By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Borough Hall Interfaith Rally’s Attendance Outnumbers Protesters
Slogan for Twin Events: ‘Say Yes to Refugees, No to Hatred’
Brooklyn’s celebrations of Hanukkah and Christmas have their own flavor.
Clergy from all three Abrahamic faiths, plus representatives of other traditions, joined forces at Borough Hall for two events supporting refugees and reminding the crowd that America is a nation of immigrants. Both popular and well-attended events, held at Borough Hall within 48 hours of each other, expressed solidarity with immigrants and refugees.
The first event, held Saturday night, was an interfaith rally to support immigrants and refugees, particularly those fleeing Syria and other war-torn areas of the Middle East. The rally, which took place on the steps of Borough Hall, drew more than 200 people, according to organizers.
A large number of Jewish clergy leaders and congregations were present in support of their Muslim brethren. Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of our Lives, a progressive Jewish congregation in Brooklyn, and the Borough President’s Office sponsored the interfaith Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony on the seventh night of this festival. Faith leaders and elected officials expressed their support for the Syrian refugees and opposition to the anti-Muslim violence and expression that they said they believe too many Americans are promulgating.
(Borough President Eric Adams, who had been traveling in the Middle East, Turkey and Syria over the weekend, was not at the rally, but returned to Brooklyn in time for a Dec. 14 tree lighting and spoke about his experiences then.)
Indeed, some citizens staged a smaller protest to the interfaith rally, marching behind the 200 Borough Hall attendees. The protesters carried an American flag and signs reading “No to Syria” and “Say No to Syrians,” and yelled their slogans. But the interfaith rally had the microphone and the larger attendance.
Drawing the microphones closer, Rabbi Ellen Lippmann responded to the protest by acknowledging the protesters’ opposing views. Then, in an act of solidarity, she also invited the other faith leaders to stand closer together with her at the podium.
The menorah at the Dec. 12 rally was an artistic creation of Kolot Chayeinu’s Eddy Ehrlich, who built it from various pieces of recycled material. Because the rally began after the close of the Sabbath, he used the traditional braided candles used for the Havdalah service that concludes Sabbath.
Clergy members participating in the rally included Pastor Gilford Monrose of the office of Borough President Adams, Rabbi Carie Carter (Park Slope Jewish Center), Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman (Union Temple), Rabbi Heidi Hoover (Temple Beth Emeth v’Ohr), Rabbi Lippmann (Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of our Lives), Rabbi Rachel Timoner (Congregation Beth Elohim), Rabbi Simkha Weintraub, Rabbi Samuel Weintraub (Kane Street Synagogue), Rev. Ernest Jones (Greenwood Baptist Church), Rabbi Seth Wax (Congregation Mount Sinai) and the Rev. David Rommereim (Good Shepherd Lutheran Church/Bay Ridge).
Several Muslim leaders participated, including Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York and Debbie Almontaser of the Muslim Community Network. Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and T’ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights also participated. Local elected officials present included City Councilmembers Brad Lander and Laurie Cumbo and state Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon. Shaykh Samer Alraey from Baruch College offered an opening prayer, identifying himself as a Syrian refugee.
Rabbi Rachel Grant-Meyer, of HIAS, gave a talk titled “Welcome the Stranger, Protect the Refugee.” HIAS (founded in 1881 and known until 2012 as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) is an advocacy group guided by Jewish values and tradition that protects and resettles refugees in the U.S. Rabbi Grant-Meyer reminded the crowd, “Judaism’s most central text — the Torah — is crystal clear when it comes to how it says we are to treat the stranger. The Torah doesn’t say that we are to shun the stranger, and it doesn’t even say that we are to tolerate the stranger. What the Torah says is that we are to love the stranger. ‘Love the other as you would love yourself. Not love the other if it’s convenient for you, not love the other at arm’s length.’ Love the other as you would want for yourself,” she said.
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The Dec. 14 Borough Hall Christmas tree lighting carried the same slogan of “Say Yes to Refugees, No to Hatred.”
