2016-01-06 / Voice at the Shore

Jewish leaders & community show solidarity with local Muslims at vigil

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore correspondent


Matthew Bennett, Israel and Community Relations Director, and others carry Federation signs at the Atlantic City Vigil against Islamophobia and Racism. Matthew Bennett, Israel and Community Relations Director, and others carry Federation signs at the Atlantic City Vigil against Islamophobia and Racism. Jewish community members came out in force to support the local Muslim community at an Interfaith Vigil against Islamophobia and racism at City Hall in Atlantic City on December 15. The event, organized by local Muslim leader and Atlantic City Councilman-Elect Kaleem Shabazz in response to verbal attacks against Muslims made by political figures, drew a crowd of roughly 100 people— including numerous political and religious leaders as well as followers of all faiths. Just under a third of those assembled were Jewish community members.

“We are gathered in…City Hall today…because we are concerned about the tone and substance of rhetoric vented by major figures in the race for president,” said Shabazz in his opening remarks. He went on to decry Republican candidate Ben Carson for stating “a Muslim couldn’t or shouldn’t be President,” and to blast Donald Trump for “descending into the sewer of Islamophobia by declaring that Muslims must wear I.D. badges to identify themselves as Muslims.”

The latter statement elicited an audible shudder from Jewish community members in the crowd, and Shabazz also acknowledged the parallel to Jews in Nazi Germany. “Mr. Trump’s vile outburst led to a collective historical reminder of the fate of our Jewish sisters and brothers in Germany, who were forced to wear yellow stars,” he noted.

“The vigil today demonstrates our desire to resist the violence of fanatics as we affirm the rights of our Muslim brothers and sisters,” he concluded.

Other speakers at the vigil included political leaders such as Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, who is a Republican, and State Senator Jim Whalen, a Democrat. Whalen called Trump’s statements “despicable,” adding that “we must remember that we are all the descendants of immigrants.”

Federation Executive Director Kirk Wisemayer also spoke. After greeting the crowd with “Shalom and Salaam,” Wisemayer explained the Jewish community viewpoint.

“As Jews and Americans we stand against hate and vitriol against any group for any reason,” he said. He added that Jews had experienced devastating hate not only during the Holocaust but also at many other points in history, such as the many instances when Jews were expelled from Arab lands.

Rabbi Aaron Krauss of Beth El was among the many religious leaders of all faiths to address the crowd. Krauss thanked Shabazz, a long-time friend with whom he founded the interfaith group Bridge of Faith, for “doing the right thing” by organizing the vigil. He also thanked those present for doing the right thing by coming to show support for the Muslim community. “We are all brothers and sisters, God created us all,” stressed Krauss.

Krauss call for unity was repeated by all other religious leaders. “Let’s look to see the commonality of us all, grounded in love, hope and mutual respect,” said Reverend William Williams of the Asbury United Methodist Church, an African- American church in Atlantic City.

“I don’t think we’re here just for Muslims,” said Muslim leader Imam Amin Muhammad of Masjid Mohammed, an Atlantic City mosque. “If we are here for that, we are making a mistake. This is a human issue. We need to look at each other as human beings first.” The Imam also stressed the need for education. “Learning about each other’s faith and background will help us overcome some of the inhumane actions we see,” he said.

Matthew Bennett, who staffs the local Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council, spearheaded the effort to promote a Jewish presence at the vigil on short notice. Bennett said he found out about the vigil through Facebook just days before it happened. He then quickly reached out to Jewish community members through Facebook as well as through local synagogues.

Also thanks to Bennett, vigil attendees of all backgrounds displayed Federation signs that read “Islam does not equal terrorism,” “One Jewish Community stands against Islamophobia and racism,” and “The Jewish Federation supports citizens’ and civil rights for ALL people, for ALL religions.”

Notably, leaders of most local synagogues were present at the vigil, including rabbis Gordon Geller (Emeth Shalom), Jonathan Kremer (Beth Judah), and Rabbi David Weis (Beth Israel) as well as Beth El’s Krauss. Hazzan Jeffrey Myers of Beth Judah and Cantor Ralph Goren of Beth El also attended.

These leaders also encouraged their congregants to attend. One Beth El member at the vigil, Judy Landau, heard about it via an email from Cantor Goren. Landau said she wore a scarf just in case she needed to turn it into a headscarf to show solidarity with the Muslim community. “I figure we are all Muslims today,” said Landau. .

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