]

So I got – let’s thank Bill Bratton for all he does.

[Applause]

And just a moment of testimony. I don’t think there’s anyone that doubts the extraordinary ability of this man, I think he is the finest police leader in the United States of America, I would argue in the whole world.

[Applause]

But anytime anything in the world happens, including the horrible recent incidents in Kansas, I hear from Commissioner Bratton about the steps he’s taking to protect Jewish institutions in New York City. It is automatic, and we thank him for always being on the ball.

[Applause]

I want you to know, my very excellent speechwriter Adam Cohen wrote this part of this, and I realize he wrote a section here that’s even more clever than he meant to. He was talking about how everyone in New York City gets connected to Jewish culture so he said, ‘New York City is a city where even someone born in New Delhi knows how to order his bagel with a schmear.’ And I thought, ‘Did he think about the double entendre, New Delhi?’ That’s pretty good. But the reality is what’s truly enriched this city for generations is the values of the Jewish people. Chirlane alluded to it, in her own personal experience she grew up in an environment, in a town where her family was not welcome. And it was made very clear that they weren’t welcome, and who came to their defense – the Jewish residents of that town.

There’s a long history of the Jewish community standing up for the rights of others as well. There’s a history of tikkun olam, and the sense of trying to heal a troubled world. And for the Jewish people, something I’ve always admired in every interaction I’ve had, it’s not let’s just heal one piece of the world, it’s a sense of mission to heal all communities and bring all communities together. And you are so fundamentally why this extraordinary ongoing experiment that is New York City works. Because only if we had voices saying we have to heal and come closer, could 8.4 million people from every country of the world possibly come together in so much unity. This community has so much history of fostering that unity and that connection.

And by the way, the history is not just a few generations old, it goes back to the first 23 Sephardic Jewish refugees from Brazil who landed in a city called New Amsterdam in 1654. So I think you’ve established your presence pretty well over the last almost 400 years.

[Applause]

I’ll conclude, before I have the honor of introducing the Council General. I said it’s my obligation as they mayor of the city with the largest Jewish population in the world to stand up, to defend the state of Israel – always, always under attack. Always misunderstood. It’s my obligation to be one of the people you can depend on automatically to stand up and be counted, and I will do that.

[Applause]

But equally, it’s my obligation to fight here at home against any instance of anti-Semitism. Whether it’s intolerance or whether it’s biased violence, we don’t accept it in this city. We don’t accept it in this country. I always say, as Chirlane mentioned, we went to Yad Vashem on our last trip to Israel. This is the third time I went to Yad Vashem. Every time I go there, the history grabs me again. Leaders all over the so-called democratic world need to act like they’re leaders in the democratic world. And when they see intolerance against the Jewish community, they have to stand up or else they are not leaders of a democracy.

[Applause]

So together, we’ll not only protect this community, but I hope we can teach the world what understanding and embrace of all peoples actually looks like. Here in New York City, we have an added advantage. He’s tall, he’s good-looking, he’s dynamic, and he is a joy to work with, and Ido Aharoni is someone who thinks not only about all the history and tradition, very modern, very savvy. He’s doing extraordinary things helping people of this country to understand how important it is to go to Israel, to visit, to buy products from Israel, to support Israel – not just with words, but with a thing we call in Italian ‘tachles’. I can translate if you need.

So the Israeli people could not have a more dynamic representative than my friend, Ido Aharoni.

[Applause]

We’re both going to be power forwards on the joint American-Israeli basketball team.

[Laughter]

[Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York, delivers remarks]

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