A diverse crowd of about 200 came to Congregation Beth-El in Edison, where they joined with political leaders and clergy in a rally to “stop the hate.”
The Sept. 27 demonstration was sponsored by the Edison-Metuchen Interfaith Clergy Association in response to a flurry of anti-Semitic incidents in Edison over the last year, including Beth-El’s being defaced by swastikas.
Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg of Beth-El had been vocal in calling attention to the incidents, which included a series of swastikas found in the library, a nursery school, parks, and most recently scratched into several cars at a Lexus dealership, as well as anti-Semitic slurs yelled at observant Jews from passing cars.
“No one will touch a hair on my Muslim brother’s head, no one will touch a hair on my Christian brother’s head, no one will touch a hair on my black brother’s head as along as I have blood in my body,” Rosenberg, the son of Holocaust survivors, declared as audience members chanted, “Stop the hate.”
Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clergy and others sounded the theme of brotherhood and decried intolerance, including anti-Muslim sentiment generated by the controversy over the Islamic center planned near Ground Zero. About 20 clergy members sat on the bima during the almost two-hour program.
“My father was an immigrant, and he saw and dealt with a lot of discrimination,” said Edison Mayor Antonia Ricigliano. “But the one thing he taught us was to stand by your neighbor because if you turn your back there will be no one left to help you…. We have to start teaching our children tolerance.”
Police Chief Thomas Bryan said there are now 26 neighborhood watch groups in Edison to assist with preventing bias crime. Additionally, Edison was using a $5,000 grant from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office to develop a bias crime education program for middle schools.
Clergy association president the Rev. Dr. Ronald Owens of the New Hope Baptist Church in Metuchen called the rally “historical.”
“We must not allow our nation to go back 40, 50 years,” he implored. “We must not let prejudice rear its ugly head…. We are all Americans, and we all love the freedoms afforded us in this great nation.”
Imam Moustafa Zayed of the Muslim Center of New Jersey said Nazism came about because good people let bigotry and racism go unchecked.
“Hitler never said, ‘I’m a dictator; I’m going to kill millions of people,’” he said. Because the German people “stood still” they let “the wolf devour every opposition group in Germany and the entire world.
“If people make the same mistake of complacency it will happen again,” warned Zayed.
Assemblyman Peter Barnes (D- Dist. 18) recalled growing up in an already diverse Edison and being invited to many bar mitzva services. He recalled the waves of Hungarian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, and Indian immigrants over the last decades and most recently Poles and Russians, who have added to that diversity.
“We have to come together because our future is together,” said Barnes.
Brigitte Bellamy of Mount Holly said she came with other members of the Muslim center because “we heard about it from our imam and we wanted to stop the hate because we get a lot of it.”
Barbara Brister of Edison and Melinda Williams of Plainfield, congregants at New Hope Baptist, strongly endorsed the rally’s message.
“I believe in a free world,” said Brister, “and I wanted to stand up against hatred so that everyone will have freedom.”