Rabbi Lippmann of Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives reiterated the message, “Shed light on the darkness. We are gathered this way because we’re hearing an awful lot of messages that tell us to say yes to hate. It was time to stand up and gather as many voices and speak as loudly and often as we need to, to counter that message. Quoting the Emma Lazarus verse on the base of the Statue of Liberty that begins, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.’ Why should anyone feel less welcome now?” she asked.
Likewise, Borough President Adams reminded the gathering that history shows two-thirds of 21st-century Americans did not want the Jews to come — the Jewish brothers and sisters who were fleeing Nazi Germany at the time.
“We landed last night from Syria — with a renewed spirit of unity. When you look at the faces of their children who love America, and they receive cards and greetings from schoolchildren here in Park Slope, Brooklyn, when you saw that the vision of hope was in their faces. We cannot allow them to be radicalized. We must Americanize them and have them embrace democracy as a way of life,” Adams said. “What makes them great as a country is the hyphen. The hyphen is what makes them special: Irish-hyphen-American. Jewish-American. African-American … Pakistani-American. What is unique [in] America that you can’t find anywhere else in the world is that you can embrace that hyphen. We cannot allow anyone to take that hyphen away from us.”
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Brooklyn’s Mexican-American Catholics Celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast
Processions Later Wind Through Diocese of Brooklyn & Queens
Colorful plume costumes and dancing graced last Saturday’s Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Prospect Heights. The Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, located in a community that serves a large Mexican-American population in Brooklyn, hosted the concelebrated Mass on the feast day, Dec. 12.
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe honors the story of the 16th century humble peasant Juan Diego, to whom the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared several times. Calling him her “little son” (even though he was a man in his 50s), the vision of Mary implored him to visit the local bishop to start a church in the village. Even at his trepidation at getting a bishop to grant his request, Juan Diego witnesses miracles, including the healing of his own uncle from an illness thought to be fatal. And he carries the symbols of these miracles to his bishop.
“The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of Mexico and the Americas, commemorates the apparition of the blessed Virgin Mary as an indigenous woman to a poor peasant in Mexico City,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the main celebrant of the liturgy. “Her apparition came at a time when Mexican natives were being persecuted by the conquistadors. Unfortunately, we still witness persecution in our times, with many still facing racial division. By celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe, we bring the light of Christ into our communities and share the faith that unites us all.”
Brooklyn Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros, a native of Cuba who has led and served the diocese’s Hispanic Apostolate, was the homilist. During the Spanish-language Mass, Bishop Cisneros emphasized the mercy of God and of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, saying that she is the mother of all. He spoke also of participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as a way of receiving mercy.
The Rev. Jorge Ortiz-Garay also offered greetings at the start of the Mass. Brooklyn’s only Mexican-born priest, Ortiz is director of the Mexican Apostolate for the Diocese of Brooklyn. He also serves as parish administrator/priest at St. Brigid Church in Bushwick.
The Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph (which seats 1,500) was at standing-room capacity with more than 2,000 attendees, representing 36 parishes around the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens.
This year’s diocesan pilgrimage “Light of Christ” represents the third time that Catholics from Brooklyn and Queens have gathered for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Dancers from the Cetiliztli Nauhcampa Quetzalcoátl in Ixachitlán (Group of the Four Directions from the East of the Continent) danced inside the cathedral sanctuary as a prelude. The dancing group Tlatlaihua also performed, both inside the sanctuary and on the Pacific Street plaza immediately in front of the cathedral.
Following the liturgy, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio lit the torches of leaders of the procession routes. Singing, praying and spreading messages of hope, the pilgrims carried the torches back to their parishes in a route stretching to Williamsburg, Sunset Park and Coney Island, and eastbound out to Jamaica in Queens.
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Catholic Charities Groundbreaking Event Honors Turner Construction’s Charles F. Murphy
Turner Construction Company announced last week that Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens broke ground on an early childhood development center named for Charles F. Murphy, senior vice president and general manager of Turner’s office in New York.
