Overflow crowd in Cotati opposes acts of hatred against Muslims

It’s been a long time since a crowd stretched out the door of the former Cotati Cabaret nightclub, home now to the Congregation Ner Shalom synagogue.

It happened Sunday in response to a call by 14 churches and community organizations for people of all faiths, or of none, to come together to oppose hatred directed at Muslims.

“We are living in a time that wants us to be enemies,” Irwin Keller, spiritual leader of the Cotati synagogue, told those members of the public able to find a spot inside. “But we will not give in to that imperative.”

Fire-safety regulations forced members of Ner Shalom to close the doors when nearly 400 people had come in. Of the several dozen who were told they could not safely be admitted, about 20 moved to the nearby Redwood Café and engaged in their own discussion of the dangers of Islamophobia.

In his keynote address, Dr. Hamid Mavani, a professor of religious studies at Claremont College, spoke of the importance of being a person of good conscience over being a member of a particular religion. He cited the need for all people everywhere to speak out against anything that threatens their shared humanity.

Organizers called the coming together “Of One Soul,” a reference to a verse in the Quran.

About 20 local members of the clergy, four of them rabbis, were present at the gathering, preceded one week earlier by a guest editorial in The Press Democrat entitled, “Standing up for our Muslim neighbors, as a family.”

In that piece, Ner Shalom’s Keller and the Rev. David Parks-Ramage, pastor of Santa Rosa’s First Congregational United Church of Christ, wrote that America is moved to a pivotal moment by campaign rhetoric that calls for Muslims to be banned from entering the country and that implies “that law-abiding Muslim citizens are dangerous.”

“Scripture instructs us not to stand idly by as our neighbor bleeds,” wrote Keller and Parks-Ramage. “But we must not wait for the bleeding to begin.”

Sunday’s program included music, poetry and dialogue between those on stage and those who sat or stood all throughout the former, beloved music-and-dance venue. Marie Sugiyama of the Japanese American Citizens’ League noted similarities between some calls for the treatment of Muslims and the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II.

David Hoffman of the partnering Interfaith Council of Sonoma County and the North Bay Organizing Project, wrote in an online reflection that the turnout and resolve of the gathering “exceeded our fondest hopes and sweetest expectations.”

“We will step forward together when any group of our neighbors is maligned, persecuted or scapegoated because of their religion, political values, ethnicity, culture, nationality or any other reason,” Hoffman said.

Keller said there will be another countywide interfaith event this summer.

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