Faith leaders from across San Francisco at Interfaith Gathering Against Hate at Congregation Emanu-El, Aug. 25. 2017 (Photo/Laura Paull)
Faith leaders from across San Francisco at Interfaith Gathering Against Hate at Congregation Emanu-El, Aug. 25. 2017 (Photo/Laura Paull)

Bay Area unites against hate at rousing synagogue events

Hours after two Bay Area rallies by extremist right-wing groups were canceled on Aug. 25, a rainbow of faith groups — Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Baptist, Buddhist and others — gathered with community and civic leaders at synagogues around the Bay Area to unite in opposition to bigotry and racism.

A planned Patriot Prayer gathering at San Francisco’s Crissy Field and a “No to Marxism” rally in Berkeley were canceled by their organizers late Friday afternoon, but the community’s determination to come together in the face of divisive and hate-based ideologies swelled attendance at many Shabbat services in the evening.

More than 1,000 people filled nearly every seat at Congregation Emanu-El, with people from other synagogues and faith communities joining the Interfaith Gathering Against Hate. About 200 attended a similar event at Sherith Israel a half-mile away. Across the Golden Gate Bridge, 350 people gathered at Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon for an interfaith prayer service, co-sponsored by the Marin Interfaith Council. Many other congregations around the Bay, from Sonoma to Oakland to San Mateo, also met to raise their voices against the planned rallies and everything they represented.

“We ran them out of Crissy Field!” exclaimed longtime civil rights activist Eva Paterson in her remarks at Emanu-El. “We need to feel and remain connected with all those who are not bigoted and full of hate, because we are the majority in this world.”

In a brief but spirited address that rocketed between gravity and humor, Paterson, a lawyer and president of the Oakland-based Equal Justice Society, noted that “blacks and Jews have something fundamental in common: the experience of slavery and the ongoing need to resist racism and subjugation.

We ran them out of Crissy Field!

“From Mother Emanuel … to Temple Emanu-El,” she said, drawing the connection between the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where in 2015 a pastor and eight worshippers were murdered by Dylann Roof, a young white supremacist who said he wanted to start a race war.

“We need to show up for each other. We must bear witness by physically showing up, not just to pray but to take a stand against evil and bigotry. I think we gotta envelop the haters in love, and if you can’t do that — at least be able to look them in the eye and say, ‘I wish you’d go away.’

“Come to think of it,” she added, referring to one group’s proposed strategy to litter the field with dog waste to drive the Patriot Prayer rally from Crissy Field, “it might have been the dog poop!”

Emanu-El Rabbi Sydney Mintz began the service with the blowing of the shofar, noting that “the shofar is, has always been, intended as a wakeup call. Tonite we are fully awake.”

In the afternoon, the shofar was sounded on the steps of San Francisco City Hall when Sherith Israel Senior Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf gave an invocation at the United Against Hate rally, attended by civic and faith leaders.

That Jewish tradition resonated with Rev. Ron Kobata, resident minister of the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, who said the need to “wake up” is at the heart of his belief system. He enjoined all present to live a life that is “openhearted and actively engaged with one another.”

The sense of urgency did not need to be explained to congregants and others attending the service, many of whom expressed the desire to be there not only in response to the planned rallies but to the rise in hate-based crimes against Muslims, Jews, the LGBT community and others across the nation, and the emboldening of white supremacist and nationalist groups.

“We are here tonight to stand together against hate groups, but we must work every day against systemic racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and other forms of bigotry. This is our holy work,” Emanu-El Senior Rabbi Beth Singer declared.

One of the night’s most moving moments came when Maha Elgenaidi, founder and executive director of the San Jose-based Islamic Networks Group, stepped up to the bimah to affirm the Muslim American community’s solidarity with the Jewish community in opposing anti-Semitism, bigotry and hate.

“What differences exist between us should not supersede our shared humanity. Tonight, I declare myself a Jew in the face of anti-Semitism,” she said, emotion catching in her throat. “I am already a marked person, wearing a hijab in this country today.”

We are going to prevail — because we’re right.

A belief in the power of unified resistance was voiced by a chorus of faith and civic leaders. Among them were state Assemblymembers Phil Ting and David Chiu, S.F. Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, District Attorney George Gascón, S.F. State University President Les Wong, the Rev. Amos Brown from Third Baptist Church and many others.

“I noted in a previous gathering that we are living a 1939 moment,” said the Rt. Rev. Mark Andrus, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California. As the audience began to applaud his recognition of the depth of the political crisis, he stopped them: “But I take that back. We have learned from that moment. And we will never, ever let the Jews, people of color,  LGBT or any other group face discrimination and oppression. We will never again not resist that.”

State Sen. Scott Wiener, who opposed the federal permit granted for the Patriot Prayer group to gather at Crissy Field, said he was speaking “as a gay Jewish man — or Jewish gay man,” two communities that have suffered from continuing bigotry.

“We are seeing things happen these days that my parents told me about, things my grandparents saw in Eastern Europe, things I never thought I’d see in this country, today,”  the San Francisco resident said soberly. “But here we are together in this most amazing, beautiful city. And if resistance and pushback are not going to start here, it’s not going to start anywhere. We are going to prevail — because we’re right.”

At Congregation Sherith Israel, a discussion with Seth Brysk, Central Pacific regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Matt Kahn, San Francisco regional director of the American Jewish Committee,  encouraged people to join the congregation’s Social Action Committee or to get involved in other ways, whether marching against hate or focusing on legislative action.

Matt Kahn (left), S.F. Regional Director of the American Jewish Committee, and Seth Brysk, Central Pacific Director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaking at Congregation Sherith Israel, Aug. 25 2017
Matt Kahn (left), S.F. Regional Director of the American Jewish Committee, and Seth Brysk, Central Pacific Director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaking at Congregation Sherith Israel, Aug. 25 2017

In her remarks, Graf quoted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr.: “In Selma, Alabama, I learned to pray with my feet.” Graf reported that many congregants described the night as “a turning point for our community uniting and standing against hate.”

Standing against hate also was the theme at Congregation Kol Shofar. The interfaith prayer service included singing, words of encouragement from local faith leaders and time for attendees to pair up and offer mutual support, prayer and meditation. It was the first “Love Lives in Marin” event, an initiative of the Marin Interfaith Council. It was inspired by a pastoral visit by 40 rabbis from across the nation, including Kol Shofar’s Rabbi Susan Leider, to Whitefish, Montana, where a similar initiative arose in response to a planned neo-Nazi march early this year. Businesses, civic and faith leaders rose up with the Jewish community to oppose hate and promote love and inclusion.

“What is an attack on one is an attack on all,” Leider said at Friday night’s service. The purpose of “Love Lives in Marin,” she said, is to change the public discourse, create a community where all are welcome and “rise above the fray and speak for those whose voices aren’t uplifted.”

Muslim, Presbyterian, Buddhist and Jewish faith leaders each emphasized the evening’s central message that the faithful response to hate is not only resistance but also standing up for the values promoted by the world’s major faith traditions: hope, inclusivity, equality, compassion, justice and love.

“Love,” affirmed Rev. Yolanda Norton, a professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary, “is an active means of resistance.”

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

Laura Paull is J.'s Culture Editor, and was a longtime J. freelance writer before that.