Faith in Action

How Hilton Head came together to unite against hate and horrific violence

Brad Bloom
Brad Bloom HiltonHead

I believe clergy must be involved in the community beyond interfaith picnics or community fairs.

The community needs clergy united in the event of a local crisis or a national one. Doesn’t the community want to see us together representing the values we all cherish?

Clergy know that the call for communal unity can sometimes create tension. Some lay leaders say clergy are crossing the line of politics and religion. On Oct. 28, we presented a community-wide program calling for solidarity and support in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. We had no idea if anyone outside the Congregation Beth Yam would attend. To my surprise, almost five hundred people came that day.

With readings, songs and reflections, I felt a level of sanctity that I had never experienced on Hilton Head. I say this because at the end of the program, I called clergy to join on me on the platform. There were about 18 ministers from all over the community who showed up that day.

What were the lessons for the Hilton Head? We in the Jewish community knew we were not alone that day. We felt the love and the concern as well as the utter outrage at these killings. Even with our determination to stand up against fear, we all acknowledged that day the reality that anti-Semitism exists everywhere.

We welcomed clergy from the denominations of Christianity and even an imam who is the Muslim religious leader at the mosque in Savannah.

The second lesson we learned that day was that the religious community must show up to support any church or house of worship locally or nationally who has experienced a terrorist act. The reason for that comes from the Torah itself. “You shall not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.”

This is the moral imperative for why clergy and the laity need to rally alongside each other when there is an attack against one of us.

Sometimes the line between politics and religion gets blurred but there are some moral issues that demand we take a stand.

The newly formed Lowcountry Coalition Against Hate sponsored a recent mayoral forum on civil engagement in the public square.

It was also a beautiful moment. At the end of the program, seven clergy stood up together and addressed the overcrowded room of almost 200, reminding the audience that all faiths must be united against people and ideologies that propagate bigotry and foment hateful rhetoric.

Was this a mixing of religion and politics?

Yes, it most certainly was but not one of the religious leaders who attended that day, I believe, regretted participating in the forum. They all wanted to send a message to Hilton Head to reject hate.

I believe the results of the elections proved that the values our clergy stood for were embraced by the voters of Hilton Head. Voters rejected hate and rose to the occasion. My hope is that whoever becomes mayor of Hilton Head will not ignore the importance of preserving an atmosphere in our community which affirms the great diversity of Hilton Head, including the religious community.

Doesn’t the community need its religious and civic leaders to speak out on these kinds of issues — not just at election time or when a terrible act of violence afflicts our houses of worship?

The poet John Donne wrote:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.… Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Those famous words remind us today and forever that we cannot live in isolation from each other and that an attack on one is an attack on all of us.

Doesn’t this lesson still apply to us and to the future of the religious community in America?