My comments at the Vigil in Memory of Those Killed at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin

This evening, I attended a candlelight vigil in memory of those who were murdered in the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.  The event was organized by the Sikh Coalition, the Sikh community in Jersey City, and the city of Jersey City.  It took place at Jersey City Hall and included the participation of a wide range of political and religious leaders.  My remarks at that event are below:

In July 2009 I attended the inauguration of Hoboken’s elected officials,
including City Councilman Ravi Bhalla.
I remember that the emotional high point of that day for me
came when I saw that the Councilman was taking the oath of office
with his hand on a book of the Sikh scriptures.

And it reminded me of my pride
when I had watched Hoboken’s Jewish elected officials taking THEIR oaths of office
with their hands on a Hebrew-language edition of the Torah,
just as Christian elected officials take the oath with their hands on a Bible of their choice.

It filled me with pride to see this one tangible symbol
of our striving
to create in Hudson County, and in the United States,
a society where religious and cultural differences
are not a source of anxiety, not a threat to national cohesion,
but rather, those differences are among this country’s greatest assets;
they are a source of celebration,
and they are not a barrier to full participation in and comfort and security in our society.

More than 150 years ago, the poet Walt Whitman famously described the United States as
"not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations."

This is the American way -- not the racism and intolerance of bigots,
and not the xenophobic violence and murder we saw last week.
The spectre of innocent people slaughtered in a racially and religiously motivated attack in a house of worship -
reminds so many of us of the most tragic episodes in the histories of our own faiths.
May no community EVER need to experience such a horror again.

In the words of the Prayer for our Country

that is recited in synagogues around the United States each week:

Dear God, bless all the inhabitants of our country with Your spirit.
May citizens of all races and creeds
forge a common  bond to banish all hatred and bigotry
and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions that are our country’s pride and glory.
May this land, under Your Providence, be an influence for good throughout the world
uniting all people in peace and freedom,
and helping them to fulfill the vision of Your prophet:
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they experience war anymore.
And let us say:  Amen.


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