It’s been quite a while since I’ve written anything— I’ve been busy! Debbie made an unexpected visit to the hospital for most of a week. That, plus her recovery, set us back a bit. But, the folks at St. Clair were very good to her and she has fully recovered. Thanks to all of you who sent well wishes. And my business has picked up after a couple pitiful years. I’m actually making a living now; hope it lasts! And finally, I’ve been immersed in all this furor over the fact that Muslims are going to be praying in Carnegie, heaven forbid. I’ve seen my name in the paper more times in the past two weeks than in the past 20 years. Today, I got a phone call from New York City. Yeh, the story is getting around.
So, what’s all the fuss about? Well, last year the Muslim congregation called Attawheed Islamic Center contacted our borough manager and said they were looking to buy a building in Carnegie. For 10 years they’ve been renting a space on Banksville Road, and now they’ve outgrown it. As it turned out, the building they had originally picked in Carnegie was not really appropriate for a worship site. Consequently, they decided that it wouldn’t be worth the trouble and expense of trying to make it fit. But they really liked Carnegie. They like Carnegie for the same reasons we all like Carnegie. It’s easy to get to (their congregation is spread all over the place, just like ours), convenient to the city, and has a nice Main Street business district. So, they kept looking in Carnegie for the right building. And they found it— the former First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Washington and Main.
As a member of Borough Council and president of the Carnegie Shul, I was placed square in the middle of this. What position would I take? But as controversial as it may sound, there wasn’t any conflict for me and there wasn’t any controversy within Council. Rightly so. The Muslim congregation submitted an application for use of the building, which is required for anyone who buys a building in the commercial district. The application was reviewed by the Planning Commission and they found no fault with the proposal. Our Code Enforcement Officer reviewed the application and found no fault with it. I’m sorry, but it’s a “no brainer”. A religious group buys an old church and wants to use it for worship services and Sunday school. We could have scrubbed through that application for the the rest of our lives and not found fault with it. But perhaps more to the point, Council wasn’t looking to invent a reason to shoot it down. We view this development in a positive light. For decades people have been bailing out on Carnegie, and now there’s a congregation that wants to come to Carnegie because they think Carnegie is a nice town. Council welcomes them and I welcome them. Carnegie is undergoing a bit of a resurgence right now and this development is part of that renewal. It’s all good.
During this whole controversy, I must say that Police Chief Harbin has been on the right side. As a fellow Marine, he is not only my colleague in the borough building, but a good friend. His support of the Carnegie Shul has been steadfast for as long as I’ve known him, and I trust him completely. His number one mission is the safety of our citizens. He was on the scene when Baumhammers went on his shooting spree and he is well aware of what dangers lie in our community. He knows that during the past 15 years the FBI has doubled its presence in Western PA. Because of Muslims? No, because of the significant increase in Neo-Nazi and Klan activities in our region. With his hyper-vigilant demeanor, I am quite certain that he would have alerted me if he was concerned about Muslims moving into a church near the shul. On the contrary, he has always assured me that this new mosque is no security threat. So to the resident who spoke at the last council meeting and questioned the patriotism of council members and the Chief, I say, “go crawl back under the rock from whence you came.” There is no one in Carnegie who is more concerned about our wellbeing than the Chief.
Last week an acquaintance suggested that I should vote for what’s best for my congregation, not what’s best for Carnegie. I could write an encyclopedia on what’s wrong with that suggestion, but the short answer is that I have never observed a conflict between being a good Jew and being an good American. Jews have been abused in just about every country in the world, but in America we’ve had a pretty good life. It’s not an accident or fate; it’s not just a coincidence. It’s America’s liberal attitude about religion that is enshrined in the Constitution. The strength of that document, and the conviction of those who would die to defend it, is what has made America a good place for all of us to live. Two times in my life I have formally sworn a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution. I will not waiver from that pledge, and I won’t apologize to bigots and racists.
I’ll leave you with the words of President George Washington. During the early years of our republic, President Washington wanted to reassure the minority Jewish communities that they were safe in America— that our rights to worship as we please would be safeguarded in our Constitution. He wrote the following to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, RI. “The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens”.
God bless America.
(note particularly the bigoted and moronic comments by readers of the Signal Item)