Schenectady clergy members are uniting to fight bigotry and spark dialogue about social issues through a series of community events starting next week.
A coalition of faith leaders, called the Schenectady Clergy Against Hate, have been meeting since November and have grown concerned about the levels of hatred in the community in recent months. As a result, the group is hosting a series of events meant to encourage awareness and discourse of social issues.
“Many of us were feeling unsettled as the election rhetoric came about toward the early fall,” said Rabbi Matt Cutler, of the Congregation Gates of Heaven synagogue. “We’ve also been experiencing a polarizing nature of hatred, discrimination and general intonation that has torn at us rather than brought us together.”
Planned events include a day volunteering at the Northeast Regional Food Bank, a community forum on bigotry and discrimination and an opportunity to watch the Jan. 20 inauguration proceedings in a peaceful group setting.
Cutler, who is leading the coalition’s efforts, said the clergy members involved have been meeting since November. While many of the issues of racism and hate aren’t new, he said, they came front and center following a divisive election season.
“Following the election and the wounds that were created, many of the clergy have gotten together and said, ‘We’ve got to hold ourselves together,’” Cutler said. “We still live in the same community and have to build bridges to address social issues that have long been present, and new ones that rose to the surface.”
Since the presidential election, instances of bigotry and hate have been documented in the Capital Region. Less than a week after Donald Trump declared victory, the superintendent of the Shenendehowa Central School District sent a letter to parents noting there had been a spike in racist and anti-Muslim incidents.
Police on Jan. 6 arrested a 13-year-old boy who allegedly spray-painted swastikas on buildings – including a church —around the town of Esperance on New Year’s Day. Police said they don’t believe the boy acted out of bias. Rather, he painted the symbol because he’d seen it in video games.
But Cutler doesn’t think any single instance of bigotry sparked the need for dialogue.
“Anti-Semitism and discrimination and Islamophobia and misogyny have been part of our culture for some time,” Cutler said. “Now it’s out in the public eye, being spoken about openly, so it’s time to really bring us together in that regard.”
Cutler called the six scheduled events a first step in raising community awareness and starting a discussion. Members of the coalition are planning to follow up with more events focused on social action, but those are still in the works, he said.
The list of scheduled events for the next several weeks, which are open to all, is as follows:
Jan. 18 -- Clergy members will volunteer at the Northeast Regional Food Bank from noon to 3 p.m.
Jan. 20 -- Clergy will gather at the Emmanuel-Friedens Church at noon to watch the inauguration proceedings. The church is at 218 Nott Terrace in Schenectady.
Jan. 20 -- Members of faith communities are invited to attend a “Soup Sabbath,” a fundraiser to support the Schenectady Inner City Ministry, that will begin at 6 p.m.. The event will take place at the Congregation Gates of Heaven, located at 852 Ashmore Ave. in Schenectady.
Jan. 20 -- A community conversation at Congregation Gates of Heaven, titled “Discrimination, Bigotry, and Hatred in our Community," will begin at 7 p.m.
Jan. 25 -- Community leaders will gather at 7 p.m. at the Congregation Gates of Heaven to lead worship using words of their own faith traditions and to share perspectives on what it means to be American in 2017. The event will culminate with a candlelight march from the temple to other nearby houses of worship.
Feb. 7 -- A blood drive will be held in the afternoon at Mt. Olivet Missionary Baptist Church, located at 1068 Park Ave. in Schenectady.