New York - One day after announcing a new initiative intended to provide city residents with additional paid days off so that they can spend more time with their loved ones, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s State of the City address opened with a narrative delivered by a Chasidic man from Borough Park and footage of him learning Talmud with his 12 year old son.
The nearly six minute long video was shown at the start of the annual speech, delivered this morning at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Highlighting the city’s diversity, the video showed several New York City families, including that of Alexander Rapaport, executive director of the Masbia soup kitchen.
Rapaport appears several times in the video, first with his son Nochum, a seventh grader at the Bobover Yeshiva Bnei Zion.
As the clip shows Rapaport and his son sitting at the table engaged in an animated Talmudic discussion, the camera pans up to reveal a neat row of identically framed photographs of all seven of the Rapaport children sitting atop the china cabinet. In a voiceover, Rapaport talks about the importance of a close knit family structure.
“Your family is everything for you,” says Rapaport. “What for others might be rough and tumble, but for Chasidic families, New York is the best place to live in.”
Rapaport elaborated on some of the challenges of running a soup kitchen, a job that involves long hours and emergencies that can interfere with family time. The video captures Rapaport sitting in his dining room with several of his children and his wife, Toby.
“I try to fill in,” says Mrs. Rapaport. “Sometimes I have to be mom and dad. Sometimes I literally have to call him home. ‘That’s it. The work day is over. The sky will not fall down, I promise.’”
In a VIN News interview, Rapaport said that the footage of him and his son immersed in the intricacies of the tractate Makos, analyzing the process of determining financial damages against someone who bears false witness in a prenuptial agreement, came about quite by accident.
The film crew had originally intended to capture footage of the family at Masbia and sharing conversation at home, but while the photographers were setting up for the shoot, Nochum Rapaport seized the moment, taking advantage of an opportunity to study Talmud with his father.
“He has been learning the entire first chapter by heart and was desperate to learn with me, so he snuck in a Gemara and we started learning page after page,” said Rapaport.
“They saw how animated he was and it made quite an impression on them.”
The Rapaports were not the only Jewish family to be part of the mayor’s State of the City address. NYPD chief chaplain Rabbi Alvin Kass delivered the opening invocation, the yarmulke on his head adorned with an NYPD shield.
Rabbi Kass described New York as “the city of immigrants par excellence,” and referencing the words of poet Emma Lazarus engraved on the Statue of Liberty noted “the homeless and the tempest tossed have provided the energy, the dynamism and the creativity that has made New York City the veritable capital of the world.”