Saturday, February 29, 2020

A somber group of friends, neighbors, local and regional clergy and multi-level dignitaries, flanked by a battalion of municipal and sheriff’s department uniformed personnel, crowded into Temple Beth-El last Wednesday evening in Jersey City, to mourn last week’s tragedy together. The pulsing strobe of blue and red lights atop police vehicles lined the curbs and corners and a venerable army of officers in bullet-proof gear stood in small groups strategically positioned around and inside the synagogue.

The benches were filled to capacity with those of multinational, interracial and interreligious origins. Young children, held tightly, sat on their parents’ laps; some looked to be no more than two or three years old. Even the back overflowed with families standing together, with children and neighborhood friends. Behind the last row of benches were over a dozen network news video cameras and their staff.

The vigil was spearheaded by Rabbi Leana Moritt of Temple Beth-El. Moritt was herself in lock-down inside the temple for hours on Tuesday during the shoot-out, along with 30,000 children who were stuck in Jersey City public and private schools.

Moritt introduced eight speakers representing a variety of different communities, beginning with Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. Jason Shames, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northern NJ followed; Israeli Consul General Dani Dayan was next, followed by Andrew Gross, executive director of the New Jersey-Israel Commission and by Pam Johnson, executive director of the Anti-Violence Coalition of Hudson County. Evan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, spoke next. He was followed by Jessica Berrocal, chairwoman of the Muslim Caucus of the Democratic Statewide Committee.

Assemblywoman Angela McKnight came next with powerful words of affirmation. “We are one. We are mourning together. We are healing together. We must teach love to our kids. I stand with you; I support you. I love you. Together we will heal.”

Imam Saif Ui Naby from the Masjed on Montgomery Street addressed the assembly in Arabic prayer, followed by Dr. Mohammed Ali Chaudry, co-founder of the NJ Interfaith Coalition. Chaudry stated the charge of the coalition is to “…challenge hate and bigotry in any form.” Chaudry challenged everyone to take the coalition’s pledge. “If you hear hateful words about any community; don’t be silent. Speak up for the others. Stand up to challenge bigotry in any form!”

Reverend Laurie Wurm, rector of Grace Van Vorst Episcopal of Jersey City called for a show of hands to demonstrate the solidarity of the community by the number attending who were not members of the congregation. She remarked that, “Peace on earth will look like this, with everyone sitting together.” Ali Bashrui of the Bahai Temple offered a prayer of unity, and Reverend Craig Okpala, pastor of the Hope Jersey City Evangelical Church recited psalm 36, with its message that, “Love and unity prevail, while hate will not stand.”

The concluding speaker was Rabbi Robert Scheinberg from the United Synagogue of Hoboken, and the synagogue’s choir who presented a sobering musical rendition of the famous second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. All of this was presented to illustrate and represent the unity, solidarity and communal response to the horrific tragedy that occurred on the previous day, and cost the lives of four special and amazing community members.

Shames, who spoke at the vigil, had been in Jersey City for hours every day since the attack. “We want the community to know that they are not alone, and that we at the Federation of Northern NJ are here to give support and help them heal. In particular, Temple Beth-El is the largest member-based Jewish organization in Jersey City and we support them.”

Shames expressed great appreciation for “the way law enforcement and government officials have supported the Jewish community. This provides confidence,” he said, “that the community doesn’t feel hopeless.”

Elan Carr, the president’s special envoy for monitoring anti-Semitism, joined Shames, Morrit, New Jersey State Chief of Police Patrick J. Callahan, Mayor Steve Fulop and Representative Josh Gottheimer in a meeting on Monday, and revisited the scene of the tragedy. They also went together for the shiva at the home of the Ferencz family, to offer condolences and support to members of the family.

By Ellie Wolf