Chicago Tribune: Faiths gather to defy hate

The message Sunday from a politician, a clergyman, a rabbi and a Muslim activist to a Jewish congregation in Uptown that saw its synagogue recently defaced by anti-Semitic graffiti was the same: A hate crime against one group is a crime against all humanity.

Nearly 200 people from all faiths filled the unheated upstairs of the Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation, 5029 N. Kenmore Ave., to hear speeches of hope and tolerance for Uptown’s diversity. Other speakers referred to a recent string of arsons against black churches in the South and the publication of cartoons that portrayed the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist.

“Islam-phobia is just like anti-Semitism,” said Hasan Ali, a University of Chicago student and a volunteer for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “In this time of increasing hate across the globe, one attack against one of us is an attack against us all.”

Ali and other Muslims protested the hate crime on the first floor of the Agudas Achim building by holding signs denouncing the spray-painting. Members of the congregation took a symbolic step by painting over some of the swastikas and anti-Semitic phrases, including “Kill the Jews” and “White Power.” Later this month, graffiti cleaners from the city will come and wash away the graffiti.

The incident occurred Feb. 12 or early Feb. 13, said the congregation’s leader, Philip Lefkowitz.

Steven Turk, president of the congregation, called the desecration hurtful, adding that it has alarmed some members of his congregation.

“I have anger and surprise that this type of hatred would exist in our community,” Turk said.

Lefkowitz recounted the history of the building that used to be the center of a bustling Jewish community. He also talked about the recent revival of the area.

“We were here when Uptown become `downtown,'” Lefkowitz said. “Now, Uptown is coming alive.”

Although most of the talk was about hope and embracing each other’s differences, the hate crime that brought everyone together was discussed.

“This is an act that should be condemned,” said Kanan Rosenstein, who attends a Naperville synagogue but attended the Uptown event to show support. “These actions are not random. These are probing acts. These cannot be allowed to stand.”

Rev. Richard Simon, who spoke at the event, said he felt “sorrow, not shock, but sorrow. It seems that all over the world anti-Semitism is alive and well.”

Simon, whose St. Thomas of Canterbury Catholic Church sits a couple of blocks away from Agudas Achim, said he hopes the congregation will not be intimidated by the hateful acts of a few.

“Judaism has an obligation to be a light,” Simon said. “This synagogue is a light.”

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