2015-09-30 / Voice at the Shore

Bridge of Faith mourns 9/11 victims, seeks unity to address current racial tensions

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore correspondent


Participants of the 9/11 commemoration included (from left), Beth Judah’s Rabbi Jonathan Kremer, with Bridge of Faith co-founders Kaleem Shabazz of Masjid Muhammad, and Rabbi Aaron Kraus of Beth El Synagogue. Participants of the 9/11 commemoration included (from left), Beth Judah’s Rabbi Jonathan Kremer, with Bridge of Faith co-founders Kaleem Shabazz of Masjid Muhammad, and Rabbi Aaron Kraus of Beth El Synagogue. Bridge of Faith, an organization of local Jewish, Christian and Muslim clerics, held a 9-11 Community Commemoration at Congregation Beth Judah on the morning of September 11. The service, attended by nearly 75 clergy, public officials and community members, sought to both remember the many lives lost after terrorists attacked American targets, including the World Trade Center, 14 years ago, and to recapture the sense of solidarity that our nation experienced in coping with the horrific tragedy.

The spirit of unity among those present at the 9-11 commemoration was palpable even before the service, as clergy from many local houses of worship streamed into the sanctuary, greeting and embracing one another. Rabbi Aaron Kraus of Beth El Synagogue, who cofounded Bridge of Faith four years ago, was greeted with a big bear-hug from Imam Amen Muhammad, spiritual leader of the Atlantic City mosque Masjid Muhammad, who offered a similar greeting to several other clerics before taking a seat.

Meanwhile, Bishop Robert Hargrove, president of the Fellowship of Churches of Atlantic City and Vicinity, chatted with Dan Viveiros, VFW Commander for New Jersey. Noticing the bishop’s kippah, Viveiros asked if he should have one too. “Yes, you should get one, they’re just outside,” said Hargrove.

Viveiros, who would later lead the group in the flag salute and pledge of allegiance, promptly hurried out to find one. “It’s my first time in a synagogue and I don’t want to disrespect anyone or anything,” said Viveiros.

“Why are we here today?” asked Rabbi Jonathan Kremer of Congregation Beth Judah, who began the service. “We are here to acknowledge the lives lost…how our world changed…to affirm our faith in resilience…to remember whose dreams were denied.”

Kaleem Shabazz, president of Bridge of Faith and of Masjid Muhammad, asked those present “to reflect on how people came together following 9-11, and to recapture that solidarity.” He urged the group to act with this same solidarity in addressing current problems facing our nation and local community.

His sentiment was echoed by the many white and African- American clergy and government officials who spoke after him, all of whom expressed their hopes that this unity could help overcome the racial tensions that currently divide our community and nation.

“In order to overcome and combat forces that brought about 9-11, we need to build stronger communities and keep them strong,” said Atlantic City Prosecutor James McClain. For this to happen, he added, we need to have “equality of treatment of all types of people” by law enforcement.

Reverend William Williams of the Asbury United Methodist Church, an African- American church in Atlantic City, stressed the importance of looking to God in dealing with disagreements that have the potential to divide people— whether they are disagreements between people in the Middle East and the United States, or between people within our own nation.

“There’s a lot of doubt these days,” he noted, referring to the Black Lives Matter movement, criticism of police officers’ treatment of African Americans, and economic issues. Williams stressed the importance of a positive response. “We need to be as systematic in our love and hope,” he said, as the terrorists were systematic in their efforts at destruction.

Reverend Cynthia Cain of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Jersey Shore in Galloway agreed. “What do we learn from events like 9-11, to hate or to love?” she asked, adding: “Love did not cause the terrorist attacks.”

What we have forgotten since 9-11 is our ability to “hold hands together regardless of race and class,” said Reverend Dave Delaney of Central Methodist Church in Linwood. We need to get beyond hatred due to “politics, race, religion and who we are,” and “make a pledge to each other” that we will once again unite in the face of pressing issues.

Imam Amin Muhammad described his first-hand encounters with terrorism while studying Islam in Egypt and Syria in the late 1980s. After meeting terrorists who professed to be devout Muslims and witnessing a terrorist incident at close range, Muhammad said he felt compelled to spend the next 20 years passionately fighting against terrorism.

This passion led him to meet with one of those convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six people and injured over 1,000, to find out why he had taken part. “This man was a terrorist because he was unlearned about his religion,” concluded the imam, who said he continued to visit the man to teach him the truths underlying Islam.

Imam Muhammad stressed that education, and a willingness by all sides to see the truth in a conflict situation, was crucial in combating terrorism. “May God help us to learn the truth so that we never repeat 9-11,” he said.

At 9:11 a.m., all present observed a moment of silence in memory of those who died as a result of terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

“We remember the thousands of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who left their homes and never came back,” said Rabbi Kremer. .

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