MAHOPAC – Hate and intolerance have reached epidemic proportions across the United States.
Racist harassment incidents were reported last week at Syracuse University. A Jewish man en route to an early morning synagogue to pray was viciously set upon and stabbed repeatedly in nearby Monsey.
Police officers throughout the region have been attacked by hoodlums for no apparent reason other than the fact they were cops.
State Senator Peter Harckham sponsored a forum Thursday evening at the Mahopac Library dubbed “Hate in the Age of Multi-Culturalism” where for two hours a panel from all backgrounds and all walks of life discussed the crisis facing today’s society.
Amy-Simone Erard of the Hudson Valley Islamic Community Center joined Rabbi Sarah Freidson of Temple Beth Shalom in Mahopac; attorney James Hyer of Mahopac; Putnam County Sheriff Robert Langley, Jr., Brandon Lillard, CCSI team coordinator at CoveCare Center in Carmel and Norma Pereira, co-founder of the Putnam Community Connection ESL Program.
Harckham told those in attendance that “not only do we want to learn from our panelists but derive action steps to move forward as individuals as well as a community to stem the tide of racial strife that is sadly skyrocketing.”
Erard called hate a “very strong word that often demonstrates its ugliness in a variety of forms be it job discrimination, name calling or violence. Hate stems from a lack of understanding and a lack of knowledge. I have been attacked because I wear a head scarf. My 11-year-old fourth grade son often asks, ‘Why do they hate us?’”
Hyer, a member of the LGBTQ community, told the audience that “hate takes many forms. Marriage equality is not considered as the law of the land. Our President demonizes lesbians, gays and transgenders. Members of Congress are saying it’s OK to attack us. The LGBT community deserves its rights too.”
Lillard talked about hate among children charging that “PTSD was rampant among our kids because they have nowhere to turn. Many of today’s youth have a lack of understanding and tolerance for others different from them.”
Rabbi Freidson expressed the view that anti-Semitism across the U.S. has increased since last year’s attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Sheriff Langley brought the matter close to home when charging “racist slurs and hate groups are sadly found right here in Putnam County. We are now experiencing a different type of hate – hate for law enforcement which is ridiculous since we are here to help whenever help is needed.”
Lillard called on all residents to “reflect on your values,” while Pereira suggested that “schools become the first place where fundamental values are discussed. Adults have a great responsibility on how messages are conveyed to their children.”
Hyer went onto say that “intolerance arises out of fear and a lack of understanding. If you befriend a Muslim, it will be harder to hate him.”
Erard charged that the “U.S. has institutionalized hate led by our President.”
Rabbi Freidson said despite the doom and gloom, “I don’t feel hopeless because we are all humans since what we have in common is so much greater.”
Sheriff Langley advised the gathering “education starts at home. Hatred is taught. We must all come together as a community and take politics out of the equation because in reality we all want peace,” to which Pereira added, “Cultures must be enjoyed and exchanged freely,” adding “I am proud of my roots.”
Langley called on elected officials to “set the example. Sadly, this is not the case today. Look how our officials are behaving especially on national television. We must educate our leaders to set the example for others.”
Social media took a hit at the gathering when Lillard charged, “The internet has empowered people to say whatever they want. Institutional racism has become the bloodline for our country. People must understand that hate divides people.”
Rabbi Freidson’s message: “When we hear hateful language or bias we must say, ‘That’s unacceptable!’”