The Rev. David H Johnson of Cortland’s United Presbyterian Church shared words of solidarity — and being neighborly — from a well known and respected Presbyterian: Fred Rogers.
“Fred (Rogers) says, ‘it’s very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It’s easy to to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with different views come together and finally respect each other,’” Johnson said.
Johnson was one of many local religious members who spoke at a community gathering at Temple Brith Sholom in Cortland Tuesday in response to the vandalism of Cortland’s Unitarian Universalist church in October. A swastika was spray painted on the side of the church. The graffiti has since been covered.
Co-sponsored by the temple and the United Presbyterian Church, members of various faiths in Cortland county spoke and shared religious songs and prayers in the name of solidarity.
A Torah that survived the Holocaust was also on display.
“We’re not here to condemn. We are here to celebrate community and to show our support,” said Michael Weinstein, a service leader at Temple Brith Sholom.
The event occurred just a week after racist graffiti was spray painted at Syracuse University.
The idea for the community gathering came a few weeks after the vandalism, said the Rev. Darcey Laine of the Unitarian Universalist Church. She was contacted by a member of Temple Brith Sholom asking if she would like to represent the church and participate in a solidarity gathering.
Bruce Fein, president of the temple, said a response to the vandalism was required.
“We know from history we can’t stand by idly and do nothing when these things happen. It demands a reaction. We’re very happy to get together with the interfaith community and have everyone come out and say, ‘We don’t want to tolerate intolerance,’” Fein said.
The response from the Unitarian Universalist Church to Tuesday’s event was one of thanks.
“It was amazing. I’m new to the (Unitarian) Universalist Church — this is only my second year as minister to the church in Cortland — and so I haven’t seen this side of Cortland before of people coming together. It’s really beautiful,” Laine said.
She said that the event wasn’t about the vandalism, but to show Cortland could stand up to hate.
“I think it shows we’re capable of responding, and we have the reflex to respond. It gives me a confidence that if something happens in the future, we will have that capacity to respond,” she said.