EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - About 150 East Brunswick residents and friends joined hearts together on Monday night to pledge their commitment to unity, love and kindness in the second Annual Unity Walk. The event was sponsored by by the East Brunswick Human Relations Council as part of the group's outreach on behalf of growing positivity and a sense of belonging to all members of the township community. Speakers gave guidance and insight, but the highlight of the event was the candle-lit walk around the Municipal Pond by the whole group, symbolizing a coming -together in a richly diverse suburban township, the literal heart of New Jersey.
Matthew Korten, Secretary of the EBHRC, began the event by celebrating the "amazing diversity" of East Brunswick and celebrated the "harmonious relations" among groups in the township," while asserting the the Council's commitment to address "bias, discrimination, and hate."EBHRC's Erum Shakir sent condolences and prayers to "our Jewish brothers and sisters and those in law enforcement" who experienced violence and death in when a gunman attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA this week.
The event began with a flag salute presented by East Brunswick's Boy Scout troops, with Cole Philipczak leading the throng in a recitation of The Pledge of Allegiance. Kathy Spadafino led the Community Chorus and those in attendance in The Star-Spangled Banner.
After Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin celebrated the 29 religious groups in New Jersey, she advised the crowd not to take Anti-Semitism lightly. She reminded these assembled that New Jersey has "the strongest gun laws and the least amount of gun violence" in the nation. Speaking of the New Jersey legislature, "We have passed gun bill after gun bill after gun bill," Pinkin said. "We don't want to live in the fear we face right now."
"As East Brunswick residents, we are truly blessed," said Mayor Brad Cohen, who went on to tell the tale of the upstander and "Righteous Gentile" Master Sargeant Roddie Edmonds, who saved the Jewish members of his corps who were captured by the Nazis by proclaiming, "We are all Jews." Cohen urged those assembled to share in "humanity, compassion, dignity" and to be aware of the origins of the Holocaust. Cohen ended by quoting the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King who famously said, "We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
Cohen was followed by members of the East Brunswick Clergy Council who came to support the event. Reverend Jill Collict of Nativity Evangelical Lutheran Church spoke next, asserting that, "We are here in love." Referring to the Pittsburgh shootings, she said, "Our shared pain points to love's presence in our midst....The image of love should be recognized, honored, and protected." She expressed hope for our "Beautiful, broken America to which we have just pledged our allegiance."
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer of East Brunswick's Temple B'Nai Shalom reminded the group that "The music of prayer was drowned out" by gunfire at the Tree of Live Synagogue. Eisenkramer expressed gratitude of the healing by doctors and the coverage and assistance by first responders at the horrible spectacle. He led the group in a moment of silence and prayer. He said, "No one should ever have to worship in fear." He noted that the Tree of Life is literally located in "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," three blocks from the home of television's ultimate good neighbor. He then quoted Rogers by quoting Rogers' three rules to ultimate success: "Be kind. Be kind. Be kind." He then enjoined the audience to follow three rules: "1. Don't spread stereotypes. 2. Be an upstander. 3. We must get to know each other better."
The clergy united in their request that locals attend the 42nd Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service in East Brunswick to be held this year on November 20 at the Church of Latter-Day Saints on Dunham's Corner Road.
Reverend Karen G. Johnston of the Unitarian Society of East Brunswick told people in the group assembled to "Stop being nice." she stressed the difference between unity and conformity, acknowledging the "kind of unity that is resilient and proactive." She wanted people to "Start being kind. Kindness is deep and wide. Kindness stands up instead oof standing by." She invited residents and their friends to attend at meeting at the Unitarian Society on January 21 to learn how to intervene when something bad is happening and to stand up for oneself and others.
East Brunswick Board of Education Representative to the the EBHRC Susanne Chiu said that she was "heartbroken" about the events of the past week. She wanted those in attendance to not allow the messages of hate to drown out the voices of those who want respect and understanding."
Following the speeches, the group joined together in a recitation of the Unity Pledge, led by Dovey Sawhney-Gill. All present then walked behind the American flag in a procession around the Municipal Pond.