By Carl Zebrowski
Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk and State Rep. Mike Schlossberg were part of the strong turnout of the Jewish community and its supporters on May 19 for the raising of the Israeli flag at Allentown City Hall. The event celebrated Jewish Heritage Month, Israel’s 75th birthday and Jerusalem Day.
Bruce Reich, head of the Jewish Community Relations Council, opened the ceremonies by welcoming the crowd for the return of what had been an annual tradition of raising the Israeli flag here. “Together we are united in our commitment to honor the legacy of the Jewish people in America and to build a brighter future for generations to come with deep love for our country and for the state of Israel,” he said.
Jeri Zimmerman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, highlighted “the contributions of Jewish Americans to form the fabric of our history, culture and society.”
“We have not been able to have this celebration for a number of years now,” she said, “and it’s so wonderful to be here. And we’re delighted to have our next generation, the students of the Jewish Day School, to join us as well.”
Mayor Tuerk stepped up to the mic and pointed out some officials in attendance, including Police Chief Charles Roca, City Council Vice President Cynthia Mota, Amy Cozze from U.S. Sen. Bob Casey’s office and Lehigh County Judge Zachary Cohen.
Tuerk looked around through the crowd. “As you can see here in Allentown, there is a tradition of Jewish American achievement, and we’re incredibly proud of the people how have joined us today,” he said. “I want to finish by extending my gratitude to the Jewish American community for your invaluable contributions to our city.”
Rep. Schlossberg was next. He said he’d been to many flag raisings over the years. This was the first that was personal for him. He expressed appreciation that Allentown has a mayor who promotes diversity, viewing the day’s event in part as a public declaration against antisemitism. “This was always a city where I’ve felt safe,” he said. He took a few moments to impress on the JDS kids the importance of treating people the right way.
Mariska van Aalst, deputy district director of the U.S. House, was there to represent U.S. Rep. Susan Wild. She read a statement from Wild. “The story of Jewish America is the story of America itself,” she said. Like Schlossberg, she brought up antisemitism, thanking the Jewish Federation for all it has done and is doing to combat it.
Rabbi Moshe Re’em of Temple Beth El invited the JDS kids up in front of the speakers’ podium. “Democracy is something we cherish as Americans and we cherish as Jews,” he said. Rabbi Seth Phillips (retired) offered a prayer in Hebrew along with its translation into English.
Rabbi Yaacov Halperin of Chabad of the Lehigh Valley said he was humbled to be part of the ceremony, with its message of togetherness. He shared a memory of unity from his youth in Israel. “I remember walking to the Western Wall on Shabbat mornings with our Arab neighbors,” he said.
Tuerk moved back to the front and invited Zimmerman to join him in sending the colors up the pole. “We are going to raise the flag for the first time in years,” he announced.
When the flag reached the top, the JDS kids sang the Israeli national anthem, accompanied by their music teacher, Sumer Noel, on violin. The ceremony concluded with the crowd turning to the Stars and Stripes and the kids leading the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”