Dec. 11, 2023 By Bill Parry
While Long Island City became one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the nation with a population that nearly doubled since 2010, and a building boom continuing into its second decade, locals gathered for the sixth annual tree and menorah lighting ceremony on Dec. 7 to kick off the holiday season.
The celebration in the spirit of unity on the Vernon Mall was hosted by the Long Island City BID and partners Hunter Point CDC and the Chocolate Factory Theater, combining separate holiday events held by the organizations to bring the community together and highlight the diversity of the neighborhood.
“Since the pandemic, with increased foot traffic, increased retail spending, population growth and new developments on the horizon, Long Island City is a mixed-use neighborhood and continues to show strong economic growth as we close 2023, benefiting our residents, local businesses, and community,” said Long Island City Partnership President Laura Rothrock, who also serves as executive director of the LIC BID. “We look forward to a strong 2024, especially with Lunar New Year coming up to ring in the year of the dragon.”
While the LIC BID has organized the event for the last six years, the tradition began years earlier.
“In 2007, the Hunters Point Community Development Corporation saw that our neighborhood was rapidly expanding and welcomed an influx of new neighbors and took the opportunity to celebrate this by lighting a Christmas tree and light garlands on a few blocks, HPCDC President Mark Christie said. “In this 16th year, I insisted on waiting until Chanukah to have a unified event to show the strength of coming together as one community.”
This year, the neighborhood’s holiday festival was held against the backdrop of the war between Israel and Hamas that followed terrorist attacks that killed more than 1,200 civilians and the kidnapping of hundreds more hostages. The events in the Middle East have brought a wave of antisemitism in New York City that has seen a 250% rise in ethnically motivated hate crimes in the Jewish and Muslim communities, according to Mayor Eric Adams.
“We gather to celebrate light. How do we chase away darkness? We increase the light. Every little action that you do brings light and that light dispels darkness,” said Rabbi Zev Weinberg of JCC-Chabad LIC. “I think this year the message is a little bit more relevant and a little more personal, tonight is just two months since the Oct. 7 massacre and the whole world felt a tremendous amount of darkness descend.”
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards was packing for a trip with business leaders to Israel on the morning of Oct. 7. That trip was canceled, but he did join Queens lawmakers, including state Sen. John Liu and Assemblymember Stacey Pheffer Amato, on a solidarity mission to Israel in mid-November. The Queens delegation toured kibbutzim and Israeli towns that were devastated during the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks. The holiday lighting ceremony in Long Island City was therapeutic for Richards.
“With so much devastation in the world, I think coming here tonight, we renew our faith in humanity on an evening like this,” Richards told the crowd on Vernon Mall. “The message I would leave you with is, we are stronger together as Queens and we have an opportunity…to really be the blueprint of where this country goes because of our diversity. I am so thankful to our borough, to this community, who continues to be a shining light across the borough.”
State Senator Kristen Gonzalez echoed that sentiment.
“Really what makes our community so strong is all of you, what sets us apart in the fact that for every local challenge that we have, I see people right here in Long Island City every single day doing the work,” Gonzalez said. “We should really be proud of the work that we’ve done as Long Island City, as a community and I’m so excited to celebrate the holidays with all of you.”
Community leader Sheila Lewandowski, the co-founder and executive director of The Chocolate Factory Theater, distributed ribbons at the end of the event that everyone tied to a nearby tree to hold and send the positive energy from the ceremony.
“I want you to think good thoughts, happy thoughts, I want you to think about love, I want you to think about light,” Lewandowski said. “I want you to think about peace and I want you to think about kindness. I want you to close your eyes for a moment and think about a time when you feel safe and loved and hold it in that ribbon.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.