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Queens council members recount Israel trip at meet

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There was standing room only in the basement at the Hollis Hills Jewish Center last Thursday night as Queens residents came to hear reports from part of the City Council delegation’s August visit to Israel.

Residents clapped and cheered as the council members affirmed their support for Israel, saying terrorism has brought New Yorkers and Israelis closer together.

“We wanted to bring back a sense of hope,” Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) said. “We want to show that the bond between New Yorkers and Israel is strong.”

The mission, which lasted from Aug. 10 to Aug. 15, had 12 council members plus Miller traveling to various sites of terrorism throughout Israel. The delegation, which included six members from Queens, held a memorial service at Hebrew University and met with victims of terrorism in hospitals. They did not meet with any Palestinian groups officially but talked with individual Palestinians.

Miller, who went with the first city council delegation to Israel in 1994, said the terrorist attacks, the drop in tourism, and the large Jewish population show the strong bond between Israelis and New Yorkers. He said he was impressed by “the extraordinary strength and resolve of the Israeli people.”

One resident criticized the mission, suggesting the money the Jewish Community Relations Committee and United Jewish Association spent to sponsor the 13-member delegation was only to give the council members good public relations.

But Rabbi Manny Behar, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council in Forest Hills, immediately stood up, took the microphone from Miller and disagreed with the audience member.

“(The trip) showed the people of Israel that they were not alone, and that they were not isolated,” he said.

The Queens members on the mission were Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), and Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton.)

Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), the only woman in the delegation, echoed Behar’s comments and said Israelis were appreciative that the delegation came to Israel rather than just sending money.

“There’s such a sense of loneliness and wondering if there is anybody out there thinking about us,” Katz said of the Israelis. “Just the fact that we were there, (the Israelis) couldn’t imagine that we would choose to take that risk.”

Other council members spoke of the necessity of bringing back the first-hand information they saw to communities unaware of the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

“Our role is to speak the truth and to be leaders,” Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Woodside) said. He emphasized the need to educate the non-Jewish community and stress the common fight by Israel and New York City against terrorism.

Judith Lenik, a senior citizen from Hollis Hills, said the delegation’s trip was important to Jews in America who do not get enough information from media outlets.

“It’s important for the American people to really know what’s going on in Israel,” she said.

Lenik, a former Israeli army member, still has family living in Israel. One of her three granddaughters is now going into the Israeli army.

“I feel proud,” she said of her granddaugh­ter’s future.

Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) said the timing of the trip, was the most important part, because of recent terrorist attacks.

“It was significant that we didn’t abandon (the Israelis),” Weprin said. “We want people to know about the terrorism Israelis experience on a daily basis.”

Council members urged people in the audience to visit Israel and support the country in other ways than just giving money.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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