Thousands of D.C.-area residents continue to raise collective voices of resistance and resilience after a lone gunman entered a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, shouted his avowed hatred for Jews and opened fire, leaving 11 dead.
But in two separate vigils held this week in Dupont Circle and at the Adas Israel synagogue in Northwest, songs, prayers and messages of love, solidarity and acceptance confirmed the beliefs of the diverse crowds and their refusal to allow anti-Semitic or anti-Black violence to dominate the city or the U.S.
The two events, held Sunday, Oct. 28 and Monday, Oct. 29, represented the efforts of local, multiracial and multi-faith grassroots organizations including: Jewish Voice For Peace-DC Metro, Justice for Muslims Collective, New Synagogue Project, March For Racial Justice and Showing Up For Racial Justice. In fact, the crowd that showed up Monday night, including elected officials from the District, Maryland and Virginia, filled the 1,400-seat synagogue to its rafters, forcing an estimated 2,500 more supporters to witness the live-streamed service inside in separate rooms or outside on the grounds surrounding Adas Israel.
Chase Carter, Jewish Voice For Peace-DC Metro, said responding to fear is not the answer.
“Safety will come when those in government stop stoking the flames of hatred and empowering those who believe in White supremacy,” he said. “We know that the true path to safety for all is in building joint struggles for justice and showing up to protect and defend one another from all forms of supremacy, racism and bigotry.”
Darakshan Raja, Justice For Muslims Collective, echoed Carter’s sentiments.
“Our answer to such hate has to be deeper solidarities among us all. Solidarity is our best defense against hate.”
And in a separate statement, officials from March for Racial Justice shared a perspective made famous during the civil rights movement: “When we say none of us are free until all of us are free, we’re talking about dangerous, heartbreaking times like these. Every single human being has the right to exist on this earth with dignity and respect regardless of who they are, who they love and who they believe in.”
Leaders of the Dupont Circle vigil point to bigoted rhetoric and inhumane policies that dominate the Trump administration as allowing for the recent empowering of White supremacists across the U.S. and their propensity for targeting those from among the most vulnerable and marginalized communities, people of color, immigrants and LGBTQ people in particular, with deadly force.
District Voices of Solidarity
The Rev. Graylan Hagler, senior pastor, Plymouth Congregational Church of Christ in Northeast, says while the emphasis today remains on “processing the grief and recognizing what happened in Pittsburgh,” what the Jewish community’s experiencing now reflects what Blacks have long faced.
“The president claims to be against anti-Semitism; he says he doesn’t racism or White supremacy. But we have not heard him denounce any of them,” Hagler said. “He says he supports nationalism.
“Our challenge in the District isn’t tension between Blacks and Jews,” he said. “It’s our reluctance — our refusal — to have frank conversations about racism and White supremacy and how both have disproportionately impacted people of color in D.C. Economic displacement, under the guise of prosperity for all, continues to rule the day, led by policies that many of our Black politicians support.
“How many churches have we lost in D.C. because of demographic changes and shifts? That’s a form of violence that no one wants to talk about,” Hagler concluded.
Imam Talib M. Shareef, the leader of Masjid Muhammad in Northwest and the chair for the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, asserts: “We’re all being threatened by the same beast.”
“I just returned from Indonesia where I attended a global unity forum and found it amazing to be faced with yet another example of divisiveness. We’ve had and still have our share of threats — we’ve been targeted too. But because we have great relationships within our own community, a lot of the attacks have been thwarted by our neighbors. In a beautiful way, we live together, have an obligation to the space we share and refuse to shy away from our responsibilities or our freedom to the space we occupy.”
“America has always had its share of extremist groups but until recently they had to move more subtly. Now they have a spokesman, so they feel more emboldened and encouraged. Regardless of race or religion, we’re all Americans. Someone should be speaking to this from the top down. We have these mottoes and creeds, like ‘one nation under god, indivisible, with justice for all.’ But we’re being divided along racial and religious lines. We stand when we’re united. But America is falling, losing our humanity and seen by the world as a country that no longer serves as beacon of humanity. Countries like Indonesia no longer look to America for hope,” Shareef said.
The need to become “architects of a new America” illustrates the view of Bishop Dwayne Royster, a Rockville resident, pastor of Faith United Church of Christ in Northeast and national political director for Faith in Action.
“Sixty of our supporters were in Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston during worship right after a White supremacist carried out plans for a mass shooting (June 21, 2015) when a White, Episcopal priest responded to the preacher’s words with ‘we’re all AME,’” Royster said.
“On Sunday during the vigil at Dupont Circle, I told the crowd we’re all Jewish, Black, Muslim, transgender — all who continue to be attacked and threatened. We must build a table where the entire community, especially those continually marginalized, sit together and lay out a platform so that we can create a new America.”
“America is a failed project — we see that in our government today. We’re calling for a politicized faith community — one that moves far beyond our former role as speakers of benedictions. The Black Church has often referred to the Hebrew scriptures to find messages of liberation. Maybe that’s what we need to lean on for the entire nation,” Royster said.
Adam Rubinson, board member of the Capital Jewish Museum and a resident, with his wife and two children, in Northwest, expressed little surprise in the “huge uptick in anti-Semitic incidents.”
“The president’s cynical embrace of White nationalism has been driving this wedge, causing people to blame groups of people for all of society’s ills. … It doesn’t take much to connect the dots,” he said. “His last campaign ad referred to ‘global interests’ out to get you — while showing photos of three Jewish American bankers as the face of this cabal — a very old anti-Semitic trope. At the start of his presidency, he appointed the head of the viciously anti-Semitic and race-baiting, alt-right Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, as his key aide in the White House. Sadly, this horrible tragedy in Pittsburgh is not shocking; it is only surprising that more of this has not happened already.”
“Most Jewish and Black Christian leaders in Greater Washington understand that we all lose if haters divide us. But we have so much more to do, educating our children about this. One of the goals of the new Capital Jewish Museum (which will open in 2021) is to teach the history of African-American and Jewish Washingtonians fighting side by side against bigotry — and to provide a place for dialogue and shared understanding about what is happening right now. My 84-year-old mother is having PTSD, flashing back to the stories of her cousins murdered in Austria when she was a child. Some of the same propaganda used against Jews in the 1930s is resurfacing in America today.”
“Here in D.C., we all live in our separate bubbles. We must therefore continue to open up bridges of understanding, by making connections on a human level. Now, more than ever, all of us in the D.C. community need to come together in solidarity to work together for change, to teach our children well, and to learn who we all are, beyond the labels.”