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Long Island faith leaders unify against a rise in hate crimes

Richard Koubek is chair of Abraham’s Table of Long Island.
J.D. Allen
Richard Koubek is chair of Abraham’s Table of Long Island.

Faith leaders have organized to spread a message of unity against a string of hate crimes on Long Island and nationally.

Over 30 anti-hate activities will be offered at places of worship across Long Island during the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. The goal is to learn from the civil rights movement to find ways to identify and overcome prejudice against LGBTQ, Asian, Latino, and African American people in the community.

"We are done with the hatred. Our silence is not going to happen as it did in the 1930s in Germany and as people of faith are going to stand up and try to make Long Island a beloved community and not a community of hate," said Richard Koubek, chair of Abraham's Table of Long Island.

Koubek pointed to incidents last year, including white supremist flyers spread in Rockville Center, an Aquebogue man indicted for making anti-semitic remarks, a Ronkonkoma mosque damaged by arson, and a Medford man jailed for attacking Hispanic day laborers.

Anti-semetic incidents reached an all-time high in the U.S. in 2021, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The most anti-semetic incidents are reported in New York.

“We can't be the people of faith in the 1930s,” he said. “Because you look at any historical analysis of the Holocaust, it didn't begin with trains taking people to Auschwitz. It began with words, and people not saying something about those words.”

This interfaith community, Abraham’s Table, formed in 2015. It now consists of over 90 congregations who will use a toolkit created by the community of 30 anti-hate activities across Long Island this weekend — under the banner of “Beloved Community Interfaith Responses to Hate on Long Island.”

Rabbi Lina Zerbarini is with Kehillath Shalom Synagogue in Cold Spring Harbor.
J.D. Allen
Rabbi Lina Zerbarini is with Kehillath Shalom Synagogue in Cold Spring Harbor.

“Dr. King did not despair of what America could be, even in times of racial terror, violence, segregation and inequality,” said Rabbi Lina Zerbarini of Kehillath Shalom Synagogue in Cold Spring Harbor. “He believed we could be better and we could do better. He believed we could become a ‘beloved community.’”

Programs include discussions, dances, service projects and virtual panels, inspired by the Rev. Dr. King. “Some of it will be very theatrical,” Koubek said. “But this is not theater; This is a movement of the faith community saying ‘stop.’”

“One of the forms of hate we're looking at is the deep prejudice in American society toward people who are poor,” he added, referring to a legislative report that found a fifth of Suffolk County residents live in poverty. Koubek chairs the county’s Welfare to Work Commission.

The goal is to learn from the civil rights movement to find ways to identify and overcome the roots of hate and prejudice in the community.

“This is really, I believe, a cutting-edge moment. And we know that hate doesn't just drop out of thin air,” said Rev. Bill Brisotti, of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Wyandanch. “Deep thoughts and feelings within a society is always simmering below the surface of jokes, caricatures, fears, insecurities, suspicions, and ignorant but subtle ill will towards others, to minimize, to isolate people, blaming them for the ills of society, sometimes molded into practices and law in too many places.”

“These very creative kinds of events are acting in very practical ways to help enlighten the false perception that counters hate speech and horrible actions that inevitably flow,” he added.

The keynote talk will be by Frank Meeink on Jan. 16 at the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center in Commack. Meeink is a formerly incarcerated white supremacist turned anti-hate activist who founded the group Life After Hate.

Other events include:

  • Beloved Community activities opening brunch, featuring speakers and musical presentations at 10 a.m. on Friday, Jan 13. at the Suffolk Y JCC in Commack. The Turkish Cultural Center of Long Island will provide Muslim prayers and music.“We need to continue sending that message forward. Everything that we do needs to dispel hate,” said Rick Lewis, CEO of Suffolk Y JCC. “It's not just about antisemitism. But it's about every kind of hate that we have, because there's no reason for it.”
  • Getting To Know You: An Evening of Diverse Multicultural Music and Dance at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 15 at Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn Heights.
  • The Poor People's Campaign’s State of the State program at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 15 at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Roman Catholic Church in Wyandanch.
  • A dinner and conversation with Calvin Alexander Ramsey, author of children’s book “Ruth and the Green Book” and the play “The Green Book,” at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 15 at Kehillath Shalom Synagogue in Cold Spring Harbor.
  • The local chapters of NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League are hosting a webinar, "Building Bridges: A Discussion Between the Black and Jewish Communities” at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 15.

For more event listings are listed online.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.