Hundreds of people gathered in the gymnasium of a Catholic college in Rutherford Saturday night, to show support for Rabbi Nosson Schuman of Congregation Beth El who received a firebomb in his bedroom last week.
Schuman suffered mild burns while extinguishing the fire. But on Saturday night he held and strummed a guitar as he sat with his family and area clergy in an arc of folding chairs facing the packed bleachers.
The evening’s program mixed the songs of Shlomo Carlebach and Christian hymns with heart-felt remarks from Christian and Muslim clergy, politicians, and residents of Rutherford who were shocked and personally insulted that hate had come to town.
The attack on Beth El, where Schulman lives with his wife, five children, and parents in the upper stories of the old Queen Ann building, was the fourth in a series of escalating attacks on synagogues, which began in December with spray painted swastikas and slogans on synagogues in Maywood and Hackensack.
The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the attack in Rutherford as attemped homicide. Rutherford and county police were patrolling outside the synagogue Saturday night. Two blocks away, the parking lot at the Felician College gymnasium where the interfaith gathering was held was packed with law enforcement vehicles.
Only a small number of those within the gymnasium were wearing yarmulkes. Several nuns in habits sat in the first row of the bleachers, member of the Franciscan order that sponsors the college.
Rutherford resident Joe Egan identified himself as “a lifer in this town.” He recalled playing basketball in the synagogue as a chld. “We came together as kids of different faiths to just live and be ourselves,” he said, surprised and offended that the community’s synagogue could be attacked.
Pastor Gregory Jackson of the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Hackensack quoted Martin Luther King as saying, “The only thing that will allow the voices of evil to win is for the voices of goodness to do nothing.”
Insisted Jackson: “We will not allow evil to win in our communities.”
Rabbi Noam Marans, director of interreligious and intergroup relations at the American Jewish Committee, told the gathering that “As difficult as this moment is, it’s also a moment of great pride. I’m proud of the fact that the interfaith community comes together as it always does,”
Rev. Gregory Rupright, pastor of the Rutherford Congregational Church, said that “Tonight all these faiths and all these people show that we are dedicated to justice.” He led the group in singing “Shalom Haverim.”
Senator Bob Menendez said that while he is “saddened by the sting of antisemitism, I’m going to leave tonight uplifted and with the belief that the children of light will overcome the children of darkness.”
Noting that he had fought for hate crime legislation when he served in the statehouse in Trenton, he said, “I believe no law can be as what we see tonight, a community coming together and saying, we will not stand for these types of action.”
Addressing the rabbi, he said, “I am inspired by the way you’re reacting to it.”
In final remarks, Shuman said, “maybe this was the wakeup call we needed to work for unity.”
He led the group in a final song, whose words are attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Handouts Schuman had prepared and distributed included the Hebrew lyrics and a translation:
“And the main thing to recall / is to have no fear at all!”