A Long Island native, Murphy has been a dedicated supporter and champion of Catholic Charities for many years, and serves as member of its board of trustees.
The three-story, 17,000-square-foot facility replaces the Madeleine Jones Head Start Center, which was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy. The Charles F. Murphy Center emphasizes building resiliency with reinforcements against future flooding. The Murphy Center serves as an important symbol of the neighborhood’s resilience and rebirth.
With a range of spaces including classrooms, a kitchen and outdoor play space on the first- and second-floor roofs, the Charles F. Murphy center will offer early childhood development services to low-income households that have children between 3 and 5 years old. The Center will enable parents in the community to build greater financial independence with the knowledge that their kids are in good hands.
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Christmas Services and Programs
This year’s 5 p.m. Candlelight Christmas Eve program at First Unitarian Church will feature new arrangements of carols and spirituals as well as a touch of contemporary gospel.
Excerpts from larger works will include Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio,” Vaughan-Williams’ “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” and Praetorius’ “Mussae Sioniae.” Several stand-alone arrangements of Christmas favorites will feature more contemporary composers and arrangers, including Burt, Dawson, Gjeilo and First U’s music director Adam Podd.
Podd will conduct the First Unitarian Choir and featured vocalists Wayne Arthur Paul (baritone), Brandon Selvin-Hornsby (tenor), Liz Bachman Thompson (mezzo), Melissa Paul-Perez (mezzo), and Candice Helfand-Rogers (soprano). Brass quartet and the church’s historic Mann & Trupiano pipe organ will also be featured.
Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons, First Unitarian’s senior minister, will offer a Christmas homily with lessons and readings of the season.
“We are eagerly getting ready for the holiday season,” said Levy-Lyons. “Every year we look forward to being part of the Christmas Eve tradition of so many local families”
An additional family service featuring familiar carols and stories of the season is planned for 4 p.m. in the chapel adjacent to the main sanctuary building. Meagan Henry, First Unitarian’s director of education ministries, said, “Last year, we decided to offer a more casual service especially for families with children. It was successful beyond our wildest dreams, so we knew we had to make it a tradition. We are planning a worship that will celebrate the Christmas season in a way that is approachable for children of all ages.”
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Brooklyn Diocese Will Light Christmas Tree, Bless First
Prospect Park Nativity Scene in More Than a Decade
As this column went to press, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn announced a Christmas tree lighting and Nativity scene blessing at Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Park.
The Nativity scene is the first in more than a decade to be erected in Prospect Park, according to the Prospect Park Alliance. Its placement in the park was made possible thanks to DeSales Media Group, the communications and technology arm of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“The importance of the crèche is to remind us that God enters into the meanness of our human condition, and transforms our humble and at times desperate life to manifest His glory,” said Monsignor Kieran Harrington, chairman of DeSales Media Group and vicar for communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn.
The Most Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio, bishop of Brooklyn, will bless the crèche right by the triumphal arch at the main entrance of the park.
“As we gather to bless this Nativity scene, we are reminded to keep Christ in Christmas as we prepare for the birth of Jesus Christ into the history of our world. It is an opportunity to bring hope and peace to our tolerant city, as we teach the new generations love and compassion through diverse traditions,” said Bishop DiMarzio.
Fr. Michael Perry, pastor of Our Lady of Refuge Church in Flatbush, is credited with organization of this effort.
“In a world in which even the symbols of Christmas are slightly fading away I thought it would be important to restore the Christmas tree to Grand Army Plaza. We took it a step further, and now we have the tree and the manger celebrating the birth of Christ,” he said.
The event will include caroling, readings and interfaith prayers for peace by different religious leaders.
The Diocese of Brooklyn, the eighth-largest diocese in United States and the only entirely urban diocese in the nation, serves the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. The combined population of the boroughs stands at 4.8 million residents, of which more than 1.5 million identify themselves as Catholics.