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Transcript: Mayor Adams Hosts Reception Celebrating Hanukkah

December 12, 2023

Joel Eisdorfer, Senior Advisor to the Mayor: Welcome, everyone. Happy Hanukkah. First off, thank you all for being here today, and for all who are great partners in the work we do in this city. We have an amazing program planned for you this evening.

Before we begin, I want to acknowledge my colleagues here today. Police Commissioner Edward Caban, Commissioner Jessica Tisch, Deputy Mayor Fabien Levy, Commissioner Fred Kreizman, Commissioner Edward Mermelstein, Pastor Gilford Monros, Senior Advisor Andrea Shapiro Davis, Deputy Chief of Staff Menashe Shapiro, and Chief Counsel to the Mayor Lisa Zornberg.

Hanukkah is the Festival of Light that we celebrate during the darkest time of the year, the shortest days and longest nights. Right now, the world is currently experiencing a darkness, something many of us in our lifetimes have never experienced before.

However, even in the darkest room, you only need a small flicker of flame to find your way. While darkness is the absence of light, has no substance, light always comes from a source. We here in the greatest City of New York have a source: our mayor, who is a bright and clear leading light.

He has stated unequivocally that he's on the side of humanity, condemning those who spread hate and do harm and always standing with Israel. He made it clear that hatred has no place in New York City. He has been a source of light and an inspiration.

With that, I would like to give a warm welcome, The Honorable Mayor Eric Adams and wish everyone here a very Happy Hanukkah.

Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you so much, so much, Joel, and really, thank all of you as you come into Gracie Mansion, the People's House, and what you are offering to all of us. This is such a significant moment and we understand that and we think about Hanukkah and what it means and the significance of the light and what it actually comes to symbolize, particularly this period and this time after the October 7th horrific, horrific incident.

And it's amazing how simple words were able to really humanize what many of you felt. And those words really came from my counsel, Lisa, on our call when she said it that we're not all right. It was just something that I felt and understood how one can see this play out and the attacks on people, human beings, merely because of their beliefs, their way of life.

And so during this moment of Hanukkah, how many times have you heard that when you greeted someone, they said you walked in the room and you lit up the room? How many times did people see light in your faces, even in the midst of despair or darkness or uncertainty?

We must today take the candle and the light that we will light and we must humanize it and we must become that humanistic energy of shedding our light across not only our city, where we have one of the largest Jewish populations outside of Tel Aviv, but also in our country.

You see it as well as I, the darkness and the normality of antisemitism. We've normalized it on social media, we've normalized it on college campuses, we've normalized it in our streets, we've normalized it everywhere you turn and look.

I want to be extremely clear, as I say to you, as the mayor of the City of New York. There's no room for antisemitism in New York City and no room for hate in New York City. Hate has no place in our city, and that includes all of our beliefs. We do not and will not allow antisemitism to take root, Islamophobia, anti Sikh, anti Christian, anti Buddhists. Faith is who we are, but we also have to live it because if we normalize hate by our actions, then we are surrendering to hate.

You will not live in a city where you will take off your yarmulke before getting on the trains or walk the streets. You will not live in a city where you will be fearful to worship in your synagogue or women would be afraid to wear a hijab or a Sikh man will be afraid to wear his turban. That is not our city. And we want to be clear and my message that Hamas must be destroyed.

Hamas must be destroyed. And to the family members of hostages who still live in the painful reality of the uncertainty of their loved ones, who still feel that they're broken, they're not feeling complete, who still are wondering the question mark that lingers over their fate. We can turn the question mark into an exclamation point by releasing each one of them and allowing each one of them to come home to their family members and their loved ones.

Every hostage must be returned. And these posters are not just mere photographs. There are human beings that we all hold our breaths until they return to their family members and loved ones that are here. And the courage of all of you to come here, and not silently suffer peacefully, but to become the voice for those who are still remain in captivity. Bring the hostages home, let them return home.

And so we are not all right as long as those who are responsible is not brought to justice. We are not all right, as long as the hostages remain in captivity, and that is what our pursuit is. We're not all right as long as social media continues to permeate our young people with hatred and bigotry and antisemitism and other hateful acts. We're not all right if people use their voice to spew hatred towards each other. That's not the city, that's not the country I want to be a part of.

I look at some of my long friends who have been with me throughout the years, looking out and seeing Abe Freeman and others who have been part of this community and what you represent and what you mean. It means a great deal to this city. And we have to stand together, my friends. This is a moment that's going to define us all.

We must turn on that internal light inside us to merely light the candle today, a candle that is made out of, the menorah that's made out of the license plates of the horrific attack. To merely do that is not what we must accomplish. It's what happens when we leave here" is that light going to shine and pierce the darkness of hate that we are seeing throughout our entire city?

