Shine A Light

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Plainview-Old Bethpage joined the JCC in solidarity during a candlelight vigil. (Photos by Chris Boyle)

In a bold stance against bigotry, racism and distrust, Plainview residents gathered together for a candlelight vigil against hate last week, proving that there’s no strength greater than a community united.

Held on an outdoor field at the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview—itself the victim of a recent bomb threat that saw the facility evacuated until responding authorities had deduced that the vile threat was a hoax—the vigil saw hundreds of local residents, as well as elected officials and religious leaders of multiple faiths, band together over the soft, warm glow of battery-powered candlelight to make their voices heard.

Officiating the event was Rabbi Jonathan Hecht—representing Temple Chaverim and the Plainview-Old Bethpage Interfaith Clergy Council—who said that this heartwarming gathering was born out of hate being countered with love.

“Anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered in Haypath Park in Old Bethpage and shortly thereafter, there was a threat telephoned into the JCC…we have heard lately in the news expressions of hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, things that seem so far away are now unfortunately a lot closer to our homes,” he said. “Our goal tonight is for us to come together—Christian and Jew, Muslim and Sikh, Republican and Democrat—to say no. Not in our community, not in our town, not here, not now.”

Residents display messages of peace.

Rick Lewis, executive director of the JCC, said that the purpose of the vigil was to forge friendships in times that have become too frightening to bear alone. Acknowledging the sea of signs attendees were brandishing—bearing slogans such as “Co-exist,” “Stand Together,” and “Muslims Support Jews”—he expressed his gratitude for the camaraderie on display.

“This is an amazing turn-out tonight to support an amazing community,” he said. “As a community, we should be proud that there are so many people here to support not only the Jewish community, but the community as a whole. We need to send a message to everybody that we will not tolerate this behavior, and more importantly, we will not run from it.”

Lewis described the bomb threat called into the JCC as the worst event and its 60-year history, but he placed equal importance on the personal calls and visits of support received from the Islamic Center, churches, their Muslim neighbors and many more. To drive home the seriousness of the crime committed against the JCC, Lewis noted that the Nassau County Police Department, the FBI and the Nassau County District Attorney are now involved in the investigation.

“The people who called in this bomb threat will be caught, of that I promise you,” he vowed.

Legislator Arnold Drucker, a lifelong Plainview resident, said that despite the diversity in his neighborhood he experienced when he was growing up, he never considered himself to be different from anyone else—a lesson that he said is just as vital today.

Rabbi Jonathan Hecht speaks at the JCC’s vigil.

“I’m Jewish, but I had friends who weren’t…I just considered myself a kid from Plainview,” he said. “It seems as though things have changed now, but trust me, this will not be the way it is going forward. Because we won’t stand for it. We won’t allow hate to fester, plant roots and grow. We will stamp it out now and forever by standing together arm-in-arm, bracing and supporting one another. Inclusion, love, and tolerance will win out.”

Also present at the ceremony was Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, who relayed that hate, despite all its fervor, is actually a sign of weakness.

“Tonight, what’s going on here is a sign of strength and love,” he said. “What you were doing, what all of us are doing hand in hand, with every religion, with every walk in life…we’re showing that we cannot be defeated and that respect for one another is what it’s all about.”

In addition to elected officials, many local religious leaders also attended the vigil, including Syed Quadri of Masjid al Baqi in Bethpage, who stated that it was the duty of all Muslims to protect their fellow man, woman and child at all times.

“We, the members of the Muslim community on Long Island, are deeply saddened by the sudden rise of anti-Semitic scares and harassment in recent weeks,” he said. “As Muslims and people of faith, we must remember that God has directed us to defend all people equally against bigotry, hate and violence. At this hour, our communities must come together and stand in strong support of our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

Likewise, Father Valentine Rebello of St. Pius Catholic church in Plainview echoed the sentiment of Quadri, stating that strength lies in unity when overcoming evil.

“The bomb threat here at the JCC is a sobering reminder of our need for constant vigilance, to guard against any form of hatred and prejudice that exists amongst us,” he said. “All people of good will must unite so we can be delivered from such terrible acts.”

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