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Interfaith Alliance and NYBR host interfaith summit on “Hate in Our World, Hate in Our City”

June 2019

Hate crime rates have significantly increased in recent years and the methods used, targeted groups, and impact have grown profoundly. Those crimes not only effect individuals and groups of a specific targeted background, they also negatively impact society-at-large, economies and political stability in a country/region. Hate (or bias) crimes are defined as criminal behavior driven by bias or prejudice towards a victim’s personal or communal characteristics such through verbal or physical assault, incitement and destruction of property.

The Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities in cooperation with the New York Board of Rabbis and its network organizations facilitated a dynamic interfaith summit to address the rise of the hate crimes impacting our communities.  The IAFSC’s extensive experience in convening international workshops during 2018 around the role of faith leaders in combating crime in their community and the NYBR’s extensive grassroots network and history of interfaith engagement set the table for a multi-lateral conversation with measurable outcomes to be used to inform future international workshops, forums and events.  

The half-day summit brought together key stakeholders in religious leadership, law enforcement, civil society – with both local and global backgrounds - to discuss the challenges confronting our communities and share successful practices they have used to address the rise of hate speech and hate crimes,  reflecting both local and global considerations. 

Prominent attendees at the summit included H.E. Timothy Cardinal Dolan (Archbishop of New York), Rabbi Joseph Potasnik (New York Board of Rabbis), NYC First Deputy Police Commissioner Ben Tucker, Adama Dieng (Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide to the UN Secretary General), Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert, Kings County District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Caryl Stern (President and CEO of UNICEF USA), Imam Tahir Kukaj (Imam of the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center and NYPD Muslim Chaplain) and Ms. Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha'i International Community to the UN.

There was standing room only at the Archdiocese of New York with over 100 local leaders and international representatives spanning the different faith communities living around the world including Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Bahá'í. There were distinguished representatives from the NYC Mayor’s Office, the NYC Comptroller’s Office, the New York City Council, NYPD and FDNY.  The event was covered by WPIX-11 and NY1. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time such a diverse group gathered to examine this issue from different perspectives. 

The Summit was brought to order by Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis and executive committee member of the Commission of Religious Leaders of the City of NY.  Rabbi Potasnik is also the Jewish chaplain for FDNY.  We were then welcomed by our host, His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York and executive committee member of the Commission of Religious Leaders of the City of NY.  A presentation was made to them by the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities – two magnificent and meaningful FBMI Peace Carpets, with humanitarian stories that resonated with all who were present. Cardinal Dolan and Rabbi Potasnik were both overwhelmed by the thoughtful presentations. 

A message from His Excellency UN Secretary -General Antonio Guterres was delivered by Mr. Adama Dieng, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide. He shared two United Nations initiatives that were recently announced by the Secretary-General: one, in support of the protection of religious sites; the other, launched the same week, to tackle hate speech. He commended the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities and the New York Board of Rabbis for convening the critical summit.

The summit began with a plenary panel discussion that included NYC First Deputy Police Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, NYPD Assistant Commissioner Rebecca Ulam Weiner, Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert, Kings County District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Mr. Robert Tucker, CEO of T&M Protection Resources, Mr. Evan Bernstein, ADL Regional Director and Mr. Daniel Kelley, Associate Director, Center for Technology and Society at Anti-Defamation League. The presentations highlighted the current trends surrounding the rise in hate speech and hate crimes on local, regional, national and international levels. There was an in depth look at the increase and nature online hate speech.  These experts offered best practices and strategies in confronting hate crimes.  The room fell silent as Chief Schubert shared the story of his Department’s response to the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in October 2018 and the lessons they have learned for the future. There was time Q&A and participants were seeking practical, easy to implement strategies that their congregations could use immediately.  There was also a robust discussion about the need to include tolerance education in schools, children need to learn how to respect and celebrate the differences in all groups instead of hating what they do not understand. 

Following the plenary session, Caryl Stern, President and CEO of UNICEF USA shared the stories of the refugees she had met in recent years as we reflected on the significance of our event being held on World Refugee Day. There are more displaced, refugee and migrant people in the world today than at the end of World War II.  All too often, children and their families are forced from their homes because of the baseless hatred and refugees are met with hatred instead of an outstretched hand of welcome on their journey to safety.

Dana Al-Marzooqi presented the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities Response Model of faith community engagement and partnership to prevent and respond to hate speech and hate crimes. This model has been used to address different communal safety challenges and has been proven highly effective in helping houses of worship implement impactful and sustainable changes in their communities.  Participants requested to learn more about the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities and want to get involved.  

The workshop session was led by faith and community leaders who have experienced hate crimes or have been working to address the rise of hate through a faith-based paradigm.  The panel included: Rev. Dr. AR Bernard, Sr., Imam Tahir Kukaj, Dr. Georgette Bennett, Ms. Bani Dugal, Elder David Buckner, Mrs. Devorah Halberstam and Rev. Anthony Thompson. Rev. Bernard, Founding Minister of the Christian Cultural Center, Founder of the Christian Community Relations Council and member of the executive committee of the Commission of Religious Leaders of the City of NY.   He framed the workshop discuss by focusing on the opportunities and possibilities of overcoming the rise of hate. He stressed how our communities are instrumental in sending a message of respect, fraternity and love.  

Dr. Bennett, Ms. Dugal and Elder Buckner spoke about hate speech and hate crimes and how they have impacted communities through global and local lenses. They acknowledged how hate has historically been part of their respective communal narratives and how they have confronted that hatred. Imam Kukaj spoke about the experience of being attacked locally and how he saw his attacker as the real victim because his heart was filled with hate.  Mrs. Halberstam shared the story about the loss of her son, the victim of a hate crime and how she works with diverse communities to teach children about cultural understanding at the Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn. Rev. Thompson shared the story about his wife’s tragic murder 4 years ago at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and how his faith helped him to forgive the white supremacist murderer who took the lives of nine innocent people.  The eyes around the room were brought to tears and the hearts were filled with hope.  

Rabbi Birnbaum brought the summit to a close with a story and a blessing and invited everyone to continue the conversations we had begun over lunch.  People stayed and broke bread together, sharing their stories with greater understanding of how they will be part of the solution in confronting hate.  Faith communities need to partner together, exercising their prophetic voice, to teach respect, love and understanding.

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