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Long Islanders continue a week of vigils against a tide of hate

Leslie Dreifus, of East Rockaway, left, and Daryl

Leslie Dreifus, of East Rockaway, left, and Daryl Altman, of Lynbrook, holding a sign, at a vigil on Thursday night, Aug. 17, against racism and violence on display last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Islanders of different backgrounds and addresses, heights and hair lengths, united at a Rockville Centre synagogue Thursday night for a vigil meant to send a message like the one scrawled across Daryl Altman’s placard: “We said, Never Again.”

The gathering at the Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth on DeMott Avenue was one of several Long Island demonstrations of unity in recent days — responses to bigotry on display in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, where protesting neo-Nazis and white supremacists clashed violently with counter-demonstrators.

A woman rallying against the far-right and white-supremacist groups was killed after an Ohio man, also a suspected neo-Nazi, plowed his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, police said. Dozens more were injured in the weekend violence.

“I was horrified by what happened in Charlottesville,” said Altman, of Lynbrook, explaining why she brought the placard to the vigil, which was organized by the Rockville Centre-based advocacy group, Raising Voices USA as well as other area organizations and houses of worship.

“And I was even more horrified that our president supported it,” she said.

Altman referred to President Donald Trump’s remarks in the days after the violence that seemed to equate the actions of both the white supremacists and neo-Nazis protesting the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, with those opposed to them, who referred to themselves as anti-racists.

“We are here to raise our voices in condemnation of injustice, of racism and of hatred,” said Emma Travers of Raising Voices USA.

The event Thursday night drew Long Islanders of all stripes: blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos, retirees and teenagers, Jews and Gentiles, those from the South Shore like Altman, and North Shore residents like the Boylans of Westbury.

“I came out because I think it’s so important to show solidarity and unity at a time like this,” said Dana Boylan, adding, “I wanted my children to experience this moment.”

Her children, Grant, 11, and Alexa, 14, said the events in Charlottesville disturbed them.

“It was very disappointing since our country fought to stop Nazi people from being racist,” Grant said, with his sister adding “I think it’s very sad because we are all equal and we should be treated like we are.”

Speakers at the event included elected officials like state Sen. Todd Kaminsky, (D-Long Beach), Assemb. Brian Curran (R-Lynbrook), Rockville Centre Mayor Francis X. Murray, as well as Rabbi Elliot Skiddell, of Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth, the Rev. Robert Grimm, pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, and the Rev. Scott Ressman of the United Church of Rockville Centre.

They sang the national anthem and closed with refrains of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”

The speakers drove home the message that the gathering was a stance that must continue against a tide of hate — in private elevator conversations, at bus stops, and over the dinner table.

“Our country has come too far to turn back,” Kaminsky said. ”We will not let a hateful few define us.”

Ressman said attendees may have to leave comfort zones behind to stamp out bigotry.

“This past Saturday, we saw what happens when people are allowed to hate,” he said. “When someone says something racist you may have to open your mouth and risk a friendship.”

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