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Queens Chronicle

Cooper Avenue rally goes to Long Island

Coalition criticized for protesting outside of property owner’s temple

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Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2019 4:55 pm

Protesters who want a District 75 school to be built at 78-16 Cooper Ave., instead of a homeless shelter, traveled to Long Island last Saturday to the home of the property’s owner, Michael Wilner.

But when it turned out he wasn’t home, the protesters went to Temple Or Elohim, which Wilner is the president of. Both are in Jericho.

Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village), who has long been a critic of the proposed homeless shelter and met with the protesters when they returned to Queens, criticized the activists’ taking their rally to the place of worship.

“While I did support my constituents in their effort to make their voices heard and call for the construction of a new District 75 school, I do not agree with the decision of the organizers to rally at a synagogue,” Holden posted on Facebook. “It’s enough to send the message directly to Michael Wilner at his home. Disrupting a congregation at a place of worship is wrong. I share the protesters’ desire to bring a school to 78-16 Cooper Avenue and that is what I continue to work for.”

Holden posted a picture hours earlier of himself talking to area residents outside the site, thanking them for “taking time out of their busy lives” to rally.

Mike Papa, a lead organizer for the rally, said he doesn’t regret the protest moving outside Temple Or Elohim, which he added wasn’t even open.

“He’s willing to bring 200 criminals to our neighborhood, to an area where we have — in five blocks — four churches, three dance schools, a sports facility for kids, a Little League place, five public schools and one Catholic school,” he told the Chronicle in a phone interview. “No. I don’t regret going to his reform temple. Not at all.”

Papa said area residents, including Holden, have been trying to get Wilner to explain what his plans are for the site, “and he completely ignores us.”

Papa added, “This was the first step to let him know that he really should come and talk to us about what his intentions are.”

Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) released a statement on Tuesday morning criticizing the actions of the protesters.

“Protesting outside a person’s synagogue on the Sabbath because they might not develop their private property the way you want is a grotesque act of antisemitism and fully deserves our unqualified condemnation,” he said. “The so-called ‘Glendale Middle Village Coalition’ members should be ashamed of themselves, and should apologize for their repugnant conduct.”

Papa did not agree with Lancman’s comments and did not apologize.

“Here’s another fool trying to promote anti-Semitism,” he said. “And let me tell you, we are the furthest thing from anti-Semites. There were probably six Jewish people on the bus with us. My nieces and nephews are Jewish. Very good friends of mine are Jewish. It has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and a clown who’s running for district attorney shouldn’t be trying to promote more negative attitudes between people because that has nothing to do with why we were there.”

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