Braving the cold wind on Sunday afternoon, 1,000 people rallied in Silver Spring in a reaffirmation of the values of diversity and inclusion.
Speakers at “Stand Up for the Montgomery Way,” sponsored by Montgomery County and held at Veterans Plaza, included Maryland Sen.-Elect. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett.
“We are a county that welcomes all people and treats people with dignity and respect,” Leggett declared, according to The Washington Post.
Attended by area public officials and members of the clergy as well as by members of the Jewish community, the “Stand Up for the Montgomery Way Rally” was among several events in recent days called in response to a rash of hate crimes and by fear caused by President-elect Donald Trump’s threats against minorities — threats that many Jews take to heart.
Jews are worried, if not for their individual safety, then “about a rip in the social fabric of America,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, who spoke at the rally that aimed to calm post-election anxieties in the diverse county.
Halber said that Jews are “intellectually trained to understand that when anybody gets scapegoated, the Jewish community is often not far behind, and it is in our interests to defend that group.”
He said that one purpose of the rally was to reassure everyone that “the community and legislative leadership are standing with them.”
Speakers at the event, sponsored by Montgomery County and held at Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring, included Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett.
“We are a county that welcomes all people and treats people with dignity and respect,” Leggett said, according to The Washington Post.
Rabbi Gary Pokras of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville brought a group of congregants to the rally, who had only heard about the event two days before. Pokras stood on the stage with other congregational leaders.
He recalled one particularly powerful moment when Leggett was speaking to the crowd.
“It was completely unrehearsed,” Pokras said. “[Leggett] was completely speaking from his heart. I couldn’t have been more proud to be up there with him.”
Earlier on Sunday, a group of Temple Beth Ami congregants visited the Episcopal Church of Our Savior in Silver Spring to pray with members there, Pokras said. The church had been vandalized a week earlier.
Display of diversity
The Silver Spring rally was followed in Washington by the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington’s annual interfaith concert. Some 500 people gathered at the Metropolitan AME Church, according to Rabbi Gerry Serotta, the interfaith conference’s executive director.
“It was a beautiful representation of the diversity in Washington,” Serotta said. “Black and white and all other shades holding hands around the congregation.”
The concert also included an award presented to entrepreneur and philanthropist Frank F. Islam by Rep.-elect Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). Islam acknowledged the “harsh and divisive language in the campaign” and the election results.
“No doubt many of us here did not get the outcome we may have wanted, but we accept the result,” he told the audience. “We love our country; we will serve it; defend it; and we will continue to fight for the soul of our nation. Americans of all faiths and background need to come together and redouble our efforts to reject hate and bigotry in all forms.”
During his presidential campaign, Trump called for an end to Muslim immigration to the United States. He backed away from that position, but is considering a registry of Muslims in this country.
Echoing several other Jewish organizational leaders, Serotta earlier had told a Muslim audience that if such a Muslim registry were set up, he would stand in line and declare that he was a Muslim.
The same spirit pervaded the Masjid Muhammad mosque in Washington, where some 20 Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy gathered in support on Nov. 18.
“I am here as a Jew, as a rabbi, as a leader of faith in my community,” said Rabbi Esther Lederman, director for communities of practice at the Union for Reform Judaism.
“We are here because an assault on Muslim Americans because of their faith is an assault on Americans of all faiths and no faith,” she said. “We are here because religious discrimination is incompatible with our great nation, and we will stand with our Muslim friends and neighbors when they are attacked in word or deed.”
She told reporters that she will oppose “any policies that single out people simply because of their faith.”
“We are here to hold President-elect Donald Trump to the words of his acceptance speech, when he pledged that he will be president for all Americans, and we urge him to respect and protect the religious freedom of every person in this nation, citizen or not,” she said.
Young people on the move
If area adults were standing or sitting to make their opinions known, young people were on the move.
Sam Strongin, 17, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, was among several hundred students who walked out of class on Nov. 14 to protest Trump’s election.
They marched onto the football field before proceeding to Westfield Wheaton mall in Wheaton and eventually to downtown Silver Spring.
Strongin said at first he did not think the protest would make a difference, as it was taking place only on school grounds. But when students took to the streets, he decided to join in.
“I was really proud of my classmates for stepping up and taking action,” he said, adding that since the election, the atmosphere at school has been depressed and he has seen students crying in the hallways. “I go to school where lots of kids are going to be affected by this, and I think kids are genuinely scared of what Donald Trump could bring to America.”
For sophomore Ariana Brenig, 15, walking out of class was an act of conscience.
“I feel really strongly about defending people’s human rights and equality, so it wasn’t really a questions of whether I was going to participate. It was when I was going to participate,” she said.
“I climbed up this 10-foot fence to get out of the stadium and bring our protest to the street, and then we walked like 10 miles,” she said. “We ended up picking up kids from different schools, so it was pretty amazing that everyone came together for one cause.”
While too young to vote, Brenig said that by protesting and writing letters to politicians she has a say in the political process. “I feel like now everyone’s realized that we’re serious and that we are serious about wanting change. We’re serious about defending ourselves and others who need our help.”