The Coalition of Concerned Clergy stood together Wednesday night at the Hudson Valley Islamic Community Center in Mohegan Lake as clergy members throughout Westchester and Putnam County presented a Declaration of Concern in support of their immigrant neighbors.
The Coalition, which is comprised of 22 churches, synagogues and mosques, expressed their support for residents who have been living in fear of being detained, deported and separated from their families due to their religion, race, ethnicity and immigration status.
“The Bible teaches all of us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and that means that when something bad is happening to your neighbors that you wouldn’t want to have happen to you, that you reach out and you take them by the hand,” Stephen Axxin, a religious leader from Temple Israel of Putnam Valley, said at the May 24 event. “We want these communities to know that we have their back and they are not living in a hostile environment.”
The Declaration of Concern states the organizations promise to offer whatever lawful aid and assistance to any vulnerable community members who are being singled out and threatened. The Coalition believes regardless of someone’s status, all are children of God and it’s their responsibility to fulfill the biblical commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
“Our work is to get beyond the myth of racial difference that our culture might have taught us, to get beyond the lie of racial and ethnic differences and to use our hearts and minds in order to see the humanity and divine in every human being we come in contact with,” Rabbi Steven Altarescu from the Reform Temple of Putnam Valley said.
Robert Kesten, executive director of People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning, added how too many feel the need to compromise their dignity for survival and the importance of listening to others and accepting them for who they are.
“We don’t really understand other people until we walk in their shoes and it’s the fundamental understanding of what someone else has gone through that makes us better people, because until you understand where someone else has come from, you don’t understand them,” Kesten said. “It’s not about the talking, it’s often about the listening.”
During the well-attended ceremony, the Coalition also planted an apple tree, a peaceful symbol from the Garden of Eden, to demonstrate a commitment to peace, friendship, solidarity and diversity, uniting all faiths and people together.
“It really moves me to see the community come together and support each other so we can fight against the fear and the climate that is happening around us,” Yorktown resident Marni Rabin-Marron said. “It’s important for us to make a statement that we support other people from all different walks of life and to show we have their backs.”
Sheri Gordon-Handwerger, a Yorktown resident and member of the Yorktown Jewish Center, expressed how the tree is a symbol of unity and hopes it’ll draw fruit for the children of generations of people to come.
Yorktown Chief of Police Robert Noble added that the Yorktown Police Department is proud to show their support and continue to keep the community safe.
“Everybody should be able to practice whatever faith free and at ease and safe,” Noble said.