Civic and religious leaders pledge to support each other to combat hate crimes.On a picture-perfect Friday morning, a group of more than 300 people came together at the Civic Center Plaza in Irvine donning “No Place for Hate” stickers and pledging support to one another in the battle against mindless acts of hatred. While the group was as diverse as it could be, there was universal agreement that such acts can be aimed at any group and are everybody’s concern.
Triggered by the obscene graffiti painted on the front wall of Congregation Beth Jacob in Irvine, which came on the heels of the shooting deaths of 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue, the press conference/rally was organized by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Irvine civic leaders. ADL has pledged a $5,000 reward for information about the perpetrator of the Beth Jacob incident.
Irvine Mayor Don Wagner kicked off the event by assuring people that law enforcement officials are taking measures to protect everyone. As he said, “What can be done against anti-Semitism? People must call out hate for what it is,” he said. “Hate has no home in Irvine. It can touch any one of us, anytime.”
Assuring Rabbi Yisroel Ciner of Congregation Beth Jacob of the city’s support, the mayor added, “We stand squarely with you. While the words were written on your building, it is an attack on all of us.”
Rabbi Ciner said that his congregation was “shocked and saddened by the hatred directed against us but embraced by so many individuals in a virtual tsunami of human goodness.” He explained that, “Mankind is created B’tzelem Elohim—in the spirit of G-d. Everyone deserves respect, unencumbered by prejudices. Although we were confronted by evil, we were overwhelmed by goodness and G-dliness. We thank G-d for the clearest demonstration that our world will not stand by when terrible acts are committed, and we’re proud and privileged to live amongst great neighbors and call Irvine home.”
Rabbi Peter Levi, Orange County director of ADL, said, “There is no place for hate. When one of us is targeted, all of us are targeted. What starts as hate speech on line escalates into vandalism and murder. No one should feel marginalized. There is only one race—the human race.”
Irvine Police Chief Mike Hamel asked that anyone who has information on anything suspicious regarding hate crimes should call the Irvine Police Department or the Orange County Crime Department. “As members of the Jewish community know, there are police patrols at all houses of worship, and we have increased them to provide a sense of security to the Jewish community.”
“Let us not wait to stop hate and love our neighbor as ourselves, because we are all kin under the skin,” said Reverend Mark Whitlock, pastor of Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church. He added that hatred is up three times against people of color. “Crazy fanatics seek to divide us, but we will show that we are not afraid to stand up to them.”
Concluding the speeches was Sheikh Atef Mahgoub of the Islamic Center of Irvine, who had been in Pittsburgh for eight years. Telling the Jewish community, “We have your back,” he said, “The hatred, evil and bigotry of the past are not dead. We have to demand that when we witness any form of bigotry, we will not tolerate it. What happens to one of us happens to all of us. Everybody is the same in front of G-d.”
ILENE SCHNEIDER IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.