Hundreds of people of diverse faiths, including Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Christian, gathered in solidarity at the first Morris County Community Rally Against Hate emceed Thursday evening by Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon.
Though heavily secure as a precaution through planning spear-headed by the Sheriff’s Office, the 90-minute unity rally on January 9 at the Gottesman RTW Academy in Randolph Township was peaceful and poignant from start to finish.
“We are here taking a stand together against hate, ignorance and bigotry that all lead to a society that’s unstable. I think we are better protected when we care for each other,” Sheriff Gannon told the crowd of nearly 400 attendees.
The decision to hold a rally was collectively made by the Morris County Freeholders, Sheriff Gannon, Morris County Prosecutor Fredric M. Knapp and leaders in the Chabad-Lubavitch community – primarily Rabbi Levi Dubinsky, Director of Chabad of Mountain Lakes, Boonton and Denville – after horrific attacks in December 2019 on Jewish people in Jersey City and Monsey, New York.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, the first Sikh-American in United States history to hold the position, spoke of escalating religion-based violence, particularly against people of Jewish faith.
The rally coincidentally was held on National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, prompting Attorney General Grewal to recount how he and Police Officers in blue uniforms encountered young Jewish children in a school after visiting the Jersey City crime scene. The children immediately stood up animatedly, with respect, upon seeing the uniformed Officers, he said.
The Attorney General pressed for school curriculum to include lessons in human kindness and respect, along with continued teachings of the atrocities of the Holocaust that are mocked with anti-Semitic symbols.
Such education is imperative, he said, “So that we understand the context of these symbols and how painful they are. And when we confront these symbols in law enforcement, we can’t just stop them with a slap on the wrist and a promise not to do it again.”
Five community religious leaders offered insights into hate-based violence, including Reverend Herman Scott, the first African-American Chaplain at the Morris County Correctional Facility who faced prejudice and cruelty growing up because of his race.
Reverend Scott urged audience members to accept their common humanity and the inevitability of death for all – making the rich and the poor, the hater and hated, the same.
“When they die, they both go into a box, into the same ground. So, we can be unified in death. Let’s be unified in life,” Reverend Scott said.
Rabbi Dubinsky, who has forged strong bonds with the Morris County Sheriff’s Office and serves as a liaison between the Chabad community and law enforcement Officers in the county, said hatred of others can be perpetuated through generations of families by adults who disparage other religions, ethnicities or races while their children soak up the words.
“If I may suggest that the message of unity and love begins at home, the message we give our children is really what shapes their viewpoints and how they see and approach others,” Rabbi Dubinsky said.
Basel Hamdeh, the Imam, or spiritual leader, of Jam-e-Masjid Islamic Center in Boonton, Chandu Bhoraniya, devotee of B.A.P.S. Swaminarayan Mandir in Parsippany, and Rabbi Mendy Herson, Associate Dean of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, all shared their insights on tolerance and unity at the rally.
The program included the presentation of colors by the Morris County Sheriff’s Honor Guard, singing of the Star-Spangled Banner and Hatikvah, the Israeli National Anthem by Gottesman Academy children, and remarks by Prosecutor Fredric M. Knapp, Morris County Freeholder Director Deborah Smith, Freeholder John Krickus, and Gottesman Head of School Moshe Vaknin.
New Jersey State Senator Anthony M. Bucco and Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill – both unable to attend because of legislative duties – prepared videotaped messages urging a united front against inhumanity that were played for the audience.
Imam Hamdeh said he prayed that the rally marked a meaningful recommitment to standing strong against hatred. When his mosque in Boonton hosted a prayer service and peace walk on March 17, 2019, in response to the March 15 murders of worshipping Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand, people of many other religious faiths joined the walk in support.
“When our faith felt the pain, our brothers from the Jewish faith, our Christian brothers from the Christian faith and many other faiths and many others who share the values we have came together. When they came together, we certainly felt better. And today, we are here to say we are here for you,” Imam Hamdeh said.
Sheriff Gannon told the audience that the safety of worshippers of all faiths is an Agency priority. All necessary resources are devoted to reassurance and directed patrols around the 318 houses of worship in Morris County; the Agency’s RSVP-3 app has been launched to accept anonymous tips about threats; and MCSTAT, the Morris County Sheriff’s Trends and Analysis Team, monitors church and school-related incidents and collaborates with other law enforcement agencies on crime patterns.
“We never want to hear that violence has broken out while people are in the middle of the sacred act of praying,” Sheriff Gannon said.