By GWEN OREL
About 80 people gathered at Bnai Keshet on Thursday, Dec. 14, to celebrate the third night of Hanukkah and the formation of the Montclair Sanctuary Alliance.
On the corner by the synagogue at South Fullerton Avenue, on a freezing cold evening, Rabbi Elliott Tepperman played guitar and led songs as Hanukkah candles were lit and those assembled lit their own from the menorah.
Tepperman said that Hanukkah, and the time before the solstice, is “the darkest time of the year.” The MSA provides light and brings out the light in one another, he said.
The Montclair Sanctuary Alliance is formed of Bnai Keshet, First Congregational Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair. Individual clergy are also members: Rabbi David Greenstein, of Shomrei Emunah, read aloud the prayer in Hebrew. Tepperman told the crowd that the Rev. Mennell of St. Luke’s Episcopal called him up to say “count me in!”
The MSA will host undocumented immigrants on the third floor of Red Gables, Bnai Keshet’s original home, on its property on South Fullerton. Those in the MSA will accompany immigrants to their meetings with ICE (Immigrants and Customs Enforcement), and provide a rapid response team for those who are arrested suddenly.
When Tepperman said there would be a blessing in Hebrew, in English, in Spanish and in Creole, Bnai Keshet’s Marshall Kolba joked, “how about a reader inside?”
After the candles were lit, the service moved inside, to the lobby of Bnai Keshet, where a variety of speakers talked about the need for MSA.
Horacio Campos, of Newark, spoke on behalf of the Mexican community. Bnai Keshet’s Carmen Correles translated. “People are trying to do everything to live,” Campos said. “We should all work together.”
The Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael, of UUCM, asked the audience if they had ever lost someone, and received help, or been scared, and received love. To see an immigrant as someone as human as you are, “this is how you provide sanctuary,” she said. A candle in the dark and cold provides light to your own face, and to those around you, she added. UUCM will continue giving a percentage of its collection plate to MSA through January.
The Rev. Ann Ralosky, of FCC, marvelled at the large number in attendance. “Many of us are feeling that we alone can do so little,” Ralosky said, and that “voices are getting lost in the cacophony.” But in every faith tradition, “God shows up in the vulnerable.” Jesus was a refugee child in an occupied territory, and G0d showed up, she said.
She also asked those not from Bnai Keshet to recruit others from their own communities towards this effort. “Other congregations joining makes a statement: this is something we value as people of faith.”
Rabbi Ariann Weitzman of Bnai Keshet said that most of the people in the room were descended from immigrants, and that many Torah stories, including that of Adam and Eve leaving the garden, are about people leaving the place where they were born.
Archange Antoine, from Faith in New Jersey, a multi-faith network of faith leaders, which partnered with the churches of MSA, also spoke, saying that he was “unapologetic about faith, and applying to push for justice in the state of New Jersey.”
Tepperman again led those assembled in “I will build this world from love (Olam Chesed Yibaneh)” in English and in Hebrew.
Inside, there were doughnuts, in honor of Hanukkah, and letters waiting to be signed by those assembled, to the new governor. It was a letter drafted by MSA, with 36 signatures from area clergy, and space for people to write their own notes.
The letter, which includes quotations from the Torah, the New Testament, and the Koran, states that “We as New Jersey faith leaders declare ourselves adherents of the moral command to love and protect the stranger.”