WESTFIELD, NJ – More than 100 people from Westfield and surrounding areas gathered for a candlelight vigil in support of the Muslim community Tuesday night, following Friday’s attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which killed 50 people.
The vigil, held at the MLK monument on the South Avenue Circle, was planned by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Westfield.
“We want our Muslim neighbors here in Westfield and around the world to know that we stand with them, support them, and want them to feel safe here,” said Elizabeth Wolf, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Westfield. “We try to approach the world’s events as Dr. King would if he were still with us. These types of events are abhorrent to all of us as we look for a more just and equal society.”
Clergy and politicians from the area spoke at the vigil, which opened with brief comments and prayer from Reverend William E. Lawson of St. Luke’s AME Zion Church in Westfield.
Imam Khalil Abdul-Aziz, from Masjidullah Plainfield, offered a blessing of peace, along with commentary on Friday’s events.
“It is inconceivable that a human being would wantonly take the life of another human being,” Abdul-Aziz said. “Humanity is one. We should pray for one another, our country and the families who are now suffering.”
Rabbi Douglas Sagal, of Temple Emanu-El, of Westfield, noted that last week’s attack in New Zealand follows the recent shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
“I believe bigotry, hatred, prejudice and ignorance will lose,” Sagal said. “All we can do is keep the faith.”
U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski pledged action.
“My job is to find a way to act,” said Malinowski. “When I go back to Washington next week, I will work to devote resources to fight white supremacist terrorism.”
Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle spoke against hatred.
“Our world has no place for racism and discrimination of any kind, whether it be against Muslims, Jews, or any minority group,” Brindle said. “And it is our responsibility as citizens of a free society to speak out against hatred in all forms. Our Muslim brothers and sisters who live here in Westfield and throughout the world deserve our complete and unequivocal support.”
Members of the Dr. Martin Luther King Association stood in front of the memorial and rang a bell 50 times to signify each of the victims of Friday’s massacre. The bell toll was followed by the singing of “Lean On Me,” and the gathering concluded with a prayer from Reverend William Williams from the First United Methodist Church Westfield.
“My prayer is that we all find a way to give,” Williams said. “Please go back to your homes, your schools, your places of worship, and be a witness to what happened here today. Give something to make a difference.”
Westfield residents in attendance were moved by the gathering.
“We’ve had the opportunity to get to know our Muslim neighbors,” said Jenny Tananbaum, of Westfield, who along with fellow Westfield resident Alissa Berger, runs the weekly Westfield Fun Club at Temple Emanu-El for refugees, most of whom are Muslim.
“After the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, we received messages from so many of our Fun Club families, lending their support. When we needed them, they were there for us, and now we are there for them. Being here tonight is just another display of our support. We are all just people, and together we are stronger.”