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State Attorney General Headlines ‘Stand Up For The Other’ Program At Rutgers Prep

Rabbi Eli Garfinkel of Temple Beth El, center, speaks while Franklin Township Interfaith Council president Alex Kharazi, right and the Rev. Ann Kansfield, left, look on.


Hundreds of Rutgers Preparatory School students, faculty and administrators on Jan. 16 took a pledge to “Stand up for the Other’ after attending a program on racism and hatred keynoted by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

The program was attended by RPS middle and upper schools’ students.

The pledge, created by New Jersey Interfaith Advisory Council president Ali Chaudry, has made its way through township schools and government and calls on those taking it to stand up to bigotry and hate.

At Rutgers Prep, the pledge was the capstone of a day of speakers and discussions organized by the school’s Advocates for Inclusion in Diversity group, which is comprised of teachers “who are committed to providing programming for students, parents, and teachers in support of inclusion and diversity,” according to a press release about the event.

“With the divisive rhetoric, hate speech, and unacceptable violence rooted in social injustice that surrounds us and our students, AID wants to call attention to the importance of taking care of community in general and the Rutgers Preparatory School community in specific,” the release said.

The pledge reads as follows: While interacting with members of my own faith, or ethnic, or gender community, or with others, if I hear hateful comments from anyone about members of any other community, I pledge to stand up for the other and speak up to challenge bigotry in any form.

After reciting the pledge, students signed a large poster with the pledge inscribed on it.

Among those appearing at the dais during the program were Rabbi Eli Garfinkel of Temple Beth El on Hamilton Street and Alex Kharazi, president of the Franklin Township Interfaith Council and a founder of Masjid-e-Ali on Cedar Grove Lane.

Also on the dais were the Rev. Ann Kansfield, a 1994 RPS graduate, who is with Greenpoint Church in Brooklyn, N.Y. and Harinder Singh, the founder of the Sikh Research Institute.

Kharazi has been bringing the pledge to various groups around Franklin, including the Township Council. The pledge was recited by all township students during concurrent events in 2016.

State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal speaks during the program.

In  his comments, Grewal urged the students to “continue to spread the message” of standing up to hate and bigotry.

“Promise to speak up, to challenge bigotry and hate of any kind,” he said. “Ask your friends and families to make the same promise. When you see someone being bullied for being different, and unfortunately you will, don’t just keep walking down the hall, stand up for the other and more importantly, speak out for the other. And remind the victim that they are part of a community.”

“We are here together to send a strong message to anyone who might say otherwise, that our diversity is our strength,” Grewal said. “You’re taking this pledge that you not just be bystanders. That when you see this type of conduct happening, whether it’s in your school community or where you live, you need to call it out.”

“It always helps to know there are others standing beside you and you don’t have to face these acts of intolerance alone,” he said.

Kharazi, an Iranian native, said that he did not experience bigotry in his native country, although he was bullied in high school by a student who was bigger than he.

Kharazi came to the United States 42 years to continue his higher education and, in that time, “I learned about and even experienced discrimination, prejudice, hate and disrespect. Fortunately for me, I have always kept one message with me, that people are either brothers in faith or equals in humanity.”

Kharazai said that while children generally do not show signs of hatred and bigotry, “the sad truth is that as we grow older, most of us have the tendency to be influenced by the people around us … and to start to believe that we are the only ones who are right, and that anyone who disagrees with us, or does not look like us, either are bad people or second-class citizens.”

“I believe you have a better future and better world with gatherings like this, and with programs like Advocates for Inclusion and Diversity and pledges like Stand Up for the Other, you’re having tools to connect with each other and those who are not like you,” he said. “You are given tools not to nurture prejudice, but to think about inclusion and love.”

“The Stand up for the Other Pledge is not like any other pledge,” Kharazi said. “It is a personal pledge, it’s a pledge that will stay with you for the rest of your life. It’s a pledge to make you stand up for the other in the privacy of your home, around your friends and in public and private gatherings. It’s a pledge for you to set an example of loving others, of rejecting hate, looking beyond the color of skin of others, their sexual orientation, faith and race. It’s a pledge for you to believe that we are all equal in humanity.”

“I believe if you take the pledge and apply it in your daily life, the first person who will benefit from it will be you,” he said. “You will enjoy the people around you and they will always think of you as a great human being.”

The trend to live solitary lives with the advent of technology and social media weakens communities, which can lead to racism, Garfinkel told the students.

“So many of our social problems are connected with the weakening of our communities,” he said.

“Community is important because it is in our DNA,” he said. “What we are doing to ourselves is very unnatural, and it has real negative consequences.”

People who want to do something about hate and racism must work to restore “communal bonds,” Garfinkel said.

“First you need an incentive,” he said. “Your incentive is that what we call ‘the other’ is really an illusion, ‘the other’ does not exist. You are ‘the other.’ Whoever hates the Jews, hates the Muslims and the entire list of minorities. If they come for us, they’re coming for you next.”

“And even if you don’t belong to a minority, someone you love and respect does,” he said. “Hatred toward one human being is hatred toward all of us.”

“You can’t fix this problem online, because it’s not an online problem,” Garfinkel said. “My advice is for you to pick your battle carefully, time is precious. Don’t waste your time posting how outraged you are about this or that and then congratulate yourself for expressing your opinion. Instead, go meet people who are not like you, look into their eyes. Don’t just hear what they have to say, listen to them. Learn about their culture, their fears, their hopes and their dreams.”

“Most of all, do something loving and kind,” he said.

Students lined up to sign the pledge after reciting it.

Kansfield, who is also a New York City Fire Department Chaplain, said that as a child she took a similar pledge.

“My experience in taking that pledge was a moment in time that I could not unravel,” she said.

“There’s one great thing about people, we all make mistakes and we all say things that we regret,” she said. “And sometimes I find myself with people I love, having them say something or do something that causes me to have to remember the pledge, and it is really uncomfortable.”

“My primary hope for you all today is that you would embrace the idea of being uncomfortable so that you could do big, brave things,” Kansfield said. “Be uncomfortable, and may your values propel you into being big and brave.”

Singh, who said he escaped the anti-Sikh riots in the mid-1980s as a teenager, told teh stuents that they “have to figure out how you’re going to be an agent of light.”

“Figure out what is that one cause or issue that you’re going to champion,” he said.

Singh said that to him, the pledge, “demands of me to stand up for the rights of others, even when I completely disagree with your lifestyle or political ideology.”

 

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