A diverse crowd of several hundred Angelenos filled the pews of Holman United Methodist Church in mid-city to condemn white nationalist violence rocking the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.
A collection of the city’s faith leaders and faith-based organizations banded together Aug. 13 to organize the “Love Transcends Hate” interfaith prayer vigil. Local congregation IKAR, whose Miracle Mile area sanctuary sits just across the 10-freeway from Holman’s, was one of the co-sponsors for the event.
Holman Pastor Kevin Sauls welcomed guests, including dozens of Jews in attendance, explaining that a national conference call with Christian leaders the day prior sparked the idea to hold vigils across the country. He and others reached out to a citywide base of interfaith leaders and organized their own event in under 24 hours.
“The coming together of our faith leaders, elected officials and all of you sends a powerful message,” he said, surveying the packed church. “It says that truly love is more powerful than hate.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson looked on from the front row. IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous sat next to Mayor Garcetti.
After Pastor Saul’s opening remarks, a troupe of Holman women in colorful dresses adorned with ringing chimes danced on stage and through the aisles. A lively drumbeat accompanied the performance as guests clapped along. An organ player and the Holman choir also led the audience in a rendition of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”.
Speeches from elected officials and faith leaders followed. Rabbi Brous delivered a brief speech that referenced Israel’s ancient port city of Jaffa, which neighbors Tel Aviv.
“[Jaffa] is a place where Jews and Christians and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, secular and religious all find a way to live together as equals in harmony, which is very challenging for many people in a region that’s seething with polarization,” she said. “A few years ago a group extremists came to sow division and hatred in this precious town and to break the delicate balance. But the citizens of that town stood together, arm in arm, blocking the arteries and shouting, ‘Hell no. Not in this place. We reject your violent rhetoric. We reject your racist screed.’ They created a sanctuary of love and justice, which is precisely what we are here to do today across this nation.”
Councilmember Dawson, who is African-American, shook his head in disbelief after Brous’ speech.
“Only in Los Angeles does the rabbi come in to a black church and preach like nobody’s business,” he said, eliciting laughs from Jews and many of Holman’s African-American congregants.
In his speech, Mayor Garcetti, who had just returned from a weekend in New Orleans holding meetings with mayors of other major American cities, took digs at the Trump administration for not placing sole blame on white supremacists for the troubling events in Charlottesville. He directly addressed President Trump’s comments made during a recent press conference in which the president doled out blame to “many sides” for the “hatred, bigotry and violence”.
“There is still, I believe, good and bad, right and wrong, truth and lies,” Garcetti said. “There are not always two sides to a story. To my fellow ancestors who died because they were Jewish, there wasn’t another side to the story.”
Yalley Beth Shalom Rabbi Noah Farkas, Temple Beth Hillel Senior Rabbi Sarah Hronsky and Jewish attorney Wendy Heimann, who co-founded “RiseUp LA”, a grassroots sociopolitical movement committed to protecting progressive values, also spoke.
Farkas, who was one of the event’s organizers, delivered closing remarks. He told the assembly that, “the best way to respond to organized hate is with organized love.”
38-year-old Adam Overton, a young religious leadership fellow at Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) who attended and wore a yarmulke, said Holman was the perfect setting for the vigil.
“It was very special to be with everybody in the space and to just really feel the power of Holman United Methodist Church, which is really a ground zero for a lot of social justice in Los Angeles,” he said. “I found myself feeling really connected to the history of social justice throughout this country.”
Leonard Muroff, a community rabbi who mainly specializes in hospice care, wore a blue Dodgers shirt with “Dodgers” spelled out in Hebrew. He will be traveling to Virginia Tech University’s Hillel next month to help out with High Holy Day services. The Blacksburg, Virginia campus is about a two and a half hour drive from Charlottesville.
“I will be there standing with those against hate,” he said. “Hearing the mayor tonight was very instructive. I just want to bring strength and love and peace to Virginia when I’m there.”