On April 22, over 100 people from the Oneonta community gathered for an interfaith event dedicated to American principles of democracy and religious freedom. The theme of the event was the repudiation of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, but more importantly honoring America’s legacy of religious inclusion. Our guest speakers included Father David Mickiewicz (St. Mary’s Catholic Church), Rev. Craig Schwalenberg (UUSO), Rev. Phil Young (First United Methodist Church, filling in for Rev. Sivers), Mayor Rashid Clark (Islamberg), Dr. Ashok Malhotra (Hinduism), Mr. Asif Syed (Islam), Ani Samten (Tibetan Buddhism), Rabbi Molly Karp, Regina Betts (NAACP), and Mayor Gary Herzig of Oneonta. We enjoyed interesting speeches, great music, and engaging conversations with coffee and dessert.
Below are Ken’s opening comments:
After announcing this event, I was asked why we are even having it. I believe we are here because events in the United States over the past ten months have shaken many Americans’ faith in our nation’s respect for democratic principles. People everywhere are worried about religious intolerance and acts of hate, particularly anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. This winter I have been trying to visit local churches on Sunday mornings. When I do, I hear the same concerns. Local clergy are expressing exactly what I am hearing in synagogues and from friends of all religions. We all are concerned about civility and democracy.
We know that humility and compassion are at the heart of democracy. Millions of Americans agree and denounce the lack of humility and compassion coming from too many of our leaders. Worse is not just the alarming national discourse around difference and religion, always against Muslims and recently against Jews, but the actual rise in hate speech and hate crimes. From an American Jewish perspectivewe are in shock and fear where this may lead.
Religious intolerance and acts of hostility are accelerating and it is frightening. This is what has led the Oneonta community to gather today. We are not here to focus on hate, but instead, on what makes the United States a great nation. Most of us are the descendants of immigrants and we represent a variety of religions. And most of us were raised to be proud of America. Imperfect as this nation’s history may be, we have been a land of religious tolerance and religious freedom and a model for other countries. Lincoln’s everlasting words, “With Malice Toward None” are in the program and continue to inspire us in 2017.
I believe this event will remind everyone of what I was reminded of while planning it. That is, that even during this frightening time in America, a time when the achievements of so many Americans who fought for justice seem to be threatened, here in Oneonta, we are surrounded by kind, caring neighbors who value peace and love. Thank you for coming.