First came the bullets, bombs and bloodshed on Friday evening, November 13, 2015, in Paris. And then came the debate, fueled by fear of potential terrorist incidents on U.S. soil. The debate concerns how the United States of America should handle citizens of Syria and Iraq who are attempting to come to this country – particularly how the U.S. could “vet” them to make sure they have no connection with groups whose mission is to do harm to U.S. citizens.
In response to several U.S. governors, congressmen, and presidential candidates vowing to thwart the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees within the United States, Representative Frank Pallone (D-6) is reaching out to New Jersey religious leaders with first-hand knowledge of the refuge issue. Highland Park is fortunate to have two such religious leaders as members of the community – Reverend Seth Kaper-Dale of the Reformed Church of Highland Park (RCHP) and Rabbi Philip Bazeley of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick.
Rep. Pallone is holding an interfaith roundtable with these two leaders and any citizen who wants to participate on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, 12 noon at the RCHP, 19 South Second Avenue. Congressman Pallone is urging everyone, even if he/she is unwilling to speak, to attend the roundtable discussion and listen to a thoughtful dialog on the challenges of terrorism and immigration.
Pastor Kaper-Dale, in addition to being at the helm of RCHP, is the leader of the Central Jersey Interfaith Resettlement Coalition of Highland Park and New Brunswick. He has been a vocal advocate of the Coalition’s Take-10 Campaign that calls on every New Jersey community to accept 10 refugee families. His belief is simple – embracing the immigrant refugees rather than alienating them is the best weapon in the war on terror.
For the community of Highland Park, Sunday, November 15, 2015, was a day when love and humanity prevailed over the hate and horror of Friday, November 13, 2015, in Paris. More than 350 residents participated in the Coalition’s Refugee Resettlement Walkathon and raised nearly $10,000 for the Refugee Resettlement Fund. Pastor Kaper-Dale said the funds will assist recently relocated refugee families with housing costs and other essentials in the months after their initial financial support of $1,000 for a family of five from Church World Service runs out. The fund will be overseen by the Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Committee, which is asking other faith communities to join them in providing as-needed materials and social support for refugee families.
“We need to create a network of hospitality for newly arriving families,” he said. “This is something we can do on a local level. We can invite people to come and live in our community as welcoming neighbors. It needs to be material, social and cultural.”
Rabbi Philip Bazeley, who was also a leading participant in the Walkathon, wrote the following statement for the Highland Park Planet in preparation for the Monday roundtable event.
“I believe we, as a society, are standing at the forefront of a major threshold and how we act and respond to hate and fear in the coming days and months will determine how we see ourselves as a society and will also redefine our core values and beliefs. Our country has always espoused a firm belief to care for the poor, the needy, the wounded and sick, to care for those seeking our shelter and security. However, there have been times in our past where we have missed that mark. Where we know what we ought to do, but have allowed fear and anger to block our paths towards moral action. We have, from time to time, fallen into the great sin of silence and acceptance and watched with quiet shame as society has pushed some into a false sense of their inferiority and have neglected the “others” deserved right to achieve the American dream. We have done this while at the same time forgetting that each and every one of us has at some point been the “other” within our continent’s history. We must not let this happen again.
I understand that there are security threats, there always have been – at times the risk is high, and at times the risk is low. Yet at each of these moments we must stand firm with our core beliefs. It is always easiest to embrace the hardest of principles when the tide is with you, but the true measure of our nation comes when the tide is pushing against us. It is at this moment when we get to determine who we really are and such a moment has fallen upon us again.
Within our nation’s past we have had moments where we have stood strong by our espoused principles; rallied behind the cry of the needy and have marched toward moral victory. There have also been moments when we have succumbed to the overwhelming fear and prejudices of the masses and have failed the “other” in our midst and in the process, have failed ourselves as well.
So how do we move forward now? We, each one of us as individuals, must take a step forward. The question is which way are you stepping? Are you stepping towards coming to the need of vulnerable as each book of Scripture for all major faiths instruct us to do or are you going to turn around and show your back to those who are begging for help and aid? Of course, one choice is inaction, but that too is a statement of acquiescence, you are just choosing to side with whichever side the masses choose for you. Are you comfortable with letting them choose your thoughts for you or do you have something to say about it?
We now live in society vastly different than our forefathers. Your voice and autonomy have greater weight than it ever has before and our politicians’ statements and actions are driven more by polls than a moral sense of right or wrong. Let your voice be heard. Do not stand idly by as your brother’s blood cries out to you. You are your brother’s keeper and in this great big world we are each other’s keepers much more so than it ever has been in the past. Yes, we must keep America safe, but I believe we keep America safe by not letting the foundational principles for which this country stands get eroded into the seas. We can be safe and sound, while caring for the needs of the vulnerable; it is not an “either/or” statement.”