An interfaith symposium Wednesday in Rockland County was planned prior to the mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand last week. But organizers say the shootings make it more important than ever to confront hatred and intolerance.
Rockland County’s second annual interfaith symposium is sponsored by the county’s Commission of Human Rights. The focus is on bringing together Rockland’s diverse religious groups.
“Our theme for tomorrow is: our strength is our diversity.”
That’s Constance Frazier, Rockland County’s Commissioner of Human Rights.
“We may have many different religions and different languages and different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race," says Frazier.
“And when I say that if don’t come together, not just in Rockland but on a global basis, and it could be a focus if not through the United Nations, through NATO, if we don’t use some of those resources to connect with people, the whole world is going to lose its humanity, not just Rockland County or New York state,” Frazier says.
Rockland County Executive Ed Day is also hosting the symposium.
“I believe strongly it is important for the top elected official in the county to set a tone and to set the stage,” says Day. “I think it’s important for people to see that.”
Rockland has experienced an increase in hate crimes in recent years.
“Part of this obviously is that we are more attuned to it. Things are not swept under the rug. We’ve had situations where swastikas have been painted on trees in an area where rarely anybody goes. Probably years ago that wouldn’t have even been given a second look, but now it is. And I think that’s important,” says Day. “I think it’s important that we recognize that we will condemn these things no matter where they occur and how they occur.”
He attributes the acts of intolerance to a few troubled people who garner attention. And Day places emphasis on common threads.
“All we can do is keep speaking of that commonality and understand that we share so much more than what divides us,” Day says.
Day talks more about unity, including after the New Zealand mosque shootings.
“We are being part of a larger world community that is basically saying that we share the pain that these people are going through; we recognize that the disease of intolerance is one that could destroy us; and that we stand in an area with others that we will not tolerate intolerance, we will not tolerate hatred of any kind here in Rockland,” Day says.
Frazier says the symposium is part of a larger focus to develop a clearer understanding and appreciation of the respective cultures and religious values of Rockland's population.
“We want to develop a viable network moving forward for Rockland County stakeholders who can be contacted immediately when incidents involving hate crime, anti-Semitism in violation of people’s human rights occur in Rockland County. And they’re going to continue. These things are going to continue to happen,” Frazier says. “And Ed Day and I, within the next month or so, we will be collaborating on developing a strategic action plan. When something does happen, we’ll have a strategic plan that we can use that we can deal with it. It won’t be perfect because every incident has to be taken on its face, on its own. They’re not the same.”
The symposium includes a keynote speech and panel discussion, as well as opening and closing remarks.
“And our last closing thought for the day comes from Mother Teresa,” Frazier says. “It’s a direct quote. ‘If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love. Every time you smile at someone. it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.’”
The symposium runs from 8:45 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. in the Ellipse Room of the Technology Center at Rockland Community College in Suffern.