Before Digging Into This Article, Here’s a Letter from the Editor Providing Context:
Letter from the Editor:
The article below was written in November 2018 by Izdihar Dabashi, who attended “One Beacon,” an interfaith event. Before you read about the experience from her perspective, we’d like to bring you up to speed on why the event was created in the first place. Normally, we’d publish this reporting closer to the event, but with the holidays, time got crunched. Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and in the spirit of that, we are publishing this story now.
In October 2018, flyers promoting racism and antisemitism were posted onto two churches in Beacon: the First Presbyterian and Salem Tabernacle. This intrusive act spooked anyone who learned about it or anyone who visits the churches on a regular basis.
In response, clergy of different faiths called each other immediately to show their support, and lead people to a unified place in an interfaith event called “One Beacon.” The event provided a platform for reflections and exhortations from several speakers from the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities in Beacon, in addition to Beacon’s Mayor, Randy Casale.
And Now, for Izdihar Dabashi’s Article Coverage of “One Beacon”
On the 1st of November, 2018, an interfaith event called "One Beacon" was held at the Salem Tabernacle in response to the antisemitic flyers that marred doors of worship in Beacon at the First Presbyterian Church and the Salem Tabernacle, as well as on the grounds of education including Marist College in the Hudson Valley (see this article for descriptions of those flyers).
“One Beacon” was planned before the tragedy that occurred inside of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that week. So it was coincidence that this event to celebrate the idea of belonging to the same community - despite differences of religion, gender, race, etc. - arrived at the right time to act as a balm for the distress present on our screens and appearing in broad daylight on our streets. Mayor Randy Casale and Pastor Ben Larson-Wolbrink said they drew a parallel conclusion once the hate flyers came to their attention: Call the police and call the clergy.
Clergy members in attendance at “One Beacon” included Pastor Bill Dandreano of Salem Tabernacle, Pastor Ben Larson-Wolbrink of First Presbyterian Church, Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek of Beacon Hebrew Alliance, Imam Abdullah Abdul Wajid of Masjid Ar-Rashid, and Pastor Ronald O. Perry of Springfield Baptist Church. Mayor Randy Casale’s wide smile could be found in constant conversation. Additionally, state Sen. Sue Serino and her son made an appearance during the event.
All were welcome to “One Beacon,” but as I approached the Salem Tabernacle, I could not help but be mindful of the scarf wrapped around my head, expecting awkward stares at the Muslim girl in a church. To my pleasant surprise, my tentative gaze was met by welcoming faces ushering me inside the warm church to avoid the November cold. Silver towers of food set atop white-clothed tables were among the crowds of people, and were part of our dinner that accompanied the evening.
I briefly connected my gaze to Ginger, Pastor Bill’s mother, and not a blink later she had me in a strong embrace. Every polite nod or handshake I offered was replaced by hugs, diminishing the boundaries of the unfamiliar.
Past the doors separating the entry hall, the nave (the central part of a church) was filled with greetings and laughter decorating the ivory walls with invisible warmth.
A rogue door covered in chipped paint rested against the stage, in front of where we were to all sit. The stage and area in front of it was lined with dense colorful flowers. Sparse splinters and flutters of the chipped paint from the lonely door disrupted the blue velvet carpet. It was an odd sight, but I ignored the peculiarity.
As I made my way down the seating area where dinner and a presentation on a screen were to be included, I was stopped every few steps by introductions and strangers offering me their seats and spots at their table, the smile on my face never waning as I became increasingly aware of the welcoming nature of familiar faces and complete strangers. Venturing further into the brightly lit space, I was seated at a table across from the clergy of Beacon.
The event featured speakers giving their piece on today’s stinging political climate affecting social patterns, with uplifting music in Hebrew and English between speakers. Pastor Bill highlighted the heavy weight of police brutality, particularly the strained relationship between law enforcement and the black community.
