New York, NY – The Jewish Labor Committee recently held its 47th Human Rights Awards Dinner at the Sheraton Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
The honorees were the Service Employees International Union, accepted by SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, Henry A. Garrido, executive director, District Council 37, AFSCME, and HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), accepted by HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield (Hetfield was unable to attend – Roger Aronson of HIAS accepted on his behalf). The Jewish Labor Council was founded in 1934, with the mission to mobilize unions, Jewish organizations and mutual aid societies across North America to help fight Nazism in Germany.
Arieh Liebowitz, executive director of the JLC, introduced Stuart Appelbaum, president of the JLC, who told the crowd of hundreds, “It is good to come together during this time,” and made special mention of the dispossessed, including children “being ripped away” from their parents at the southern border. He noted that the JLC was formed in the 1930’s “as a direct response” to Kristallnacht, a pogrom in Germany that was the start of the Holocaust, “to make sure it never happens again.”
“The JLC is standing to say, there is no place in the United States for Anti-Semitism, racism, and Islamophobia,” Appelbum said, adding, “America must remain a place of refuge.”
America must remain a place of refuge.– Stuart Appelbaum, president, JLC
Governor Andrew Cuomo then addressed the crowd. Cuomo spoke of an “underlying dynamic,” “an anger” that has been exploited by the current administration to be turned against “people that are different – people with a different religion, a different sexual orientation, a different color.”
“We now have taken our greatest strength and made it our greatest weakness,” the governor said.
Cuomo also said it is the peoples’ obligation to oppose the discord and address it, saying, “It’s the Labor Movement that’s going to protect the men and women.”
Henry then accepted her award, saying that the crucially important raise of the minimum wage to $15 an hour would not have happened without Governor Cuomo.
“When the wealthy and the powerful in this nation and world say it is not possible to make things better I say, come to New York State,” Henry said. “We are going to figure out how to organize millions more.”
Elissa McBride, secretary-treasurer of AFSCME, then presented the award to Henry Garrido. She lauded Garrido’s “intellectual heft,” “commitment and accountability,” and efforts in “growing our members.”
“I stand before you as a living testament to the plight of immigrants in this country,” the DC37 leader said. Garrido, himself, came to the U.S. at 11-years-old. His mother worked in factories where she was often let go as a result of ICE, though she was a legal worker, and always turned to the union for help. As a result, unions became for Garrido, “a place where you found justice,” while the workplace remained places where workers were “stripped of their dignity.”
“I am extremely honored to be here today,” Garrido said, adding, “You don’t have to be Jewish to stand up against Anti-Semitism.”
Lastly, Tefere Gebre, executive vice-president, AFL-CIO, presented the award for HIAS. Proclaiming himself a proud refugee, from Ethiopia, Gebre said, “People coming into our country need to be met with hope, not with tear gas.”
Decrying the present state of affairs in the U.S., Gebre called it “a betrayal of what America stands for.” Yet, he said, “Elections come and go, but movements are built for the long run. We must build a movement…we must stand up and say, all of us or none of us!”
Aronson accepted the award on behalf of HIAS. He spoke about how HIAS assisted the founder of the JLC in his own coming to America, as well as the JLC’s influence on Jewish thought and Jewish life in America.