MARGATE — If there is a silver lining to a recently reported rise in bias crimes, it’s the coming together of people from all backgrounds, said Atlantic City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz.
“And I think the challenge for us is to keep coming together,” Shabazz said.
Sparked by reports of anti-Semitism and threats to synagogues and mosques across the state, religious and government leaders from the area met Thursday at Beth El Synagogue in a united stand against hatred. Shabazz said that, fortunately, none of the threats has been in Atlantic County.
“Symbolism is very important. It’s important that people come together, that people understand that the leadership from various sectors decry this kind of activity and that we stand united,” he said.
For Rabbi Gordon Geller of Shirat Hayam in Ventnor, America is, at its base, a country of immigrants.
“This is the fabric of our society and of democracy, so when a mosque or a Jewish community center is threatened with a bomb, it’s not the Jew or the Muslim, it is America being threatened,” Geller said.
An immigrant himself, Kirk Wisemayer, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, told the leaders in attendance Thursday to be a voice for the discriminated-against. He said the problems of late “are not isolated to any one particular location in our nation, or even to our nation.”
“Immigrants and people of different faiths and minority groups are facing obstacles that we thought we had actually outgrown as a civilization,” Wisemayer said.
Law-enforcement officials also were present Thursday to show their support.
When Damon Tyner was sworn in as the new Atlantic County prosecutor Wednesday, he said the enormity of his position didn’t strike him until he read a plaque in the lobby naming all of the past prosecutors.
“I browsed through those names, and I looked at different eras,” he said. “I pondered to myself, ‘How did those leaders at that time address turmoil?’ Then I thought about the times that we are living in now.”
Tyner said he believes there are more people who love their neighbor than there are those who hate.
“And it is incumbent upon all of us who love our brothers and sisters to come together and drive those out who have hatred in their heart,” he said. “We all will work together to drive hatred out because, at the risk of being political, but the expression is apropos: Love does trump hate.”
Earlier this month, Gov. Chris Christie, in coordination with the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, announced increased patrols, training and outreach following threats against Jewish Community Centers throughout New Jersey, including one in Cherry Hill.
Lt. John Paige of the NJOSHP, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said security training is available for faith-based organizations.
Paige, noting the jump in the last several months of threats to Muslims and Jews, said some people may be too embarrassed to report bias crimes.
“We’ve found, statistically, if it’s not reported, sometimes it emboldens the people who do this,” Paige said.
He said to report crimes to local police first, but also to the NJOSHP, which can connect crimes all over the state.
Shabazz, who also serves as president of his mosque and chairman of the Bridge of Faith group, a coalition of leaders from local religious organizations, said he knows bigotry won’t be defeated in one hour, but it’s a great first step.
Margate Mayor Mike Becker said his town has long been a place where religions have come together, even in his own family. Becker said his father’s and mother’s parents were Orthodox Jews, he married an Irish Catholic and has two Jewish children and a Methodist daughter-in-law.
“I’ve lived a long, good life, and I realized a very long time ago that all of us have much more in common than we have differences. There’s no reason for hate,” Becker said. “Let’s all work hard together to stop this nonsense that’s going on in the world.”