And so I'm devastated, I'm angry and I refuse to act like I'm not. I am traumatized by the events that are playing out, and only we can turn that around. New York City, we are made up of the accumulation of the light of the things that we believe in and the faith that we believe in. It is our obligation and responsibility to light this country and to light this globe, and I need you together to accomplish that action.

The evils of our October 7th, it broke all of our hearts. And now we must go to a real place of healing each other and healing our city. And to my Jewish community, I want you to know you're not alone. We stand with you. We support you. We support your right to live in a dignified manner in your city, like we support the rights of all the various groups that are in the City of New York and in this country.

And so I want to thank you for being here today and making this Hanukkah a special Hanukkah for us, as we celebrate the importance of the renewing of our spirit in our city. And I'm proud today because we are giving two awards to two great human beings.

Few people embody the concept of light overcoming darkness like the two people we are honored tonight: Dr. Michael Lomax and Eboni Williams.

Dr. Lomax has been promoting the shared bond between African Americans and the Jewish community his whole life. He oversaw the Center for Black-Jewish Relations housed on the campus of Dillard University. As president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, Dr. Lomax has been a powerful voice shining a light on the shared pathway of struggle that both the Black and Jewish Community have faced in our nation.

And in recent weeks, he has raised his voice speaking out against the October 7th attacks and condemning antisemitism and hate. He's a friend of this community. He's a friend of humanity and a voice for good.

And Eboni Williams has been an outspoken supporter of the Jewish community having described a 2016 trip to Israel as transformative. As a lawyer and TV personality, she has used her platform to speak out against antisemitism and hatred and promoted Black-Jewish unity. She understands that both communities are connected in our fight against hate.

And she has been educating young people on social media about the horror of the past so they can act when they see injustices take place. She's a steadfast ally of this community and for all communities that stand for what is right.

Both Dr. Lomax and Ms. Williams' works reminds us that we are a city with people from every corner of the globe. And regardless of our differences, our communities will always come together to help and protect our fellow New Yorkers. It is my pleasure to present the Shine A Light Civil Courage Award for Community Building to Dr. Michael Lomax and Eboni Williams.

Dr. Michael Lomax, President and CEO, United Negro College Fund: Good evening, and thank you, Mayor Adams, for this extraordinary event, and I want to thank all of the people who are gathered here this evening. I'm humbled and grateful to receive this award, and I know my parents would be proud because they instilled values in me that are the basis of an abiding belief that Blacks and Jews are allies, brothers and sisters in the battle against the twin evils of antisemitism and racism.

My parents were journalists and activists in Los Angeles fighting racism and antisemitism in jobs, housing and education. They built friendships and coalitions that challenged discrimination and opened the doors of opportunity to all. They shined a light on antisemitism's hatred and racism and helped make our community better.

The most powerful images I recall, however, are the images of antisemitism and racism that I first encountered in my youth: newsreel footage of the death camps in Europe, images of unimaginable horrors, and the words never again our Jewish friends said and for so long I believed them. That could never happen again.

And I remember vividly watching the angry whites of Little Rock vilifying the nine Black teenagers who tried to enter the central high school protected by federal troops. I vividly recall the rioting students of the University of Georgia threatening the students that were Black students enrolled there.

And in Alabama and in Mississippi, I thought, as the Jews thought after World War II, never again. We have progressed beyond that kind of hate. Yet Charlottesville, Virginia challenged my complacency and never again became once again as the twin evils of antisemitism and racism reemerged, revealing that the poison had not been eradicated.

So, first, never again became once again; today, once again has become again and again: the Tree of Life Synagogue, the Buffalo, New York supermarket mass murders, the Dollar Store murders in Jacksonville, Florida and, the near tragedy at Edward Waters University, a Historically Black University.

And now we have the savage horrors and terrorism of October 7th, and the domestic aftermath of antisemitic bullying, threats and intimidations on American college and university campuses, the same kind of threats and intimidation that Black students experienced half a century ago.

Again and again, these acts of hatred and racism and antisemitism are a call to action to all of us to shine a light, to stand up, to call out and to do our part. And so my call to action tonight is best articulated in the words of a Harlem Renaissance poet, Claude McKay; words, I might add, that were recited by Winston Churchill during World War II and the Blitzkrieg and the Nazi planes were flying over London. So, I want to conclude my remarks with that brief poem:

If we must die—let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain; then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;

Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Thank you.

Mayor Adams: Sister Williams.

Eboni K. Williams: First and foremost, I want to give enormous gratitude and thanks to our fantastic mayor, Mayor Eric Adams.

