Tuesday, September 28, 2021

There is no place for divide or hatred in our community. That was the prevailing message at a recent candlelight vigil organized by the Jewish Community Council of Greater Teaneck and the Teaneck Township in solidarity with the Pittsburgh Jewish community. The vigil, held at the Municipal Green, was attended by hundreds of people including dignitaries, clergy and community leaders. The Honorable Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, along with Rabbi Yosef Adler, Reverend Dr. Marilyn Harris and Rabbi Joel Pitkowsky were among those who offered words of comfort and guidance.

The horrific shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh has evoked a sense of unity, not only among Jews, but among people of all backgrounds, who have banded together in support of the 11 people violently gunned down on American soil, just because they were Jewish. Echoing the cries of Jews around the globe, members of the Greater Teaneck Community gathered together to remember those heartlessly murdered and also to embrace the message of unity.

Mayor Hameeduddin offered insight into his feelings, not only resulting from the recent attack, but from many recent hate crimes, including the senseless murder of Vickie Lee Jones and Maurice Stallard, killed in Kentucky at a grocery store by a racist who intended to attack a black church earlier that day but was unsuccessful because the doors were locked. Hameeduddin described feeling heartbroken by the level of hatred that has been existent around the country for the last couple of years and is seemingly on the rise.

“This is a symptom of an underlying disease our society has been dealing with for hundreds of years. All of us have to band together and say ‘no more,’” he declared. “We have to be mindful of others and how we speak about one another.” The mayor urged the crowd to find meaning in this hate crime and be proactive in an effort to create a more compassionate, caring society.

Rabbi Yosef Adler of Congregation Rinat Yisrael reiterated the mayor’s thoughts as he presented a concept brought down in the Torah that discusses how the repetition of words, specifically negative speech, can often lead to harmful actions. Acknowledging the First Amendment, Rabbi Adler encouraged people to appreciate the right to freedom of speech, but also to recognize when boundaries are crossed. It’s hard to understand why an individual would act in such a heinous way, he said. In the case of the Pittsburgh shooter, it was revealed that he had expressed continuous hatred on social media, ultimately culminating in this violent attack.

In contrast, the Torah explains, one who seeks to embrace a life of love and decency should watch one’s mouth. Rabbi Adler hopes we can avoid tragedy by controlling the hateful words that too often precede these atrocities. “By watching what comes out of our mouths, hopefully we as individuals and as a community can build lives complete with love and goodness.”

The memorial gathering befittingly took place beside the upcoming home of The Garden to Nurture Future Understanding, which will contain a Holocaust Memorial and Education Center, as well as a Memorial for Enslaved African Americans. Co-chairs of the project, Steve Fox and David Langford, both shared thoughts about the Pittsburgh massacre and what we as a united community can do going forward.

Steve Fox is the son of a Holocaust survivor and remembers growing up in an environment that assumed such religious persecution could never happen in America. Columbine, Charleston and now Pittsburgh have proven that “the unfathomable is fathomable,” explained Fox. Fox believes now more than ever is the perfect time to build an educational center where individuals from all backgrounds can come to learn about the Holocaust and understand the toxicity of hatred.

David Langford, chair of the Enslaved African Memorial Committee, encouraged the community to “embrace who we are individually and collectively.” Together, Langford and Fox are working to build something to nurture humanity.

The multicultural crowd contained people of varying ages and backgrounds, yet they shared one very common denominator. Each and every person in attendance believed in love, not hate. “We all belong to one family called a human family,” said Imam Moutaz Charaf, of the El-Zahra Islamic Center. “An attack on one specific faith is an attack on every faith.” We must stand united for the sake of humanity and mankind, he pleaded.

Rabbi Pitkowsky of Temple Beth Shalom urged the community to remember the past and lessons learned. That will help define for us what is possible in the present and what we should strive for in the future. Emphasizing the significance of speech and the tone one takes, Rabbi Pitkowsky explained that all human beings are created in the image of God and must be treated with respect and dignity. “We should remember we can disagree without demonizing our opponents,” he implored. “Disagreements need not lead to violence.”

Other speakers included Bruce Prince and Manny Landau, co-chairs of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Teaneck, Cantor Ellen Tilem of Temple Emeth and Jasjit Singh Hundai of Glen Rock Gurudwara.

By Andrea Nissel

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