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Queens Chronicle

Masbia sees a rise in new donations

Surge comes after leader caught heat for supporting Yemeni bodegas

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Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2017 10:30 am

Masbia Soup Kitchen Network Executive Director Alexander Rapaport makes no apologies for standing in solidarity with Yemeni bodega owners who protested President Trump’s travel ban two weeks ago.

That’s even after one donor contacted him and pledged to stop giving to the organization.

“Showing people basic humanity, basic neighborhood and being a good neighbor,” Rapaport told the Chronicle on Tuesday, “it’s the right thing to do.”

Earlier this month, bodega owners of Yemeni descent across the city closed their stores in protest of Trump’s executive order temporarily banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations — Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — from entering the United States, even if they were green card or visa holders.

After legal and immigrant groups challenged it in court, federal judges across the country issued temporary stays, keeping the order from being implemented.

The White House was expected to unveil an altered travel ban this week, one that would only bar entry to those from the aforementioned nations coming to America without a visa and who have never entered the United States before.

To show his support for the Yememi bodega owners’ efforts, Rapaport and other Hasidic Jews posted sticky notes with messages such as, “We care about our Yemeni neighbors, from your Jewish neighbors” on at least one Brooklyn storefront.

Passersby also joined in, with Rapaport and his colleagues posting photos to Twitter of their work and their shaking hands with the Yemeni business owners.

“It was a teaching moment to members in our community,” he said. “It’s important to find ways to express solidarity with communities that are under duress, people who are affected by the climate in Washington.”

Rapaport said he received a handful of complaints about his stance, but none were as notable as the text message he got from an unknown number, responding to a recent Masbia mailer soliciting donations.

That person said he will no longer be donating to the soup kitchen network because Rapaport “shamefully sided with those who are putting American lives in danger” instead of Trump.

After word got out about the complaint, Rapaport said donations began flowing in, with about 500 new givers sending money to the organization, which operates soup kitchens in Rego Park, Borough Park and Flatbush.

Manhattan Rabbi Jonah Geffen even put a call for donations on his Facebook page on Feb. 9. Over $2,400 was contributed by 37 people in just one week.

“This man dedicates his life to feeding the hungry, that is all,” Geffen wrote. “Taking food out of the mouths of the hungry is not a way to make a political statement.”

Rapaport declined to provide the exact amount of money Masbia has received in donations since the bodega protest, but he said he’s been thrilled by the response.

“I would say for every naysayer, we got 100 new donors,” he said. “Every dollar raised is food in someone’s stomach.”

Masbia has operated at 98-08 Queens Blvd. in Rego Park since 2010, but the organization will relocate its Queens location to 105-49 64 Road in Forest Hills later this year, as its venue is being transformed into a luxury mixed-use building.

The group has vacated the space, but still serves meals on the sidewalk as it awaits renovations on the Forest Hills location to be completed sometime this spring.

As Masbia continues to overcome adversity in serving scores of hungry people each week, Rapaport said the Jewish community will always continue to help neighbors of any and all religious and ethnic backgrounds do the same.

“We don’t have to agree with everybody’s politics,” he said. “Even if we disagree with our Muslim neighbors, we don’t have to take away their humanity.”

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