Gathering urged to oppose persecution of Baha’is

Gathering urged to oppose persecution of Baha’is

HASBROUCK HEIGHTS – Overshadowing the amity and diversity of members of eight faith-communities attending the ‘0th annual Interfaith Brotherhood-Sisterhood Committee brunch at the Hilton Hotel on Sunday was a message from the guest speaker that Iran’s recent "program of aggressive surveillance of its Baha’i community … places them in imminent [danger]."

From left at Sunday’s Interfaith Brotherhood-Sisterhood Committee brunch are Rabbi Neal Borovitz, the Rev. Gregory Jackson, and Sarvjit Singh. Photo by Ken Hilfman

Dr. William L.H. Roberts, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, urged the interfaith organization to apply national legislative pressure to oppose the Iran’s official policy of suppressing the Baha’i community, the largest religious minority in that country. "It is a policy of slow, constant, strangulation, discrimination, and persecution," he said.

Since 1979, he said, "tens of thousands have lost their homes, jobs, and pensions. They have also been denied access to higher education and their religion. Many Baha’i holy places have been destroyed. Here is an opportunity for you to uphold the principle of ‘Freedom to Believe.’ This was the major principle of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in 1948."

Roberts added, "These actions are unacceptable in a world destined for much greater things, a world that is destined to be like this room of people living in unity."

Rabbi Neal Borovitz of Temple Sholom in River Edge called for support for the starving population of Darfur and opposition to genocide in the Sudan. People at the brunch signed postcards to be used to publicize the Save Darfur: Rally to Stop Genocide, April 30 in Washington. In delivering the motzi, Borovitz spoke of "the meal we are about to eat" and those who must go hungry.

Habbib Hosseiny, the master of ceremonies, welcomed the audience "to this divine garden where you can see the flowers of different colors so harmoniously mingling together. Imagine for one moment that all the messengers of God on earth, including Buddha, Brahma, Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, the Bab, and Baha’ullah were present here in person. We all believe that they are here in spirit."

The Rev. Donald Sheehan, representing the Catholic community and a ‘0-year member of the interfaith committee, was honored for his service to the group. "Our goal, over the years, was to build understanding, and that comes from knowledge," he said. "We started with Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, and now we have eight different religions. We are all friends, and attend each other’s houses of worship." A particularly appreciated gift to him, he said, was from Rabbi Joshua Finkelstein, a member of the committee: "an olive-wood cross, from the Holy Land."

The Interfaith Youth Choir, composed of children of eight faiths and coordinated and directed by Cantor Ronit Josephson of Temple Sholom, sang for the gathering.

Pat Kinney of the Baha’i community and a 15-year member of the interfaith committee, said, "The information Dr. Roberts presented was important, and it just became available to us on March ‘0 by a United Nations official. The day, itself, is a holy day in the Baha’i faith. The speech was strong and serious. It was different from speakers of previous years in that we are now asked to do something specific. It was a call to action, to do something more."

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