WEST ORANGE, NJ – More than 150 people skipped the beach on Labor Day morning to attend a “Unity in Our Community” rally at West Orange Town Hall.

A broad cross section of the religious community and concerned residents participated in the rally, which focused on a message of hope and unity in response to the tragic and hate-filled events that took place at Charlottesville last month.

According to Mike Taylor, who organized this event along with Simone Shenassa, the rally was a grassroots effort to celebrate the diversity of the community and make a public statement of the residents’ unity against bigotry.

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“We are sending out a message today that says even though we may have different political views, we can live together in peace and mutual respect as neighbors,” said Taylor, who served as the event emcee.

Rabbi Robert Tobin, of Congregation Bnai Shalom in West Orange, told the crowd that as imperfect as the founders of the United States might have been, they built a nation that welcomed all people to its shores.

“Those who stand against equality and dignity for all people are wrong,” said Tobin.

The rabbi urged attendees not to give the haters what they seek when they oppose them. He said the hate groups would like to provoke violence so they can make people look shrill, radical and not peaceful, which is why the rabbi said people of goodwill should always oppose them in non-violent ways.

Howard Kastner, a board member of Bnai Shalom, blew the shofar (a ram’s horn used during the Jewish High Holidays) as a “wake-up call” that action must be taken to preserve justice in our nation.

Looking out at the diverse crowd that included Christians, Muslims and Jews, Rev. Alphonso Platt, of the Nia Fellowship Church in West Orange, said, “I am seeing God at his best today when I look out at the rainbow of people in West Orange.”

“Hurricane Harvey has shown us that we are all in the same boat together,” said Platt. “When we can row the boat together in unity, we can defeat anything our enemy throws our way.”

The reverend pointed out that although this area has not seen the troubling events that have taken place in Charlottesville and Ferguson, MO, it could still happen here if “we fall asleep in the process.”

“There has been a storm of hate and violence in our country caused by fear,” said Platt, who added that the only antidote is for people to show love for each other. “Love is always supportive. Love never fails. We have to have love in our hearts.”

Local recording artist and songwriter, Carl Brister, urged people to attend the next unity event this Saturday night. He is presenting the “Love & Unity Festival” on Sept. 9 at the Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center.

This free concert will include music that appeals to all cultures, including rock, soul, jazz, gospel, reggae, Latin, blues, hip-hop and R&B.

“I want my kids to grow up in a safe, loving environment,” said Brister. “I believe that is what we have here in West Orange, and I want to preserve it.”

Pictured above:

Rev. Alphonso Platt, of the Nia Fellowship Church, far left, joins the large contingent of Congregation Bnai Shalom participants at the rally.

Rabbi Robert Tobin, of Congregation Bnai Shalom, speaks to the crowd.  

Carl Brister urges people to attend the Love & Unity Festival at OSPAC this Saturday.

Howard Kastner blows the shofar as a wake-up call that we must all stand together for justice.