By DAVID KNAPP
(re: “Israel is under attack by Bowman and The Squad,” Jan. 7)
In July 2019, I was invited to attend a small gathering of people at a mutual friend’s home to meet a brand-new congressional candidate, Jamaal Bowman.
Over iced tea, seltzer and desserts, he introduced himself, shared a bit of his story, and tried out his new platform. He wasn’t ideological or bombastic, and spoke in the even-toned voice of an educator.
While I remember thinking how odd it was that he didn’t know some basic things related to House legislation, what impressed me the most was his willingness to say, “I don’t know, but I will think about your question and get back to you.”
A week later, I picked up my phone and called my friend and asked her if I could have the candidate’s number. There we were, at the Riverdale Diner. We talked for two hours. He seemed to really care about those living in the congressional district, whose lives were hard and intertwined with the policies that so often did not benefit them directly.
A few weeks later, I invited him to join me at a Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club meeting. It was a cold night, but he came, stood outside the club on West 231st Street, and he met people. I remember that my son was walking up the street as we were all chatting outside, and the candidate stopped and engaged him. They talked for some time.
He treated my 22-year-old with respect, concern and consideration.
Over the course of the 2020 political season, I had the unique opportunity to see the candidate in action at a variety of different social settings and venues, including a political event at my home. He was growing in the right direction for a candidate.
We might call Jamaal a person of honesty, consideration and respect. In Yiddish, we would refer to him as a mensch. He is that rare person who treats everyone he meets with consideration, seriousness and respect, no matter what their occupation, job title, position, viewpoint or ZIP. He is attentive to their needs, is eager to understand their experiences, and is a great listener and conversationalist.
That doesn’t mean he is a pushover or doesn’t have a moral compass. Jamaal cares deeply about injustice here — and everywhere — and is empathetic to those who have experienced life’s challenges.
As the June 23 primary approached, I began to lose my patience with Jewish friends calling Jamaal anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, racist, and pro-boycott-divestment-sanctions, still without having ever made any effort to meet him or examine his platform. Any time “Palestinians” were mentioned, people jumped on him as proof he was unsympathetic — or worse, anti-Semitic.
I kept asking fellow Jews to justify their beliefs about him. What came back to me was frightening — fear, anxiety, that often turned inward to hate. Not only hate for the candidate, but hate for me.
One friend expressed to me that he was fearful that Israel would be abandoned and Jews exterminated, and that Jews could be looking at a second Holocaust. Others told me, off the record, that Jamaal was dangerous because he was joining The Squad who wanted to destroy Jews and Israel.
One, in fact, told me this was driving him to support Trump in the upcoming election. Trump is the greatest friend of the Jews.
None of these critics took the time to meet him, read his positions, or even email him. In fact, many confused him with Andom Ghebreghiorgis. One meeting between the two candidates would help clarify their differences.
Following Jamaal’s letter to Rabbi Avi Weiss in The Riverdale Press, I remember speaking with him about what was happening with some of my Jewish and liberal friends and neighbors, and the divisiveness and fear in the Jewish community.
His response sticks with me until this day. If we can fracture friendships, then we can rebuild them and make them whole. He pushed me to do the work to repair my former friendships. We have much work to be done. We need to bring everyone along.
After reading the Point of View in the Jan. 7 edition of The Press, I was again struck by how easy it is to character assassinate someone — to smear and attack with words and associations someone with whom you have never met and clearly know so little about.
The Point of View expressed by the author seems so antithetical to the actual Bowman I’ve grown to know. Jamaal is about respect, commitment, and honoring the best in each of us.
I have watched Jamaal spend hours learning about issues he knew previously little about. Listening to those with divergent views. And comforting those who have been victimized.
I have seen him struggle to look at different points of view as an educator, to grow his knowledge from strength to strength.
You may call Jamaal many things — teacher, father, advocate for justice, educator, friend, husband and mensch — but one thing he is not? A hater.