One, two, three, four, we won’t be silent anymore. Five, six, seven, eight, learn to love and not to hate,” chanted a group of about 100 people as they made their way down Raritan Avenue in Highland Park on their way to a vigil at Rutgers Chabad in memory of the shooting victims at the Chabad of Poway in California.
The two-mile march on April 30 was sponsored by Highland Park Stronger Than Hate, a group that quickly coalesced the previous day in response to the April 27 shooting by 19-year-old gunman John Earnest. One woman, Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was killed, and three people, including the synagogue’s rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein, were injured.
Rabbi Eliot Malomet of Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth was upset that the spate of shootings has deflected from synagogues’ mission of religious practice and education. “Now we have to worry about our safety and security when we come to shul, and I am angry about that,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are experiencing what the rest of the Jewish world is experiencing. We thought we were safe, but we have been living an illusion.”
Police vehicles accompanied the marchers and blocked side streets as the group, led by Highland Park Councilman Josh Fine, made its way to the College Avenue Chabad site where they joined with officials, university administrators, students, and other concerned citizens in a crowd that spilled out into the hallway and which Chabad leaders estimated to be more than 400.
The list of speakers included: Deputy Consul General of the Israel Consulate in New York Israel Nitzan, who attended with director of political affairs Andrew Gross; Evan Bernstein, New York/New Jersey ADL regional director; Maj. James Ryan, chief of staff of the NJ State Police; Amy Keller, director of security initiatives for the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey; University Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. Salvador Mena; and other university staff and student leaders representing Chabad, Hillel, and AEPi, the Jewish fraternity.
Marlene Herman of Edison, president of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, participated because “… we have to speak out for our values and to be part of the larger community we live in, and that includes standing up for our human values as well as our Jewish values.”
Rabbi Steven Miodownik of the Orthodox Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park said he came not only to express his pain, but also out of concern that “anti-Semitism is no longer below the surface, but out in the open.”
Many of the participants were eager to share their reasons for marching. Harry Pangemann, who fled religious persecution in his native Indonesia, said he wanted to show his support for the Jewish community. “There is no reason for it,” he said of the anti-Semitic attacks. “We are all human. We are all the same.” Marilyn Pruce of Highland Park said she “felt the need to do something” to stand up to hate and anti-Semitism. Susan Slusky, also of Highland Park, said she came “to show this is not an acceptable state of affairs. Every two months we seem to have a shooting in a synagogue.”
Three 12-year-old girls, Devorah Fisch and Noa Rabinowitz of Highland Park and Atara Berger of Edison, joined “to show our love for our nation and the people harmed,” said Devorah.
Inside Chabad of Rutgers for the vigil, Executive Director Rabbi Yosef Carlebach said it was important to demonstrate to the world that terrorists won’t win.
“This terrorist’s act was not aimed at a particular person, nor even a particular Jew,” he said. “This attack was an attack on every decent person, and decent people will gather to say, ‘You will not win …’ The good people of the Earth will gather together to do good things and make the world a better place.” Chabad of Rutgers is affiliated with Chabad of Central NJ.
Nitzan, of the Israeli consulate in New York, said that despite the declaration of “Never again,” baseless hatred toward Jews continues.
“We have to call out hate in America and around the world,” he said. “We have to stand up against anti-Semitic acts.”
Bernstein lamented that once again he had to explain to his 11-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son why Jews were targeted as they prayed. He said the spike in anti-Semitic incidents is alarming.
“Six years ago when I started at the ADL, a swastika was a big thing,” he said. “Now it’s worth maybe a tweet. We remember a time when there were not mass shootings. Now it seems like there is a mass shooting every day … We cannot let this be normal.”
Rutgers Hillel Student President Brooke Getter of Hackensack told the crowd that “When one Jewish community is attacked, we are all attacked,” while Rutgers Chabad student leader Meir Brodsky of Teaneck said Chabad is more than a place of worship: It’s also “a place where we can create a home.”
Miriam Waghalter, the former president of the campus pro-Israel organization Scarlet Knights for Israel, said, “I feel very personally connected to this event because I am from California.” Waghalter, who lives in Los Angeles, added, “I appreciate that we have this community at Rutgers that comes together to support each other.”