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Concerns of minority communities discussed at LI forum

Isma Chaudhry, standing, president of the Islamic Center

Isma Chaudhry, standing, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island, addresses religious and community leaders, Nassau police, and county officials at a Westbury forum on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Long Island residents took a first step to address minority communities’ concerns about the outcome of the presidential election and protect one another from divisive politics at a Westbury forum Thursday night.

The event at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury brought together leaders from different faith traditions, humanists, and advocacy groups to consider “how we deal with this time in history, because we are in it,” said Isma Chaudhry, the center’s president.

The forum attracted close to 100 people and about a dozen representatives of churches and temples, alongside Nassau County police, the Nassau district attorney and North Hempstead Town officials.

Speaker after speaker expressed anxiety about President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign statements about actions that would target Muslims and immigrant groups, fostering a climate of fear in those communities.

Rabbi Michael White, of Temple Sinai in Roslyn Heights, said he was “really angry about this election” because of the level of rhetoric it engendered, saying talk of a Muslim registry was “reminiscent of Japanese internment” camps during World War II.

He addressed representatives of law enforcement agencies, saying: “I’m just going to encourage you all to be very proactive in communities that are feeling very vulnerable right now . . . I would encourage you not to wait and reach out.”

Police Inspector John Berry, of the Nassau Third Precinct, reassured participants that police would be ready to respond to any crimes targeting specific communities.

“You have our support, 100 percent,” Berry said. “We haven’t registered a huge increase from our perspective, at least reported to us, on bias incidents,” but he urged the crowd to report any possible crimes to police.

Silvia Finkelstein, of the Nassau District Attorney’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, said prosecutors also were ready and able to pursue any criminal acts motivated by hate. “We are very lucky to live in New York,” Finkelstein said. “Our government officials have been consistent that . . . our targeted groups will be protected.”

Residents lined up to voice concerns about children from ethnic backgrounds, girls afraid to wear their hijabs, Latino kids worried about deportation. Many said they wanted area school districts to play a more active role in fostering a culture of tolerance for all races, faiths and ethnic backgrounds.

Stephen Lipsig, a child and adolescent psychiatrist from Roslyn, said it is in people’s power to decide what country they want to live in.

“I am reasonably worried right now,” Lipsig said. “What frightens me right now is if people in America begin to think that the culture in our country has changed; then, I think the country can change and lose its way in a horrible way,” he said. “Tonight, I feel 2 or 3 percent better, seeing all of you here.”

Rabbi Lina Zerbarini, of the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center in Greenvale, said all in the room should engage in “some radical acts of love and compassion” to counter hate.

Faroque A. Khan, a trustee of the Islamic Center of Long Island, told the crowd that they could help protect affected communities by staying organized to defend civil rights.

“We did not elect a new Constitution,” Khan said. “We elected a new president.”

In the end, forum organizers resolved to save the contact information of participants to use it as a “rapid response” list of people who want to promote and defend a diverse Long Island.

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