Readers Write: More inclusion, more love, less hate

Readers Write: More inclusion, more love, less hate

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the panel against hate convened by Mayor Ted Rosen in the Village of Great Neck Plaza on the cusp of Martin Luther King Day.

It was a special privilege to be invited to attend as president of the Great Neck Public Schools Board of Education and as immediate past president of Sephardic Heritage Alliance Inc.

The panel’s original lineup included a regional leader from the NAACP, a prominent rabbi from the Hamptons, a prominent imam, and a local leader from the Great Neck Chinese Association.

Intimately familiar with Great Neck demography, the omission of any Mizrahi/Sephardi Jewish voice on the panel struck me as significant, particularly after the devastating Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks on civilians in Israel and the correlative rise of antisemitism here in New York.

When I spoke to Mayor Rosen to express the concern, he understood. The mayor requested that I  secure an additional panelist. To everyone’s benefit, Justice Mojgan Morgan Kohanim Lancman agreed to participate on the panel.

A SHAI board member, Judge Lancman is believed to be the first Iranian-born elected judge in the State of New York. She is also the immediate past president of the Brandeis Association.

After each of the other panelist’s thoughtful remarks Judge Lancman invoked Martin Luther King to say no one walks the march of civil rights alone.

In fact, she stated her very oath is to ensure equal treatment for all before the law. The judge also spoke of the specific recent history of antisemitic persecution experienced by Iran’s Jews, and its correlation to lived experiences of many Middle Eastern immigrants in the local community, before and after Oct. 7.

The judge referenced model efforts made by organizations,  such as Brandeis Association and SHAI, in allyship, with other organizations to counteract antisemitism and bigotry as well as teach Holocaust and MENA  history. She noted more will need to occur following Oct. 7.

To his great credit, Mayor Rosen appropriately included a representative from the GNCA on the panel. The Board of Education’s colleague, Steven Chen (whom the board recently appointed to fill a vacancy), spoke on behalf of the Great Neck Chinese Association with understanding and care for Great Neck’s children as future leaders.

The Village of Great Neck Plaza has previously convened against hate.

As Mr. Chen noted, many residents, my family and I included, gathered during the pandemic at a large rally in the Plaza in support of Asian-American lives during the terrible spike of anti-Asian violence and hate.

We somberly convened again when a GNCA banner was defaced at the LIRR  station.

The Village of GN Plaza (and other Villages) were also instrumental in permitting our high school students to organize a walk in support for African-American lives which my family and I attended during the pandemic. That march also began in the Plaza, and was referenced by the speaker from the NAACP during the panel’s discussion.

One commends Mayor Rosen and the Village for facilitating these convenings in a  nonpartisan manner.  Each one amplified diverse voices and created opportunities for understanding and allyship in our pluralistic community. Raising up one another’s voices to be heard beyond silos is where growth happens; omitting voices and lived experiences is not the the answer.

One especial thanks to our superintendent of schools,  Dr. Kenneth R. Bossert. After Mayor Rosen invited Dr. Bossert to moderate,  Dr. Bossert immediately rescheduled his calendar in order to accept.

As president of the Board of Education through the pandemic and many partisan communal divides (only some of which are referenced above) one stated repeatedly that the Board’s most lasting legacy would be the selection of our next Superintendent of Schools.  I  simply could not be be more encouraged.

During the panel,  Dr. Bossert set the tone for our entire peninsula: kind, thoughtful, modest, and nonpartisan engagement.

Moreover, Dr. Bossert spoke of aspiring to “acceptance” as Great Neck’s hallmark, not mere tolerance. Surely, this can be the inclusivity which honors both Dr. King’s legacy and Great Neck’s  pluralistic  future.

In conclusion, I echo Judge Lancman, who raised up rabbinic sages in memory of Rev. King. They taught that the remedy for baseless hatred, “sinat hinam” is love, “ahavat  hinam.”   The answer to bigotry and hate is more love via more education.  If last week’s panel is any indication, Great Neck’s future remains bright.


Rebecca Sassouni


GNPS Board of Education

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