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Interfaith group seeks ways to find unity after graffiti

(Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette) Susan Burack, past president of Temple Jacob, talks about the synagogue’s history during a community forum about recent Nazi graffiti at the synagogue.

HOUGHTON — In response to the Nazi graffiti sprayed on Temple Jacob in September, Keweenaw residents from a variety of religions met Wednesday night to discuss ways to foster communities to work together in the current climate.

The discussion group of about 20 discussed their feelings regarding the incident, as well as ways of finding common ground with area residents.

“It is an evening to learn more about our neighbors and to see what we can do together that we cannot do alone,” said Bucky Beach, pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

The temple is believed to be the second-oldest continuously operating synagogue in Michigan, said past president Susan Burack. The copper boom drew Jewish immigrants, who started out as peddlers and eventually opened stores from Ontonagon to Ahmeek.

Before 1910, they had been meeting in homes and rented halls. That year, they started raising money to build Temple Jacob, which was dedicated in September 1912.

(Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette) Bucky Beach, pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, speaks during the introduction at a community forum held after the spraypainting of Nazi graffiti on Temple Jacob. Listening are Darnishia Slade, manager of global engagement programs at Michigan Technological University’s Pavlis Honors College, and Angie Carter, associate professor of environmental and energy justice at Tech.

The congregation, one of the smallest synagogues in the state, has shifted over the years from Orthodox to Conservative to Reform, Burack said.

When the Anti-Defamation League office in Detroit reached out to Temple Jacob, Burack told them of the community response. They told her it was “unusual and outstanding,” she said.

“This place is special,” she said. “(Temple president) David (Holden) and I have gotten emails and phone calls and letters, and everybody comes up to us and expresses their concern, and it is so heartwarming.”

Temple Jacob will also host a Shabbat Shuva and community open house at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Like other synagogues around the country, Temple Jacob had already been making security upgrades and training people in first aid in the wake of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, said temple president David Holden.

Other groups have dealt with bigotry in the area as well, Holden said. He recounted hearing from another local pastor whose house of worship had been vandalized, which he had been advised to keep quiet about.

“It’s something I know that many elements of our community have been dealing with for quite some time,” Holden said. “I’m feeling guilty and ashamed that it takes something that victimizes me for me to engage this way.”

Debbie Massarano, who will lead Friday’s service at Temple Jacob, asked people if the support so far was enough, or if they wanted to see more.

Group members suggested activities to reach people early, and also visible displays of support.

One idea was yard signs with messages such as “Hate is not welcome here.”

Local schools could also be an avenue for instilling positive values, attendees said. Massarano mentioned the Facing History and Ourselves curriculum, which teaches students about historical bigotry and race to teach students about how to confront those issues in their own lives.

“I think it’s good to get into to get into the school system to catch these kids before they get into these situations,” she said.

Hancock City Councilman Will Lytle said outreach should be done to young white males, showing them positive role models and the value of diverse communities. Even as a white male, he said, he is harassed several times a week on his walks by people in cars. People in that stage of life are often inclined to rebel against an other, he said.

“They’re designed to lash out at anyone they perceive as other or less than, and they’ll lash out at people that aren’t other or less than, just to test the limits,” he said.

Keweenaw Faiths United was formed as a show of unity in response to bombings and shootings at synagogues and mosques across the country.

Members said initial attempts at getting the word out about the group had been warmly received, such as their presence in the Parade of Nations parade.

But the group needs to be able to keep its momentum, said Bucky Beach, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. He pointed to a purple banner on the wall for the Face to Face organization, which was founded to welcome international students. With no structure to it, all that remains is “a great banner,” he said.

A smaller committee was tasked with formulating a plan for activities and outreach to other groups, which would then be brought back to the larger group.

Gwyneth Wells, a second-year theater and entertainment technology student at Michigan Tech, attends Temple Jacob. The meeting was a good first step, she said, though she would have liked to see more students.

“Given time and effort, it could go forth to be more, which honestly, I think we need a little more right now,” she said.

Wells hopes the group can create more awareness of the diversity in the community.

“The more awareness we have, the less likely it is for there to be hated,” she said. “It’s this whole fear of the unknown. If we take the unknown, and we make it into something known, something relatable, then there’s less to be scared of.”

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