[VIDEO IN EXTENDED ARTICLE] New York City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito visited Borough Park Wednesday for the first time since elected as speaker on January 8th. The speaker attended the annual Tu B’Shvat seder at the home of Ezra Friedlander, CEO of The Friedlander Group, along with the Jewish community’s three Council members – David Greenfield, Brad Lander and Chaim Deutsch – and various government representatives, community leaders and activists.
Speaker Mark-Viverito (or MMV as nicknamed by her colleagues) was warmly received by the many community leaders that filled up the room, even taking some laughs on her own behalf.
The council members each sang high praise of the Speaker, talking about her openness and understanding of the community’s needs.
“While Melissa is certainly not Jewish, she comes as close to anyone who holds Jewish values as I’ve ever met in public life,” Councilman David Greenfield said in his introductory remarks. “She is sincere, genuinely cares and she’s somebody who has deeply held personal convictions, and those convictions translated into the rest of her life. She’s principled, she stands up for what she believes in and not afraid to buck the trend when she knows that she’s right. As Orthodox Jews, we can appreciate that.”
Councilman Chaim Deutsch noted the similarities they both share, having gone through tough races. “We both had a tough race, in our own ways. So I get to bond. I even called you my sister, that’s what I consider you,” he said. “I look forward in working with the Speaker in delivering to my constituents and to all New Yorkers.”
Councilman Brad Lander, who was the leading force behind Ms. Mark-Viverito’s candidacy for speakership, addressed the recent hits against the newly elected speaker, comparing them to the unfounded thoughts many in the Orthodox Jewish community had about him when he first ran in 2009.
“If you got your new of the NY Post, The Daily News or even some of the frum blogs, you would think that she’s a ‘crazy, radical freak’ as you thought of me. But I would not have supported her or not be thrilled about her election as speaker if I didn’t know that what is in her heart is making the City work better for those that struggle to get by, who struggle finding affordable housing, pay their childcare and pay their bills,” Said Mr. Lander.
“We have a wonderful new Speaker who will be an extraordinary partner with this community,” he added.
The Speaker, for her part, joked as she compared herself to one of the fruit on the table – Sabras (prickly pear fruit), as having the image of a tough woman but with a soft part from inside. (The Sabra fruit is thorny on the outside with a thick peel that must be removed, to get to the sweet soft meaty inside).
Ms. Mark-Viverito spoke of the need to work together in eliminating any type of racism, bigotry and any type of violence in the City of New York. “One of the wonderful things about living in New York, is that you’re able to travel, and if you make a commitment and really want to learn, and learn about other people’s cultures and understand each other. You break down some of that anger and ignorance that leads sometimes to hatred,” she said.
The Speaker said that the relationships she has managed to build over the years in government with the community has made her a better person and a better legislator, and is an example for others. “We need to make an effort to reach across and learn from each other’s experiences and cultures,” she stated. “Being a Latina, and understanding that a lot of times people are not understanding me – who I am and who I represent – I know the importance of reaching across.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams also highlighted the event, noting that this marks his first joyous Jewish event since entering Borough Hall.
“It was very appropriate to welcome Speaker Melissa-Mark Viverito and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams on Tu B’shvat which is known as Rosh Hashnah for the trees with their own recent recent oath of office which is symbolic of a fresh start to our borough and city,” said Ezra Friedlander who hosted this reception in his home.
(Jacob Kornbluh – YWN)