A Reform rabbi from Scotch Plains told an interfaith rally against bigotry that “we utterly reject the current political rhetoric which foments division and hatred.”
Rabbi Joel Abraham of Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains helped to organize the Dec. 22 rally for “Religious Tolerance,” which drew some 150 people — black, white, Latino, young, and old — to Alan Augustine Park outside Scotch Plains Town Hall.
Although Abraham and other speakers did not mention Donald Trump in their remarks, audience members held hand-lettered signs and passing motorists shouted remarks referring to the Republican presidential candidate, who recently called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States.
The Anti-Defamation League has reported an increase in anti-Muslim incidents since the Dec. 2 San Bernardino mass shooting, in which a radicalized Muslim couple killed 14 people, and the Nov. 13 massacre in Paris. Numerous Jewish groups criticized Trump for his plan, announced in the wake of those incidents, to single out Muslims.
“Look at all of us as we stand together this evening,” Abraham said. “People with different faiths, people with different beliefs, people with different ethnicities, different colors, different sizes, all sorts of differences that make up our United States and make us up as Americans. We stand here and say ‘no’ to those who would divide us. We stand here and say ‘no’ to those who would use hatred as a tool for political gain.”
The Rev. Carletta Aston, president of the Scotch Plains/Fanwood Ministerium and pastor of First United Methodist Church of Scotch Plains, was the co-organizer of the half-hour rally.
“There is much darkness as some Americans are attacking religious tolerance,” she said in her remarks. “Some of us have let our fears cloud our reason, given some of the horrific things that have gone on, but we cannot remain silent in the face of this darkness.”
Imam Ali Jaabar of Masjid Darul Islam in Elizabeth drew laughter from the crowd when he proclaimed, “I am as American as apple pie, baseball, and Chevrolet,” before reading the preamble of the United States Constitution, emphasizing the phrases “establish justice” and “insure domestic tranquility.”
“Islam has enjoined us to condemn all forms of discrimination, terrorism, and the unlawful spilling of human blood,” he said.
The Rev. Michael Morgan of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Scotch Plains told the gathering, “We must rejuvenate our efforts to embrace refugees, to comfort prisoners, to clothe the naked, and to encourage children everywhere.”
Sidney Blanchard, executive director of Community Access Unlimited in Elizabeth, clearly had Trump on his mind when he addressed the crowd. He referred to accusations that Trump mimicked the mannerisms of Serge Kovaleski, a New York Times reporter with a neurological condition.
“When I see a clown, a billionaire, stand up and make fun of people with disabilities it makes my stomach turn,” said Blanchard, whose organization works on behalf of adults and adolescents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Mohammad Ali Chaudry of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge asked members of the audience to sign a pledge to combat racial and religious bigotry.
“We can be proud to be Muslims, we can be proud to be Christians, we can be proud to be Jews, and we can all be proud to be Americans,” said Chaudry. “You do not have to choose.”
Bishop Kelvin Brooks of the nondenominational Kingdom Life Cathedral in Scotch Plains said, “We stand up tonight because it is the right thing to do. It is the American thing to do.
“At one time it was the Catholics. At another time it was the Jews. Now it is the Muslims. The question we must ask ourselves tonight is: ‘Who could it be tomorrow?’ Our response to that question must be ‘No one,’” he said.
Cantor Darcie Naomi Sharlein of Temple Sholom strummed an acoustic guitar and led choir members from local churches and synagogues in “Let the Heavens Be Glad.”