Pastor Bill humorously began a rant on how being pulled over while driving is a nuisance, an inconvenient blip in his day. He listed the first three thoughts springing to mind when he gets pulled over:
His insurance price increasing.
The annoyance that comes with being late.
Where in the world is his registration.
Pastor Bill recalled ranting to his friend on this topic one afternoon. Pastor Bill’s perspective on matters of police brutality changed once his friend of color shared the thoughts that go through his mind when he gets pulled over. His friend’s first thoughts when getting pulled over ring sharp in his mind, and are far more overwhelming:
His wallet is in his back pocket, but how should he reach for it (and the registration) if he wants his hands to be in clear view.
What is going to happen if he doesn’t find his registration, if he reaches down to grab his wallet and only one hand is in clear view?
What is going to happen if he doesn't make it home today?
From there, Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek steered the conversation to reflect on the murders that occurred in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, victims of an unjust cause. He led a beautiful traditional Prayer of the Dead, translating Hebrew into English, explaining the prayer is meant to seek comfort in God. Pain glistened in several pairs of eyes, the champagne lights illuminating the depths of grief.
Mayor Randy shed hope through comparison of the Beacon we live in today and the version he lived in during his youth:
The police riots
The clash of minorities and Caucasians in the middle and high school
The division of different groups clustered in the elementary schools.
Mayor Randy gave credit to his mentor, late Mayor Robert Cahill, for the reminder that “when people get away from their religion, it leads them astray;” prompting both mayors to seek control and peace by reaching out to the clergy. Instead of covering up hate, directly addressing tension and opening our minds will pave the way to harmony.
Imam Abdullah Abdul Wajid, an imam of the traditional form of Islam, took his time to reinforce the similarities between the monotheistic faiths and how hate crimes against one religion affect all. As acknowledged by the other members of clergy, he emphasized that no one is safe, saying: “It’s ‘them’ today, and you tomorrow.”
He unraveled the meaning behind a Hadith (a collection of records of sayings, actions, and descriptions given by the Prophet Muhammed), concluding there is good to every situation. The violence and strains of political tension that can surface in mainstream media only push people to stand together for support, as indicated in the way the Muslim community in Pittsburgh raised money to support the victims in the Tree of Life synagogue, and offered to provide security to the temple. Little seeds of hate can only become trees if communities choose to nurture their sinful growth.
While the words of the speakers were enlightening, the strength of the resounding energy ricocheting off the walls in the grand room was overwhelming during Salaam-Shalom, the song title meaning “peace” in Arabic and Hebrew. Voices merged with the flow of instruments, filling the room with brightness as the crowd swayed as one.
Through all the music, that same broken door stood there, alone. It was a silent observer of the performances. It stood alone and blue from the hue of the icebreaker topics put on a screen in front of us during dinner, and its frayed skeleton was still present at the end of the event. The analogy of the ugly door was still lost after Pastor Bill pointed it out, proclaiming little seeds of hate grow into overbearing trees.
Pastor Bill clarified that to extinguish the flames of hate, we must introduce honesty. Squares of paper with atonements scratched in blue ink soon masked the ugly door, as lines of people tacked their sins onto the wood, shifting the splintering mess into something beautified by raw honesty.
Every time a speaker stood on stage, half of my attention was fixed on the message they shared. The other half allowed my eyes to wander around the room, in stunning awe of the genuine care and empathy on various faces. There was a complete absence of division among the clergy, the event staffers, and the attendees. The kitchen held the same vibrant energy as the main room - the people supplying the food fueled by the significance of this event.
Clergy members greeted each other with an encouraging embrace as they passed the microphone back and forth on their shared stage. Every speaker used humor to connect with the audience, while not straying too far from the seriousness of today’s social problems. It was clear that the city is working to engage with the community to prevent hate.
The "One Beacon" interfaith event reminded Beacon residents that there are allies and acceptance present in this small city, as evidenced by the many different houses of God peacefully sharing Main Street. The mosque, the church, the temple - all open to providing a sanctuary to a diversity of faiths, unified through a humble city.