KENSINGTON – Muslims, Jews, and neighbors of all different backgrounds and faiths gathered at Ave C Plaza on a cold and snowy afternoon today, along with Assembly Member Robert Carroll and Council Member Brad Lander, to stand in solidarity against the Manhattan pipe bomber who lived in the neighborhood.
“We’re like a family,” Lander told BKLYNER about the Bangladeshi community. “And so to see this happen when the whole community is demonized and put at risk, is something we felt we had to stand up together and say no to.”
The entire strip of the Ave C Plaza was filled with people holding posters, wearing mittens and standing together to denounce hate. One by one, members from the community mosques, synagogues, and elected officials stood up to address the crowd. And they all reiterated the same message: the Kensington community stands together.
“We experienced a great tragedy this past Monday. Many of us could never have imagined that someone from our neighborhood could do something so hateful. The answer to hate is love,” a community member said aloud.
“We will stand up against anyone who hates or tries to terrorize us, or tear us apart based on differences,” Carroll told the crowd of mostly Bangladeshi neighbors. “And we will be vigilant to make sure that all New Yorkers are able to practice their religion freely, are able to go to school, to work… without discrimination.”
A few times in his short speech, Carroll told the community that they “have a friend” in him. He told them that he will work to “stand up and push back against anyone who wants to push out others because they are different.”
Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives made a heartfelt speech about the lights in Hanukkah, and reminding everyone that “we are all neighbors.”
“Tonight I will light candles for the fourth night of our holiday of Hanukkah,” Lippmann said. “May the many lights of this season of all our different faiths remind us that even a very small light can light up in a night.”
Rabbi Heidi Hoover from the Temple of Beth Emeth spoke about police infiltration of Muslim neighborhoods, saying the community needs none of it as “it only makes our community fearful.”
“As a neighborhood resident, as a rabbi, I believe that the way to keep our community strong and safe is not by engendering fear and mistrust, but by building engagement, trust and unity,” Hoover said.
Amy Plattsmier has lived in Kensington for 12 1/2 years. She was standing in the back of the crowd, all bundled up and holding her poster.
“I don’t want to see any racism and Islamophobia happening because of one rogue person,” she told BKLYNER. “I think it’s important for non-Muslims to stand beside Muslims and show publicly that we condemn terrorism from any community.”
But the man of the hour was the council member. As he stood on the green beach chair to speak, a man in the crowd told his friend, “He is who I was waiting for.”
Lander, like the others who spoke before him, began his message by welcoming everyone, saying, “Assalamu Alaikum,” which means “may peace be unto you” in Arabic.
“One of the great joys of representing the NYC Council 39th district for the last 8 years has been the opportunity to meet, to learn, to celebrate, to mourn and to work so closely with the Bangladeshi community here in Kensington,” he told the swarm of people all struggling to keep warm.
He then went on to compare the traditions of his religion (Judaism) with Bangladeshi Muslims. He spoke about how important it was for Bangladeshi parents to teach their kids their native language (Bangla). It is the same for Jews, he said.
“That’s what Jews do,” Lander said. “We also want our children to know our language, to be able to read our sacred texts.”
He then said that he is fully aware that many children from Kensington go to high school in Manhattan. Many of them take the same subway the bomb exploded in.
“Unfortunately in every community there are people who do grave harms, who do horrible things, who put us all at risks,” he said. “If that bomb had been more deadly, it might have killed kids from this neighborhood on their way to school.
Like Carroll, he also told the community that he was 100 percent alongside them.
“When people choose one community– this community– to target, to demonize, to express their hate for in any Islamophobic or xenophobic way, you can count on your neighbors… and your elected officials to have your back,” he said.
Bracing the cold, representatives from the mayor’s office of immigration affairs and Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office were also in attendance.
“We will keep coming out to this plaza for as long as it takes,” Carroll said, “to make sure that everyone can practice their religion peacefully and safely, and walk and live in our streets without fear of persecution.”