Jews and Muslims Hold Joint Vigil at the California State Capitol
By Ras H. Siddiqui
It was a cold winter evening by Sacramento standards but there was plenty of warmth generated by the brightly lit Capitol Christmas Tree and the approximately 500 people who attended a vigil to counter hate in all its forms at the west steps of the State Capitol on Wednesday, December 21 st.
Spearheaded by the Jewish Voice for Peace organization and co-sponsored by the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) this event themed “Vigil Against Islamophobia and Racism” also brought together diehard pacifists and activists from amongst the area Asian, Christian, and South Asian communities.
Leading the event there was the “Network Against Islamophobia, a Jewish Voice for Peace project here, and this vigil in Sacramento was one along with 20 others held across America the same night.
Some may find this concept unusual but then this is America where Jews, who have themselves been targets of much hate during the last century, have chosen to stand with area Muslims in the fight against Islamophobia. And CAIR has been reaching out to them too. “Thank you to our partners, Jewish Voice for Peace, and to all of you who attended the event last night! We're blessed to be a part of a community that stands united against hate,” was part of a message sent out by CAIR to reciprocate. And why should it not be so? In a world where hate easily divides, people with a vision for future peace (no matter how small in number) have to be welcomed.
Chanukah (Hanukkah) the Jewish Festival of Lights started on December 24 th this year and will continue till January 1, 2017 and its spirit was made clear in a unique way at this venue three days earlier at the Capitol. The eight lights that brighten the traditional Menorah became eight thoughts which guided this event and became its agenda. They were: 1. We will not be silent about anti-Muslim and racist hate speech and hate crimes, 2. We condemn state surveillance of the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities, 3. We challenge, through our words and actions, institutionalized racism and state-sanctioned anti-Black violence, 4. We protest the use of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism to justify Israel’s repressive policies against Palestinians, 5. We call for an end to racist policing #SayHerName #BlackLivesMatter , 6. We stand against US policies driven by the “war on terror” that demonize Islam and devalue, target, and kill Muslims, 7. We welcome Syrian refugees and stand strong for immigrants’ rights and refugee rights and, 8.We honor and support indigenous rights and the resistance led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to protect their land and water. It is important to note here that these points were forwarded by the Jewish Voice for Peace and not by CAIR.
As a start our thanks to the musicians who gave this event a thoughtful and festive beginning. And the list of speakers or presenters was indeed long. They included Miriam Joffe-Block, Jewish Voice for Peace Sacramento, Danna Elneid, CAIR Sacramento Valley Chapter, David Mandel, Jewish Voice for Peace Sacramento (David also presented statements from Rabbi Stephen Jacobs and State Controller Betty Yee), Nancy Fleischer (presented poem by Rabbi Brant Rosen), Josh Kaizuka, Co-President Florin Japanese American Citizens League, Pastor Less Simmons, Assistant Pastor, South Sacramento Christian Center, BasimElkarra, Executive Director, CAIR Sacramento Valley Chapter, Francisco Dominguez, Sac Area Friends and Relatives of the Lakota Nation, Palestinian community representative AdeebAlzanoon, young Yasmin a middle school student, and last but not least, Dr Mohamed Abdul-Azeez, Imam, Founder and President of the Tarbiya Institute. Not all the activities could be included here in this one report, so just a few are being highlighted.
When this reporter walked in, the song playing was “This Little Light of Mine (Let it Shine)” prepared specially for this vigil in Sacramento. Miriam Joffe-Block explained the Jewish perspective and shed some light on the evening using the Hanukkah lights as symbols. She also thanked everyone for making an effort to be present. Speaking on behalf of the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Miriam said that the JVP seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank , Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and also opposes anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab bigotry and oppression. As Jews we know the pain of being targeted for our religion, she added. Danna Elneid, speaking on behalf of CAIR, said that the organization was here for the whole community, not just the Muslim community. She said that they were honored to be working with JVP on this event, and tonight (the Jewish-Muslim cooperation) was symbolic for Sacramento, setting a precedent for the nation.
David Mandel of the JVP first shared his own thoughts. He said that his ancestors, Jews from Eastern Europe, came to America at the turn of the 19 th century, and that they were refugees escaping upheaval, revolution and violence in the old country. He also highlighted the experience of Jews in Europe leading up to the rise of fascism, and added that this was one of the reasons why Jews were especially sensitive to the increased targeting of immigrants and Muslims today. Mandel also shared statements from Rabbi Stephen Jacobs and State Controller Betty Yee, including their intent to register themselves as Muslims if any move is made to register Muslims in this country!
Josh Kaizuka from the Florin JACL highlighted that the mistakes of the past should not be repeated and that the Executive Order calling for Japanese internment during WWII was based on prejudice, racism and fear mongering. He said that even the discussion resurrecting that Executive Order in the Muslim context today was appalling and that we (Japanese Americans) will not stand for that.
CAIR Executive Director BasimElkarra wished 'peace be upon you all.' He thanked the JVP for being there not just for the Muslim community but for all communities when it comes to justice. He also shared the important news that the killer of an Iraqi-American refugee at a local Home Depot was found guilty and that today justice was served right here in Sacramento. He also highlighted the fact that the groups promoting Islamophobia in this country are well-funded and that some of the individuals involved are in the current transition team. He also said that we can push back if we stand together as a community.
Another speaker that needs to be noted was Palestinian representative AdeebAlzanoon. Over the past few years the Palestinian narrative has often been drowned because of the War on Terror. But if lasting peace is to be achieved in the Middle East this voice needs to be heard and one is glad that the JVC vigil organizers did not overlook that fact.
After a 6 th Grade student from a Christian-Muslim family won many hearts here for her speech on standing up to school bullying for wearing a hijab, the musicians were back with another inspiring song “We Shall Not Be Moved”. And that was followed by a truly wonderful closing speech (peppered with both humor and wisdom) and a concluding prayer by Imam Azeez.