PROVIDENCE — Some 300 people of various faiths and backgrounds gathered in the cold Sunday by the Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial to condemn recent acts of anti-Semitism around the country and share a warm message of unity against hatred.
Imam Mufti Ikram, of the Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement, set the tone for the afternoon rally with an opening prayer: “We are here to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish brothers and sisters,” he said. “We ask you to replace the hatred of the few with the mercy and compassion in us all.”
Ehsun Mirza, a critical-care doctor at Kent Hospital who immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1999, organized Sunday’s rally after news last week of Jewish cemeteries being vandalized in St. Louis and Philadelphia and some 120 bomb threats called in to Jewish schools and community centers, including the Jewish Community Center in Providence.
“I want to make sure that everyone understands that Jews are part of this community and any threat on them is a threat to our community and we will stand beside them,” said Mirza. “We will not give in to this hateful rhetoric. We are stronger together.”
The rally drew a variety of religious representatives and elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and U.S. Representatives James Langevin and David Cicilline. They all delivered a similar message: that persecution of one religious group must be soundly denounced by all.
Cicilline took the theme further politically, saying “every American” has the responsibility to condemn these acts of hate against a religious minority “including the president.”
But President Donald Trump has “suggested that Jews might be responsible” for some of the anti-Semitic acts, Cicilline said, and he criticized the president as well for implementing an “unconstitutional” travel ban “based on religion.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo told the crowd, many of whom had donned yellow ribbons of friendship, that “we are lucky to live in a state founded on religious [freedom] and strong enough to stand here against hate.”
She quoted from a 1790 letter that President George Washington wrote to the Jewish congregation in Newport that had established the nation’s first synagogue: “To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
Members of Rhode Island’s Jewish community thanked the hundreds of people who turned out for their unwavering support.
“This is a beautiful display of love,” said Mitzi Berkelhammer, chairwoman of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. “And we are grateful to all of you.”
Rabbi Sarah Mack, president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island, said, “Let the lessons of the past teach us; we will not stand idly by… We will not allow racism and hatred in our beloved Rhode Island.
“This,” she said, referring to the shivering but smiling crowd, “is what ‘Never Again’ looks like.”