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Crowd Gathers At Church For Interfaith Unity Vigil
Naama Firestone
The facilitator for the newly formed Unify StanislaUS interfaith alliance Naama Firestone organized the Love thy Neighbor event hosted at St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in Riverbank to give communities impacted by racism and discrimination an opportunity to come together and support each other. RIC McGINNIS/THE NEWS

St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in Riverbank was the host site for a Unity gathering to promote understanding between all members of the community regardless of race, color, or religion. The event was Wednesday evening and was coordinated by Unify StanislaUS. The gathering materialized as a response to the events that unfolded in Charlottesville.

“I just want to say that the horror of Hurricane Harvey brought people together,” stated Father Misael Avila. “There were countless acts of kindness. It didn’t matter if the person was black or Jewish or if the person had documents or not. The only thing that mattered was that there was another human being who needed help. When we see each other just as human beings miracles can happen.”

The members of Unify StanislaUS include Faith in Stanislaus, Faith Temple Baptist Church of Modesto, Hindu Temple of Modesto, Insight Meditation Central Valley, Islamic Center of Modesto, Modesto Seventh Day Adventist, SAACR- Stanislaus Asian American Community Resource, St. Paul Episcopal Church, Modesto, Stanislaus Humanists, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stanislaus County, and Vietnamese Buddhist (Phc-Sn Buddhist Center).

Facilitator and co-coordinator of Unify StanislaUS, Na’ama Firestone, a volunteer for Bend the Arc - A Jewish Partnership for Justice, helped organize the Unity vigil after several requests for unity and support.

“The unity gathering, ‘Love Thy Neighbor,’ was conceived in response to the neo-Nazi/white supremacist march in Charlottesville and its deadly aftermath,” stated Firestone. “I am a Jewish granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and I was seeking to create a place for unity and support. The march in Charlottesville was a despicable display of anti-Semitism and racism.”

Unify StanislaUS is an interfaith alliance that recognized that there was a strong need for unity, for education and exposure to other cultures and faiths and to support people that are living in fear, added Firestone.

“Having white skin privilege protects me from experiencing daily racism,” Firestone noted. “The Love thy Neighbor unity event was created to give communities who suffer daily from racism and discrimination, and to ally communities, an opportunity to come together and ask for support.”

With approximately 100 people in attendance and about 10 clergy from different religions on hand, each guest was encouraged to speak on the following topics: What I love about my faith community, What we would like people from outside our community to know about the challenges we face as a community in the current political climate, and brainstorming specific requests for support from the community-at-large.

Riverbank community members including Riverbank Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Daryl Camp and Riverbank City Council members Darlene Barber-Martinez and Cal Campbell were in attendance.

“I hope that the horror of racism in our country will bring us together to see racism for what it is: an evil ideology, and do something about it,” expressed Father Avila. “The interfaith gathering at my church proved that we can put our differences aside and just see each other as human beings.”