Remarks of Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
Introducing President Reuven Rivlin of Israel
Bronx Museum of the Arts—January 28, 2015

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for coming out here. This is truly a historic day. I don’t think you’ve ever seen the president of Israel visit the beautiful borough of The Bronx. And Mr. President, I felt so much joy and so much pride.

What you see here today, and I know this has been a huge undertaking, let me first begin by thanking the Secret Service of the United States as well as the security forces of Israel, the NYPD, and all of the different agencies that are here with us today.

What you see here, Mr. President, is an amazing group of folks, not just in The Bronx but throughout the city of New York. What you should understand that what we are trying to do and what we did last week – and I’ll speak about that in a few moments – is that what are trying to strengthen the relationship of The Bronx, the relationship with the Latino community with that of the leadership and the people of Israel.

Mr. President, here in this audience we have members of the legislature, which you met, from state senators to council members. We have men and women of the clergy, many of them evangelical. And I have to say, and I’ve said this to the president when he received us and the delegation I was with, that the Latino evangelical community is a staunch supporter of Israel and the state of Israel.

The support is not a political support but very much a spiritual support for the state of Israel and the people of Israel. We also have men and women of business here, and educators. We have folks from the universities, we also have many people from the cultural institutions including the one which we are in today. I know that Holly Block is here, who is the director at the Bronx Museum of Art. Thank you Holly for having us here.

So ladies and gentlemen, damas y caballeros, last week I was in Israel and I want to thank my good friend Michael Miller at (the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York) and Bob Kaplan as well.

We visited Israel with a wonderful delegation of Latino leaders, a cross-section of the Latino leadership, many of who are here today.

This group of individuals were able to go into Israel and experience so many different things. The first day that we were there we went to the Golan Heights. The Golan Heights is so strategically important for the safety of Israel. In fact, we also saw the day before that importance because there was a certain threat coming from Syria.

The following day we were in Tel Aviv. In Tel Aviv, the day that we left Tel Aviv we saw an attack on the people of Israel in a public bus. We understand and we pray and we support Israel and the safety of Israel. We pray for peace there in Israel.

But we were also able to experience, through this trip, the everyday life. We quite often see the media, and the media wants to concentrate, rightfully so, on the conflict. But we saw average residents of Israel. We were able to visit a telecommunications company and see how they are not only with technology but also providing jobs and employment opportunities, especially for the women of Israel, how they are dealing with workforce diversity.

We saw educational institutions, a high school in Sderot. We visited a primary school in Jerusalem. The name of that primary school is the Guatemala Primary School. When I asked why it is named after Guatemala, they said “we have many schools named after all of the Latin countries that supported at the UN with their vote for the creation of the state of Israel.”

We saw and visited a non-for-profit that deals with immigration in Israel. In other words, on a daily basis, what is happening in Israel is the same things that are happening here in The Bronx. What Latinos need to understand is that we have this strong connection with the people of Israel, with the Jewish community. In fact in Latin America, when we visited the foreign ministry, we saw and we heard how in Latin America thousands and thousands of Latinos are practicing Judaism.

Here in The Bronx, where we stand today, this used to be a synagogue. When I used to be an assembly member, the office where my assembly office was at, that used be a synagogue. When State Senator Diaz first became a pastor over at Seward Avenue, the church that he pastored was a synagogue. There’s a strong connection, one that, next to my good friend Ido Aharoni, the ambassador – let’s give him a round of applause – between Ido and Michael Miller and I and my good friend the President of Israel, this is a connection, this is a relationship that we’re forging now for many many many generations to come.

Let it be known from now on that the Latino community in the city of New York, here in The Bronx, throughout the United States, in Latin America, we stand with the State of Israel.

After all, in 1948, Mr. President, here in The Bronx, there were over 650,000 Jewish residents of this borough. Even today, we have a robust and vibrant Jewish community. When you look at the Amalgamated apartment houses, which were built in 1926 by the Amalgamated Workers Union, this was done mostly for Jewish members so that they could find adequate homes and adequate housing.

A lot of folks don’t understand the connection and so today, to have your presence here Mr. President, today to have the presence of the Latino community and the Jewish community I think shows and sends a loud signal that we are exactly where need to be as we move forward. It means the world to us. The Bronx has come back a long way from two to three decades ago. Our employment is up, our crime is down, housing is heading in the right direction and what we want to do is share that with Israel. We want is for Israel to share with us some of the successes you have had in those areas as well.

I’ll leave you with this: its starts or it continues with future generations. What we want to do, one of the things we want to do to make sure that we continue to have this conversation is, we’re putting together a school here in The Bronx, with our students, and what we are going to have is – and we are all old now but when we were younger we used to have something called pen pals. Do you remember being in pen pals program, we used to write letters to somebody else from another state of another country? So with the students of the Guatemala Primary School, we’re going to have, via computer – not necessarily letters – this pen pal, sharing program.

I think it will go a long way in introducing our youth, here in The Bronx, with the youth in Israel so that as they get older, as they become the leaders of tomorrow, that relationship, that friendship, that bond will last for many many many generations to come.

President Rivlin, thank you for being with us today.