Religion

Treasure Valley groups join forces to promote tolerance

Volunteers gathered earlier this year at the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Garden City to phone area residents urging them to contact their lawmakers concerning President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Viktor Mak, left, outlines a few guidelines and other information for the volunteers.
Volunteers gathered earlier this year at the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Garden City to phone area residents urging them to contact their lawmakers concerning President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Viktor Mak, left, outlines a few guidelines and other information for the volunteers. doswald@idahostatesman.com

In the current socio-political environment that resulted in a contentious election, many minority groups are worried and feeling apprehensive about the direction of this country during the next four years. A rash of hate attacks against Jewish and Muslim places of worship and cemeteries is creating an atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty, coupled with a muted voice from the highest office in the land.

I have witnessed a few such incidents in the 20 years that I have lived in Boise. In late 2002, someone threw a brick and broke a front window of the Islamic Center of Boise. During a meeting with Rabbi Dan Fink, he wrote me a check contributing to the window repair. In December 2003, when vandals defaced the Heuman Center for Jewish Education and the Greek Orthodox Church at the corner of Bannock and 27th streets, the Islamic Center of Boise sent its members to help clean both houses of worship.

Over the last decade and a half, we have observed numerous acts of harassment and acts of vandalism against the Idaho Black History Museum, the Islamic Center of Boise, the Jewish synagogue and its cemetery, and the Anne Frank Human Rights memorial.

As recently as Dec. 7, 2016, the Idaho Black History Museum was targeted by someone who scrawled the N-word in snow on the roof of a shed on the museum property. In Boise and the Treasure Valley these incidents have been relatively minor, but worrisome nevertheless. Many have gone unreported.

The deadly shooting at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center that resulted in the brutal murder of six Muslims is a painful reminder that the danger is real and that minor acts of hatred can quickly escalate into major tragedies and a loss of life.

In the small city of Victoria, Texas, there are several churches and just one mosque and one synagogue. On Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, the mosque mysteriously burned down. The Jewish members of Bnai Israel handed the Muslims the key to their synagogue so they would have a place of worship while they were rebuilding the mosque. The next day, the larger community of Victoria held an interfaith event at the site of the burned mosque and, through local donations and a GoFundMe page, the mosque was able to raise enough in the span of one day to rebuild the mosque.

In University City, Mo., Muslim activists launched a funding campaign to help repair the vandalism at a Jewish cemetery two weekends ago. Over 100 headstones were overturned causing extensive damage at the historic Chesel Shel Emesh Cemetery.

Last weekend, a second incident occurred in Philadelphia, where between 75 and 100 tombstones were overturned and damaged at the Mt. Carmel Cemetery. The desecration was limited to the Jewish cemetery and no vandalism occurred in the three nearby Christian cemeteries. This second incident is being investigated as a case of institutional vandalism.

During his address to Congress on Tuesday night, Trump finally delivered a personal condemnation of the recent rash of anti-Semitic acts and the shooting that killed an Indian man and wounded another in Olathe, Kan., in an act of racially motivated hatred.

At a time of increased hostility toward minorities and refugees, some unlikely alliances are being forged among groups that would not normally be cooperating. Here in Boise, thanks to our proactive stance on interfaith relations, we are building bridges of understanding and mutual respect instead of walls. Our communities share educational events on a regular basis and continue to support and defend our shared values of humanity, decency and compassion toward all.

We extend our condolences to all families who have lost loved ones and those who have been victimized by the recent acts of hatred and violence. We stand united with them during these difficult times, and our prayers and thoughts are with them. This, too, shall pass.

Dr. Said Ahmed-Zaid is a Boise State University engineering professor and the 2004 recipient of the annual HP Award for Distinguished Leadership in Human Rights.

The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.

  Comments