Jewish leaders joined in memorial programs and visited African-American churches throughout Middlesex and Monmouth counties in a show of support and solidarity with shooting victims at a historic black church in Charleston, SC.
The June 17 shootings at the Emanuel AME Church by white gunman Dylan Roof left nine people dead.
Two days later, Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ CEO Keith Krivitzky urged community members to attend a black church to show their solidarity. He attended services that Sunday at the Trinity AME Church in Long Branch.
“The congregation couldn’t have been more welcoming and appreciative,” he said. “I came to show my support and the one message that stuck with me because it was repeated over and over is it could have been any one of us. And we are not exempt from that message, and it’s important to remember as Jews we have also been the victims of prejudice and persecution.”
On June 25, a crowd of almost 300 sat through a steady drizzle for a vigil at Highland Park High School’s football stadium. Speakers — including religious, municipal, and civic leaders and a representative of the New Brunswick branch of the NAACP — read psalms and expressed sadness over the needless loss of life.
Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler, a former president of the Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth, noted the horror and melancholy felt across religious and ethnic lines.
“Many of us are still hurt and sorting out our feelings about the heinous hate crime that was perpetuated on a peaceful group in their historic house of worship,” she said. “Highland Park is a diverse community that strives to embrace peace and tolerance. We stand in support of the victims of Charleston, and continue to fight against bias or harm to others.”
Shai Goldstein of Edison, a former director of the Anti-Defamation League’s NJ office, decried the racism that he said “was still part of American society.” He lamented that “50 years after the enactment of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts,” civil rights groups are once again lobbying Congress to ensure voting rights for all Americans.
Rabbi Steven Miodownik of Orthodox Congregation Ahavas Achim read a psalm during the program. Other rabbis sitting with the officials were Abraham Mykoff of Congregation Poile Zedek in New Brunswick, Yaakov Luban of Congregation Ohr Torah in Edison, and Gedaliah Jaffe of Congregation Ahavas Yisrael in Edison.
Luban and Miodownik also wrote letters on behalf of their congregations to the Charleston church, which will be sent with large cardboard posters expressing sorrow and support and signed by those attending the rally.
“As Jews who are sensitive to the welfare of all mankind, we are heartbroken over the deadly shooting that occurred during Bible study” at the church, said Miodownik. “As people who understand how hatred can easily lead to murder, we mourn the loss of innocent life and vehemently protest the racism that spawned this tragedy. When lives are cheapened and undervalued, no person of any religion, no church or synagogue, is safe. “
Luban said he wanted to express compassion and sorrow. Mykoff said he came “because I’m a member of the human race.”
In Monmouth County, Rabbi Marc Kline of Monmouth Reform Temple, who lived for many years in the South before coming to the Tinton Falls synagogue last year, attended a vigil June 24 for both the Charleston victims and those affected by domestic violence at the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Red Bank. He said about 30 of the 150 attendees were from his synagogue.
“I was there to make sure my community was part of the solution,” he told NJJN. “I was asked to say a prayer for domestic and community violence.”
Kline said the debate over the Confederate flag, spurred by Roof’s apparent embrace of the symbol, particularly resonated with him. At his previous pulpit in Florence, SC, he was one of seven co-organizers of a march that drew 50,000 protestors opposing the public display of the flag.
Moreover, he said, he had marched with and knew people from Emanuel AME Church, “so this is very personal to me.”