A day after being heckled for his Israel views, Ritchie Torres gets a hero’s welcome at Bronx Jewish school

Dec 22, 2023 | Read Now, Voices

(New York Jewish Week) – The day before winter break starts is often an exciting one at school, with pizza parties, movies in class and other laid-back activities. But at SAR Academy, a Modern Orthodox K-8 day school in the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale, the air was abuzz for a different reason: Their congressman, Ritchie Torres, was stopping by for a visit to reaffirm his support for Israel.

Torres, a Democrat who is an outspoken ally of Israel in Congress and online, was a guest of honor at SAR’s morning assembly, where the entire school community comes together to say Tehillim — psalms said for healing and protection — and sing prayers for Israel and the Jewish people, in a daily ritual that began the Monday morning after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

For the students at SAR Academy, Torres is something of a celebrity, having visited the school a handful of times in the past few years and even traveling to Israel with the school’s principal, Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, last year on a Jewish Community Relations Council trip. The congressman, who was previously a member of the New York City Council, was greeted with uproarious applause — some students held posters reading “The Bronx Loves Ritchie Torres,” while others stopped him for a selfie or tried to give him homemade crafts.

[The New York Jewish Week Report continues]

At SAR, however, it was all smiles for the Bronx native, who first traveled to Israel in 2015 with UJA-Federation New York and the JCRC when he was first elected to city council, and who has been a prominent supporter since.

“When I’m in my district in a place like SAR, I’m warmly received,” Torres told the New York Jewish Week. “Obviously, among anti-Israel activists, I’m considered controversial. But in life, you have to fight for what you believe in.”

He said no amount of criticism could deter him from his support for Israel, which sets him apart from other young members of Congress, particularly representatives of color.

“I believe in Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and I believe in the U.S.-Israel relationship and I’m never going to waver from that belief,” Torres added.

[The New York Jewish Week Report continues]

After Torres and Israeli Consul General Aviv Ezra greeted the student body with brief remarks, they held a small press conference of sorts with members of SAR’s student council, a group of about 10 students representing each grade at the school.

“This is really exciting for me,” eighth-grader Hannah Goldstein, the student council president, told the New York Jewish Week. “There’s a lot going on in Israel and there’s a lot of arguments about what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s really special to have someone come that’s representing America and representing the Bronx and say, ‘This is what I’m standing up for.’”

View this New York Jewish Week Report from December 22nd