Alexander Rapaport, a Boro Park Hasid, says his experience being the victim of anti-Semitism forces him to call out hatred against others.
So Rapaport, who runs the Masbia kosher soup kitchens, helped organize a communal show of support for a local Yemeni-owned bodega in reaction to President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Not everyone was happy about the gesture.
“I received your solicitation letter in the mail along with this phone number,” read a text message he received on Wednesday. “After seeing, though, that you protested President Trump’s executive order, and thus shamefully sided with those who are putting American lives in danger, I am no longer able to donate to your organization.”
The message, Rapaport told JTA, was referring to a fundraising letter he sent a few weeks ago to about 1,500 “top donors” — those who had given a one-time three-figure donation to Masbia, which operates soup kitchens in Flatbush, Boro Park and Rego Park.
Rapaport said that other donors approached him in the street to complain about his stance on immigration following his show of support for Day N Night, a Yemeni-owned corner store in Boro Park that caters to many Orthodox Jewish customers who live in the neighborhood by selling Hebrew and Yiddish-language newspapers and allowing observant Jews to buy things on tab on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
“I made a point of walking in there today,” Rapaport said on DATE, when Yemeni-America bodega owners closed their stores for eight hours to protest the president’s temporary travel ban. “I actually live a mile away. I just learned that they were Yemenite, and I was looking to do something in solidarity with the people affected by the executive order.”
Rapaport arrived with other community members and attached Post-it notes with “messages of love and solidarity” on thestorefront.
This isn’t the first time Rapaport’s outspokenness has angered donors.
The 38-year-old father of seven got complaints after he spoke up for immigrants previously and lost funders who were unhappy that the strictly kosher soup kitchen serves anyone who wants a meal, regardless of religious background.
In December 2015, Rapaport attended a protest at City Hall following a call by Trump, then a presidential candidate, for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
While Rapaport has considered being less outspoken, he said hiding his views wouldn’t be honest.
“I don’t want to take anyone’s money under false pretense. Yes, I am personally very pro-immigrant, and if that makes me unqualified for your donation, please don’t give it to me,” he told JTA.
“Being a visible Jew in New York City, where I’ve been spat at, I’ve been yelled at and cursed at, I know exactly what hate means,” he said. “And to see this happening in an official capacity with no sensible real need for it, it forces me to call it out for what it is.”
The complaints come at a critical time for Masbia, which is seeking to raise $250,000 to complete renovations for its Queens location.
Masbia is now serving meals outside the old Queens building, which is being demolished, but weather conditions in the winter can make it impossible. That means on some days, the over 200 people served dinner by the soup kitchen may go hungry.
“We are serving hot food on the street in front of our old site, right under the scaffolds of that building,” Rapaport said. “This is not the way we want to feed people.”