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Queens Jews focus on relationship with Obama, blacks at Central Queens Y

Less than 24 hours before President Barack Obama was sworn into office as the nation’s first black president, a group of Queens residents gathered in the Central Queens YM & YWHA in Forest Hills to discuss the role Jewish individuals played in ushering in Obama’s victory as well as future relations between the black and Jewish communities.

Rabbi Bob Kaplan, director of CAUSE−NY, a division of the Commission on Intergroup Relations & Community Concerns, was the guest speaker for Monday’s talk entitled “Obama and the Jewish Vote.”

“Jews have been voting more Republican over the last 20 years than ever before, but we still voted 78 percent for Barack Obama,” Kaplan told a group of about 20 people, many from Forest Hills and Fresh Meadows.

Kaplan said that despite the spread of misinformation about Obama during the election that was designed to alarm the Jewish community, including rumors that Obama was a radical Muslim, Jews remained steadfast in their support of Obama.

“All the misinformation fell on silent ears in a Jewish community that embraces America,” Kaplan said.

E−mails questioning whether Obama would be supportive of the Jewish community became so frequent that Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti−Defamation League, and eight other prominent Jewish leaders wrote an open letter before the election last year to quell what they deemed “despicable and false” rumors.

The role Jewish individuals played in electing Obama caused discussion about relations between the black and Jewish communities to surface, and Kaplan said the election highlighted the two groups’ commitment to fighting for social justice.

“It was the Jewish community who played a defining role in moving forward the American dream for everyone, including African Americans,” Kaplan said. “Jews helped to found the NAACP. We embraced the civil rights movement.”

Kaplan said he expects Obama to continue the United States’ history of supporting Israel.

“Obama has been always been a friend of Israel, and he’ll continue to be a friend of Israel,” Kaplan said.

Recently, there had been speculation Israel launched its 22−day war against Hamas because they believe Obama would not give the country in the Middle East the same kind of support shown by the Bush administration.

“I hope he gives Israel a fair shake,” said Fresh Meadows resident Deborah Wohl. “I think that worried a lot of people that he wouldn’t do that. I hope he’s successful.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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