Last week on Sunday evening, a fire was set at the Masjid Omar Islamic Center. Then the next day, Mercy Islamic Center was similarly set ablaze, miraculously no one was hurt in either incident.
At a solidarity event on Saturday evening, April 29, I had fully expected the event to be sad and somber; instead, I was pleasantly surprised by an event that was focused on hope and healing.
Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel, Rabbi Jill Avrin of Bet Shalom, Jewish Community Action Executive Director Beth Gendler, JCRC Executive Director Steve Hunegs, State Sen. Ron Latz, and State Rep. Frank Hornstein were among the Jewish community leaders at the event. Many of the speakers spoke about combating evil with goodness and how, hopefully, some good will come out of this.
I was shocked because everyone I talked to, without fail, spoke about gratitude that no one was hurt, gratitude for the fire department’s quick response, gratitude that the damage was contained, and gratitude for the outpouring of support. I was positively confounded in the face of such hatred and violence: how could you be optimistic or grateful? The answer was faith.
When I walked upstairs to inspect the damage, the feeling of despair was everywhere. The soot stained the walls so completely that I thought black was the original color, while the white spots scattered throughout the hall were damaged areas. When the imam accompanying us told us it was, in fact, the opposite, it changed my perspective. It changed the white spots on the wall from points of pain to stars in the night sky, representing hope for the future. At the event, I expected plenty of people to talk about solidarity in times of tragedy which there was to a degree. But instead of being down and feeling sorry for the mosques, there was a refusal of pessimism and an insistence upon optimism and kindness. Despite the tragedy, they had hope. In the darkness, not only did they find the light, they created it and helped it grow. At this event, I saw hundreds of people of all ages, races, creeds, colors, and shades come together in love and support. At this event, I saw parents having difficult conversations with children, I saw congregants praying, and I saw horrible, heartbreaking damage, but more than anything, I heard hope.
So, in these times, when there is so much hate in the world, how can we help? I saw the answer to this question Saturday night, and the answer is hope and solidarity; we can lift up our fellow humans in times of hardship, we can combat hate with hope, and more than anything, we can coexist. We can make room in our hearts for those with whom we disagree because that is how we repair our world.