About 40 people attended a Conversation about Hate at Camden County College sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Southern New Jersey’s Esther Raab Holocaust Museum and Goodwin Education Center on Oct. 25.
The event featured a notable panel of five civic and religious leaders. Jack Pesda, the college’s Center for Cultural Engagement’s director, moderated the panel and posed questions that encouraged the panel to share experiences and thoughts on hatred in their communities.
From a county perspective, former commissioner and former councilman of Cherry Hill Township Jeff Nash said Camden County is one of the most diverse in New Jersey and touched on the ways the community has come together in the face of hatred, including years ago when mosques, synagogues and churches came together to reject a rally planned by the KKK and show the community would not accept that message of hate.
Nash recalled when the Camden City chief of police walked with protestors in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.
“There were no acts of violence, no rioting, no messages of hatred in Camden City,” he said. “It was a message of love … There are issues of inherent racism in this country and you have to accept that and understand it and move to change it.
“The chief of police of Camden City stood arm in arm with people spreading that message,” Nash added, “and it was one of the most powerful messages I’ve seen in all my years of government.”
He also said county employees go through sensitivity training and the area has a zero-tolerance policy.
Jerome David, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Kol Ami, saw hatred on a spectrum, from bullying to the Holocaust.
“We don’t realize how words can grow into hate, how hate can grow into action, how action can grow into massive acts of violence, and we’ve seen it,” he said.
The rabbi encouraged people to say something and do something if they see hatred, like how a middle-school youth reported seeing a swastika in a bathroom, which sparked a panel discussion with 500 parents who listened in.
“So much good came out of so much bad, and the question that I had was, ‘How many other students went to the bathroom that day?’” David wondered.“He couldn’t be the only one … If you see something, trust your discomfort, call it out. Share facts.”
When asked about his experience with Islamophobia, the imam of the Al-Nasr mosque in Willingboro, Waqas Khurshid, chalked it up to fear and ignorance, a sentiment shared by the other panelists.
“A lack of education breeds fear, so people fear what they don’t know, they fear their unknown ,” Khurshid said. “Because there hasn’t been historically a strong Muslim community in this area, people would be more apprehensive when they see someone who looks like a Muslim or if you pass by a mosque.”
Mayor Susan Shin Angulo added to that, noting bigotry and discrimination were also founded on these things.
“We need to make sure we’re able to talk about (what we don’t understand) and discuss these items, and we need to make sure people are comfortable talking about these items,” she pointed out.
The mayor also emphasized that responding with kindness and empathizing with others can help increase understanding.
“ … At the end of the day, I don’t know what you’re going through,” she said. “I do not live in that house or apartment or complex, whatever it is. It is so important to make sure you are there for everybody and really understand and talk to each other.”
Camden County College holds many lecture series throughout the year. To view the recording of the panel, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the Center for Cultural Engagement, visit https://www.camdencc.edu/arts/cce/. To stay up to date with JCRC’s Esther Raab Holocaust Museum and Goodwin Education Center, visit https://www.jcrcsnj.org/goodwin.