Marc Faillettaz and Felix Mankovich are strangers who grew up with different religions, in different countries.
But Thursday night, the men joined together in a crowd of more that 200 people united in denouncing the recent wave of hate crimes and bomb threats against Jewish community centers around the country, including two in Minnesota.
The rally at the Highland Park recreation center in St. Paul, organized by Jewish Community Action, drew Christians, Muslims, Jews and others looking to support one another.
“I want to figure out how I can get involved,” said Faillettaz, a Minneapolis schoolteacher who grew up Lutheran.
Mankovich, an IT worker in Minneapolis who came to the United States from Russia as a child, said recent anti-Semitic actions around the country have led him, for the first time, to question whether it is safe to be Jewish in the United States. He said he feels a new “unease,” and that he and his wife, Samantha Riehle, recently have been reaching out more for community in recent months.
Thursday’s event, more of a scripted program than a freewheeling rally, included songs sung in Hebrew and several speakers, including St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who urged people to stand up against bigotry.
Jaylani Hussein, head of the Minnesota chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, told the crowd that simply gathering together was a first step in coming together.
“We are with you; we will always be with you,” Hussein told the crowd.
With the small auditorium filled to capacity, many people gathered outside in the lobby to watch the speakers on a screen.
The Rev. Janne Eller-Isaacs, who is a co-minister at Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul, said she canceled a meeting to make the rally.
“Violence against any of our community is violence against all,” she said.
On Feb. 20, a phoned-in bomb threat forced the nearby St. Paul Jewish Community Center to evacuate more than 300 people, including children in a day care facility.
A similar bomb threat last month forced Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park, home to an elementary school, to evacuate more than 400 people. The FBI is investigating the bomb threats; law enforcement officials have said they could be the work of one person.
At the University of Minnesota, a recent rash of anti-Semitic graffiti and fliers on campus resulted in the arrest of an 18-year-old student.
The real story, however, said Michael Waldman, director of the St. Paul Jewish Community Center, is the outpouring of concern. Waldman thanked the firefighters and police officers who rushed to the center to help with the evacuation. He also described the many notes of solidarity, visits and calls the center has received since the threat, including baked treats people dropped off.
There are people in the world who act out of hatred, he said, and good people.
In the end, said Waldman: “There [are] way more of us than there are of them.”