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Published on March 16th, 2017 | by WMJledger

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Interfaith rally at the Springfield JCC condemns threats and intolerance

By Stacey Dresner | Photos by Shana Sureck

SPRINGFIELD – More than 100 members of the community gathered in front of the Springfield Jewish Community Center on the evening of March 9 to decry recent threats made against the Springfield JCC and other Jewish organizations around the country.

At the Thursday evening rally, organized by the Interfaith Council of Western Massachusetts and co-sponsored by the ADL of New England, the Springfield JCC, the Jewish Federation of Western Mass., and other area organizations, the speakers includes representatives from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities and local dignitaries.

“We gather here tonight to condemn acts of hate, acts of intolerance, acts of bigotry,” said Robert Marmor, interim executive director of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass. “We’re just not going to allow it on our watch.”

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarna spoke of the alarm he felt when he received a phone call on Friday, March 3 informing him of the second threat found at the Springfield JCC in the past two months.

“As we move forward, the message must be sent that this hate can not be tolerated, whether it is [against] the Jewish community, the Muslim community or the Christian community,” Mayor Sarno said.

He added that he hoped that, “from the Federal government on down that the rhetoric can be toned down a bit; that there can be mutual respect.”

Rabbi Riqi Kosovske of Beit Ahavah of Northampton spoke of the upcoming Jewish holiday, Purim, telling the story of Queen Esther’s and the Jew’s resistance against the Persians over 2000 years ago.

“Queen Esther used her privilege as the queen of Persia to save the people,” Rabbi Kosvske told the crowd. “But Esther didn’t get there on her own. That is why we here tonight. In the story her uncle Mordechai inspired and challenged Esther: ‘Who knows if you did not come into this power for such a moment as this. And if you don’t act to save your ancestral house you will not be saved and redemption will come from somewhere else.’”

Rabbi Kosovske explained that the Fast of Esther this year fell on March 9 – the day of the rally.

“This fast never made as much sense to me as it does now,” Kosovske said, adding that the fast day is when Jews “remember [Queen Esther’s] strength and all of the support that it took to gain that moral courage to fight hate with love…This rally is part of that building up of our strength and our support to show that we care and to call out that this is not normal. We will not stand for it now or ever…We will say ‘no’ to hate and ‘yes’ to love, because love always wins.”

Yasmin Elmi Ahmed and Liz Friedman at the interfaith rally.

Statements were also made by Martin Pion, president of the Interfaith Council of Western Mass., accompanied by representatives of several local churches; and Burt Hollander, a representative of Atty. Gen. Maura Healy’s office.

Cantor Martin Levson of Sinai Temple and Cantor Elise Barber of Temple Beth El sang, “Gesher Tza Me’od,” with words by Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, translated: “The whole world is like a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid” as the crowd clapped and sang along.

Dr. Salim Bajwa of the Islamic Society of Western Mass. brought the crowd “greetings of peace, salaam, shalom, from the Islamic center.”

“Last week, there was a gentleman who was shot in his driveway in Seattle, Washington and he was told ‘go back to your country,’” Dr. Bajwa said. He was “not a Muslim, not a Jew, he was a Sihk. He happened to be different. And so this what is going on now. That’s what brings the fear in the community… I want to say loud and clear today that the Islamic Society will stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters, with any other minorities and that we will all be one.”

Daniel Levenson of the ADL office in Boston told the crowed that as of March 7, there were 140 threats to 110 Jewish institutions since the beginning of January, and that the threats received last week were the sixth wave of phone threats.

Rachel Berezin, campaign director of the Jewish Federation announced to the crowd the formation of the “Chai Five Challenge” modeled after the recent “Ice Bucket Challenge” for ALS. The challenge will celebrate diversity by asking people to take “selfies” with signs saying one thing about their cultural identity that makes them proud; post them on Instagram, hashtagging “Chai5challenge,” and nominate five friends to do the same. If one doesn’t meet the challenge, they are asked to donate $18 — a chai gift to the Federation.

Berezin introduced State Sen. Eric Lesser, who said that he grew up going to the Springfield JCC. He lauded the JCC for the way it has aways welcomed not just Jews but the entire community.

Rabbi Bruce Bromberg Seltzer and his daughter, Adeena, attended the rally in support of the Springfield JCC.

“We started in this country as immigrants, escaping persecution, escaping pogroms, escaping anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe and around the world,” he said. “The Jewish Community Centers were started because we needed a safe place, because often a lot of other places kept us out… In the face of persecution and in the face of hate…often the easy things is to become even more suspicious of the outside world…What is so inspiring is that this center and centers all across the country did the opposite. They opened their doors to the community; they welcomed people of diverse backgrounds and religions. They worked to fight for justice and civil and human rights.”

Michael Paysnick, executive director of the JCC thanked law enforcement for helping ensure the safety of the JCC and the community. Closing the rally, he addressed the people who made the threats to the JCC.

“To those who would attempt to disrupt the work of the JCC and those of our brother and sister centers across the country, we say, ‘No, we will not allow you to get in the way of our sacred Jewish mission of building community,’” Paysnick said. “We will not be deterred from keeping our doors open wide, welcoming and making access and availability to all those of every background and every ability to participate.”


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