SAMOHI — The Jewish high holiday Rosh Hashanah is traditionally a day for believers to reflect and repent as they head into the Jewish new year. But at a ceremony held Thursday for the holiday at Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall, the day’s message was also overtly political.
Speaking to a capacity crowd, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom Temple based his sermon around the ongoing controversy surrounding the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” — an Islamic center proposed for a site in lower Manhattan two-and-a-half blocks from the former World Trade Center.
Opposition to the mosque is “a thin veil for bigotry, pure and simple,” Comess-Daniels said in his remarks.
“Building an Islamic center dedicated to peace and pluralism in lower Manhattan within a couple of blocks of what used to be the World Trade Center is a great thing to do for the future of this country,” he said. “If we don’t enable that to happen, those crazy people who flew those planes — who were not doing anything in the name of real Islam — those crazy people will have won. If we don’t enable the Islamic center to be built, we will have fulfilled their vision of us — that we are bigoted xenophobes who hate the other.”
Beth Shir Sholom is characterized by members as a progressive synagogue that welcomes members from all faiths.
In that vein, the Barnum Hall event also featured remarks by Jihad Turk, director of Religious Affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California, and a call to prayer sung by Ben Youcef, a Muslim actor, singer and prayer leader.
Comess-Daniels’ remarks came a week after a poll found that two-thirds of New Yorkers, including many who said they were supporters of the mosque, want it to be re-located to a less controversial site farther from ground zero.
On Thursday, Comess-Daniels also urged members of the temple to speak out about the folly of opposing a religious group’s right to worship freely.
“There is work to be done. We must talk to our friends and family, near and far, 60 to 70 percent of whom are part of that prejudiced, fearful belief system” that opposes the proposed construction of the mosque, known as Park51.
“We must tell them the truth about Muslims, Islam and the progressive agenda of the Islamic center in New York City,” he said.