At interfaith Seder, leaders discuss recent Fairfax Co. hate crimes

FAIRFAX, Va. — Jewish and Muslim leaders who joined together Sunday evening for an interfaith Seder dinner, a Jewish tradition that marks the beginning of Passover, said the rising number of hate crimes which have rippled across the D.C. area have produced an outpouring of community support for targeted groups.

Christians, Muslims, Jews, Mormons and Bahais were among those who broke bread together at Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax, one of three Jewish schools hit by simultaneous bomb threats Feb. 27.

“What was most remarkable about it … we spent the next two weeks receiving supportive messages from across the whole spectrum of the community and across the whole country,” said Dan Finkel, head of Gesher Jewish Day School. “We had visits from Muslim schools and Christian schools saying we support you and we appreciate you and we’re with you.”

Bias crimes jumped 27 percent last year in Fairfax County, and the incidents have continued this year. At the start of Passover and Holy Week last month, the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia and Little River United Church of Christ were defaced with anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim graffiti. Police quickly arrested 20-year-old Dylan Mahone, of Annadale, for the attacks.

“That was one person … look what he inspired,” said Darcy Hirsh of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, pointing to community gatherings of support, which drew hundreds of people to both the church and the Community Center.

“There’s an unfortunate rise in anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, anti-Sikhism, anti-everything and obviously it’s a challenge,” said Rizwan Jaka, chairman of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, who took part in the interfaith Seder. The Mosque held its own 10th annual interfaith Seder last month.

“We must respond to all bad with good, so I think there’s a lot more solidarity today in responding to these challenges,” Jaka said.

Faith leaders say people can make a difference against the small number of individuals who try to spread hate.

“We have to counterbalance those who would break us apart … I think it starts with the way we treat people in our workplaces and our schools,” said Rabbi Bruce Aft of the Congregation Adat Reyim in Springfield, Virginia.

The faith leaders feel certain the rising tide of hate crimes will recede in the months ahead, throttled by continuing shows of community support for those targeted.

“Eventually, the forces of moderation and tolerance, respect in society will beat back these voices of hate and bigotry,” said Ron Halber, executive director at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

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