In response to the June 12 massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people were killed and 53 injured, 125 Jews, Christians, and Muslims came together June 21 in Princeton for a “Multi-Faith Gathering for Orlando & Beyond.” A prayer service at Nassau Presbyterian Church was followed by a rally and vigil against gun violence.
The Princeton Clergy Association and the Coalition for Peace Action jointly sponsored the program.
Carolyn Elk, who lives in Princeton and works at Educational Testing Service, shared with a crowd of about 60 at the vigil in Palmer Square, across from the church, her thoughts about a loss she suffered through a different crime of hate: the deaths of her Uncle Bill and his grandson, who were shot pointblank at the JCC of Greater Kansas City in Kansas on April 13, 2014.
Before violence affected her personally, Elk said, she “hadn’t considered anti-Semitism to be her problem.”
“What I learned that day was that hatred has a really bad aim. You don’t know when it can come to you or someone you love,” Elk said.
Especially worrisome to her was how the perpetrator of the Kansas murders, who pled guilty, justified his actions. She said the killer claimed that “his intentions were good and honest because he was trying to kill Jews, and Jews control the world….”
“That really terrified me,” Elk said. “In a number of countries they accept that defense — just as if they had said they were trying to kill gay people.”
Other speakers at the vigil included Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, NJ State Assemblymen Reed Gusciora (D-Dist. 15) and Andrew Zwicker (D-Dist. 16), and the Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of the Coalition for Peace Action and co-pastor of Christ Congregation in Princeton. All denounced gun violence and shared their own efforts to act politically against the proliferation of gun ownership.
Lempert admonished listeners not to sit idly by. “These weapons belong on the battlefield, not in our cities,” she said. Zwicker talked about legislation he has introduced condemning bigotry and hatred. Moore described the coalition’s work through Ceasefire NJ to support efforts to override Gov. Chris Christie’s vetoes of legislative actions to strengthen gun laws in New Jersey and to support U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’s (R-Maine) “no fly, no buy” gun control bill.
Hanan Isaacs, a member of The Jewish Center in Princeton and an antigun activist through Ceasefire NJ, said, “I am here because I am outraged. I am not sure what this act of terror has done to me personally…. I just feel different.” He knew, he said, that such violence happened, but had hoped that such incidents would stop. “But it’s obvious they’re not going to stop until we stop them.”
The multi-faith service at the church offered a more ritualized response to the violence in Orlando. The Rev. Lauren J. McFeaters, associate pastor of Nassau Presbyterian Church, told the crowd, “We stand in sorrow and solidarity and hope with our LGBTQ and allied communities and denounce the slaughter of June 12. What joins us together is nothing less than our humanity.”
Imam Hamad Ahmad Chebli shared Islam’s approach to disagreements on issues of faith. “Every time we see something wrong, we correct it by word, not by guns,” he said. “Anyone who kills with a gun has nothing to do with Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.”
The Rev. Carlton Branscomb, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Princeton, looked at the larger picture. “I am sad and angry tonight because I want the culture of violence to come to an end…,” he said. “I want people of all ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, and sexual orientations to be safe.”
Speaking for Garden State Equality, Christian Fuscarino said he and other members of the gay community “have been incredibly moved by the number of faith leaders who reached out this week.”
Hazzan Joanna Dulkin of The Jewish Center emphasized the importance of hesed, or loving-kindness, in Judaism and asked those present to embrace the notion that “hesed is something we can cultivate within all of us.”
She sang in Hebrew “Olam Hesed Yibaneh” (“The World Will Be Built on Loving-Kindness”).
A ritualized recitation of the names of those who died in Orlando followed, with the lighting of a candle for each of the victims.
Rabbi Adam Feldman closed the program: “We come together as one multi-faith community in solidarity, support, and love…for members of the LGBTQ community and Orlando,” he said.