Gratitude as well to your entire office and leadership, Mr. Mayor.  I also want to thank Shine A Light.  Shine A Light is an invaluable organization as it relates to the work of advancing the eradication of antisemitism all across the world and particularly here in New York. I also want to thank UJA-Federation, again, incredible, powerful work as we do what is necessary to make sure that never again remains never again.

Now some of you who might not be as familiar with me and my work particularly as it relates to the Jewish community might be wondering, who is this rather random Black girl named Ebony K. Williams who is not of Jewish identity from the American south and why is she here at our menorah lighting tonight?

And that's a very fair, legitimate question. The answer is short, but it's important. I had the very distinct honor and privilege to travel to Israel, as Mayor Adams spoke about, in the year 2016. And I will be vulnerable and candid with you all: growing up in the American south — Charlotte, North Carolina — I didn't have a lot of education and exposure to the Jewish community.

So, it was during my trip to Israel in 2016 that I was able to understand intellectually, but much more importantly on this occasion, ladies and gentlemen, feel spiritually, the very persistent and cohesive shared bond between my Black American identity and that of the broad Jewish people.

I understood, ladies and gentlemen, in that moment that was my first time out of three to travel to Israel, I have subsequently gone back in 2019 and 2022. And I have to tell y'all, every single time I go it is affirmed to me why at one time in our great country, America, our respective communities, both Black American and Jewish American, shared a powerful, productive, loving and beautiful relationship.

And I decided in 2016 that I wanted to commit myself to doing some work around what it would be like to restore that yet again, because I believe that it was mutually beneficial. I believe that it was ultimately very successful, and I actually have the audacity, people, to believe we can get there again.

I'm also going to tell you we're not there now. Um hmm. Some of you in this room today, tonight, I know are deeply brokenhearted about many things. Your hearts are broken because of the horrific attacks of October 7th. Some of you also have broken hearts about what you might feel is not the support, care and compassion that you would have expected from some of your Black friends; and I'm going to specifically talk about that relationship, because that is the nexus of my work.

And I want to tell you this. If I started this work on any particular moment in time, it was in 2017 when I had the invitation to speak at Congregation KJ not far from here tonight, right? And the rabbi asked, he said, Eboni, what happened to the relationship with our communities? We saw the rabbis marching with Dr. King in the 1960s over the Selma Bridge and elsewhere. We saw the March on Washington, all the Jewish leadership hand in hand with the civil rights leaders like Dr. King, Bayard Rustin and many so many others.

Uh, there's so much that we saw as it relates to the United States Supreme Court and the Jewish litigators that helped write those briefs and place those oral arguments. Sorry, I'm nerding out, I'm like a big time lawyer so it's important to me… As it relates to the eradication of civil rights discrimination, the execution of Voting Rights Act and the Loving v. Virginia decision that allowed for all people to marry and love as they see fit regardless of race in this country.

I know that story. I know that history. But I know that our relationship doesn't start at that point, nor does it start on October 7th, nor did it start the summer of 2020. So, when we kind of cherry pick these moments in time where we want to magically have our communities bonded as if it's the work that we do 365 days a year, ladies and gentlemen, I'm challenging us all here tonight to know that that work is not momentary, it is continual.

It 365 days a year of showing up for one another. It is the numerous lunches and Shabbats and just girl time that I have with my dear friend Yana Lukeman. It is the many lunches that I have over and over again at least six or seven times a year with my good friend, [Jack Leber], I hope you're here tonight, Jack.

And I really want you all to know that I recently hung a mezuzah that I picked up on that first trip in 2016.  It was beautiful to me, and I felt called to purchase it. But I also didn't want to over center myself as a non Jew, and I never hung it up, actually.

I hung it up last week, because I want each of you to know…

I want you to know that as a Black American in this country, if they're coming for you, they might be coming for me, too. But… I'm just keeping it real. But if I can be a safe space in this moment for my Jewish friends, you can stay at my house. You can come and find safe haven with me and I believe that I can find it with you. Thank you very much, and Happy Hanukkah.

VOG: We will now begin the menorah lighting ceremony.  I'd like to welcome to the stage Cantor Chaim Dovid Berson to lead the blessings.

The menorah we are lighting tonight was molded with the remains of an Israeli license plate from October 7th terrorist attacks at the Peace Festivals in Israel. Those lighting with us today will be Yehuda Lindenblatt, [inaudible] Holocaust survivor, dedicated Hatzolah member, Jacob Landau on behalf of the ZAKA organization.

We have brigadier general for the police of Israel, on behalf of the Israeli Police Delegation. We have Jeffrey Bander from the Cardiology at Mt. Sinai West. And finally, Eyal Eshel on behalf of the delegation of hostages and survivors from Israel.  Please all come to the stage and come behind the mayor.

[Menorah lighting follows.]


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