In The Small Town South, Honoring Orlando Victims Is An Interfaith Experience

Communities across the nation have been gathering to honor and memorialize the Orlando victims. In Alexandria, Louisiana, community organizers chose the newly constructed Holocaust memorial as an appropriate space to honor victims and condemn their perpetrators.

An article in the local Alexandria newspaper, The Town Talk, described the scene:

Central Louisiana residents gathered Monday night to remember the victims of the recent mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.

“This was just a tragedy,” said D.C. Sills, a lay worship leader at First United Methodist Church in Alexandria. “There really aren’t words to describe it. The same thing could have happened here, or anywhere. We’re all blessed to be able to gather together. To have this many people gather without fear so soon after something like this happened, it’s inspiring.”

More than 100 people came to the Alexandria Holocaust Memorial Monday night. It was a fitting place to remember the victims because of the persecution in Germany of anyone the Nazis considered unfit for society, said Ann Lowrey, executive director of Central Louisiana AIDS Support Services. Lowrey urged participants Monday not to be “bystanders in the face of hate and injustice.

“We envision a future where everyone’s rights are upheld, respected, protected,” she said. “Our communities and our children are watching us. It is our acts, not our words, that they will learn from.”

Like many Jewish projects in the South, the development of this Holocaust memorial was an interfaith, community-wide project. Alexandria’s Rabbi Arnie Task explains that plans for the Holocaust memorial started in 2010, when Michael Tudor, a non-Jewish friend and prominent attorney, called the rabbi after seeing the Holocaust memorial in New Orleans.

“Arnie, we need something like this in Alexandria,” he said. “Let’s meet tomorrow.”

Teaming up with Dr. Lee Weems, a Baptist minister and dear friend, and Dr. Jerry Sanson, a history professor at LSU Alexandria, Rabbi Task and his friends formed a committee that was religiously, racially, and ethnically diverse. In all, 22 dedicated committee members, only eight of them Jewish, met regularly for three years and formed close bonds. Mayor Roy and the City Council contributed resources to create a park on property one-third owned by the city. The owners of the other two-thirds enthusiastically donated their portions.

Special events such as a D-Day observance, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) observances, and a rally against domestic violence have added a further dimension to the message of the memorial. For many years, Alexandria’s two small Jewish congregations have sponsored a community-wide Holocaust commemoration which in recent years has taken place at Emmanuel Baptist Church. Located one block away, the Memorial has become a starting point for the observance. To add to the event’s interfaith nature, the Catholic Cathedral across the street tolls its bells as community members now solemnly walk from the Memorial to the Church.

The Alexandria community united together to create this memorial as a place to learn lessons about the dangers of historic persecution. Unfortunately, there are many lessons that resonate with the discrimination and violent events in our own country, not historically but in the present day – such as this past weekend’s tragedy in Orlando.

And so the Holocaust memorial again provided a connection point for the entire community, as citizens came together to re-commit themselves to a better world, together. As event organizer Eddie Lashney said: “We all have a responsibility to protect one another, to stand by and for one another, especially in the face of adversity.”

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