Ben Cardin Holds Interfaith Roundtable Addressing Bigotry

Sen. Ben Cardin (Photo provided)

In a powerful demonstration denouncing hate, racism and bigotry, Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin on Friday led a roundtable discussion at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore to make it clear that he will not tolerate such actions.

Cardin, a Democrat, cited the violence that erupted during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last month as the catalyst for organizing against the worst that human nature can muster.

“That’s why Charlottesville became such a rallying cry for those of us who were extremely distraught by the comments made by President [Donald] Trump,” said Cardin, the state’s senior senator. “When he tried to equate any moral equivalency between those who are marching as neo-Nazis or white supremacists to those protesting the message of these hate groups, that’s something you have to stand up to and say ‘No.’ You have to have clear moral clarity on these issues.”

More than 50 spiritual and community leaders from various backgrounds and faiths joined Cardin to call for inclusion in response to recent acts of white supremacy, violence and anti-Semitism across the United States.

In Trump’s initial post-Charlottesville remarks, many at the meeting felt the president defended the Tiki torch-bearing demonstrators chanting “Jews will not replace us,” among other Nazi slogans, and waving flags bearing swastikas, while also blaming “many sides” for the conflict.

Several people present on Friday contended that Trump, a Republican, was not doing enough to squash what they see as a rising surge of hate and intolerance being promoted in public circles.

The Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr., pastor at Friendship Baptist Church and president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Baltimore, said what “we don’t need is another Holocaust,” to which several groaned in agreement.

Cardin, speaking with the JT beforehand, said he is working to ensure the passage of one of his bills, the End Racial and Religious Profiling Act of 2017, to protect the vulnerable.

“There is a lot of activity going on to combat all this activity,” Cardin said. “We each have an individual responsibility and collective responsibility to speak out against hate.”

Temple Oheb Shalom Senior Rabbi Steven Fink said he and other Jewish leaders stand together in solidary with other religions and places of worship to make Baltimore a welcoming place for all.

Citing lo tukhal lehitalem [you must not remain indifferent] from Deuteronomy 22:3, Fink asserted that Jews must be a voice not to be silent in times of violence and hatred.

“We as religious leaders and Americans must mobilize the entire religious community and the entire community of all good people to fight against the stains of our nation,” Fink said. “We may not remain indifferent.”

The declaration came with a call to action from Rabbi Daniel Burg of Beth Am Synagogue, which is located in the predominately African-American Reservoir Hill neighborhood in West Baltimore.

Burg invited all to raise awareness about a leadership program Beth Am recently started for Jewish and African-American children ages 12 to 15. The program aims to spark dialogue between participants on their cultural traditions and history. The name of the program, Olam Ubuntu, was put together using the Jewish word olam [world] and the African word Ubuntu [I am because we are].

“I’m happy to try and do our small part in doing some real work together and not just sitting and talking about it,” Burg said.

Earlier this year, Baltimore fell victim to a rash of anti-Semitic incidents. Among them included a combined five bomb threats to the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC and Weinberg Park Heights JCC.

In response, Baltimore Jewish Council executive director Howard Libit said it was one of the reasons his organization decided to engage in conversations with leaders from different cultures and faiths. The BJC typically puts on between 20 and 30 interfaith events per year, and Libit noted it is important to have such dialogue to establish common ground.

In May, the BJC sponsored a discussion on preventing hate crimes that featured Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh as keynote speaker and included legislators from the Muslim, Latino, Jewish and African-American communities. This Wednesday, the BJC and leaders from the Christian and Muslim communities for the second straight year will pack “blessing bags” to distribute to homeless people.

“We’re all going to work together and get to know one another,” Libit said. “I think a big part of us working to build bridges and [a sense] of community is for people to work side by side for the better of our broader community.”

The multi-denominational gathering came with a plea from Raees Khan, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Muslim Council, to not allow individual groups of marginalized people to be dissected.

Khan vehemently condemned “all hate, because hate starts everything.”

“If you look at it, we’re just different shades of skin,” Khan said. “We’re not colors. We’re just shades.”

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