If the idea behind the March 8 bomb threat at The J was to scare people away from the center, it didn’t work.
In fact, an estimated 500-plus people converged upon the front steps of The J Sunday, March 12, for the #WeStandTogether Rally for Unity to demonstrate solidarity with the 127-year-old Louisville institution. They sang America the Beautiful, taped solidarity signs to the bricks and cheered as a diverse group of speakers called upon them to resist hatred now and in future.
“We have no time to be silent,” said Jewish Community of Louisville President and CEO Sara Klein Wagner. “It’s time to stand together.”
Jews, Christians and Muslims of all races and ethnic backgrounds were in the crowd.
Fred Whitaker, who teaches Holocaust Studies at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School, and brought a group of his sign-waving students to the rally, said it doesn’t matter whether the bomb threat was real or phony.
“The hate that creates all bomb threats is equal, and we’re here because we’re all one family,” he said.
Sadly, Wagner opened the rally by announcing that the Indianapolis JCC had received a bomb threat just 20 minutes earlier. Teens from Indianapolis were in town Sunday for the Drew Corson Regional Basketball Tournament and were among the teens who appeared at the rally.
At last count, JCCs and other institutions across North America have received 135 threats by phone and email.
U.S. Rep John Yarmuth (D-Louisville) lamented the need for such gatherings and warned there will probably be more incidents in the future that will prompt the Louisville community to come together.
“Unfortunately, We’ve had to do this too many times in recent years,” said Yarmuth, the first Jewish congressman elected from Kentucky. “The good news is we still do it.”
He said the current political climate has “created the kind of environment where people feel comfortable doing the kinds of things we are here resist.”
Jeffrey Tuvlin of Louisville, who sits on the board of directors for the JCC Association of North America, said his president and CEO, Doron Krakow, has been in touch with national leaders about quenching these serial threats. He quoted Krakow in saying such threats to the JCCs, which he called a “town square for America,” would not stop the centers from serving the people who depend upon them.
Rev. Charles Elliott Jr., pastor of the King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church in Louisville and a veteran of the civil rights movement, had recently been hospitalized, but he wanted to be at the rally where he reminded everyone that Jews had marched with black leaders in Birmingham during the civil rights movement of the ‘60s.
“We are all one family and nothing will separate us,” said Elliott, an inductee into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame. “As we said 50 years ago, with God on our side we shall overcome.”
Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport of The Temple reminded the crowd how the rally was happening on the same day as Purim, a festival that marks the day in Jewish history, designated by the casting of lots, in which the Jewish of ancient Persia were to be murdered.
He said Purim teaches a vital lesson in the face of today’s resurgence of intolerance.
“It is a lesson of solidarity,” Rapport said. Esther, he noted, could have saved herself, and perhaps her family, by staying silent. Still, she risked everything to save her people.
“Sooner or later, when the lots are cast, they will fall on us,” he said.
While Sadiqa N. Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, did not invoke Purim herself, she passionately delivered a similar message.
Mentioning how people have lamented how such rallies are happening too often; Reynolds claimed they’re not happening often enough, and that Louisvillians of color live their lives at risk.
“Don’t just rally today; it goes beyond today,” she said, practically shouting at the throng. “There are terrorists who make no bomb threats, who make no calls…. If I stand for you today, can I count on you tomorrow?