By Chris Rotolo
RED BANK –When he was practicing law on the social justice front, Rabbi Marc Kline spent the better part of a decade in Columbia, South Carolina, where he stood side by side with giants of the field like attorney Morris Dees and Martin Luther King III.
Kline said that experience of working, advocating and going toe-to-toe with the Klu Klux Klan during a spree of mid-to-late ’90s church burnings has informed the way he approaches the battle against hatred and bigotry still being fought today in the Two River area, though frustration and exasperation are setting in.
“I’m tired of combating the same force over and over and over again,” Kline said to a congregation of approximately 150 demonstrators, including state Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11) and Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna, who gathered outside Red Bank’s borough hall Aug. 30 to rally in support of the borough’s Human Relations Advisory Committee (HRAC) and the launch of its “No Hate at Home” campaign.
“I’ve been fighting the Klan for many years, too long, and I’m tired of the hate,” Kline said. “It’s gotten uglier and uglier. And the Klan is code word for all hate speech right now.”
According to Kline, who leads the Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, the initiative is a response to pro-KKK fliers distributed on Hudson Avenue Aug. 14 and KKK recruitment literature containing candy that was discovered on Leighton Avenue the week prior.
Kline made it clear this campaign was comprehensive of all hate speech, including racial, religious and political prejudices he said are tearing society apart at the seams.
“I’m tired of the fact that we can’t talk with each other without screaming at each other. We’re at a point where, if you don’t agree with me politically or religiously, you don’t have value. And then everyone goes about their business assuming they’re right…It really doesn’t matter what your politics are. There are some things that we’ve made partisan politics that are still about the human. And we’ve forgotten the human piece of it.”
Leading the effort with Kline is David Pascal, who has served as the HRAC chair since 2006, and who hopes “No Hate at Home” can become a movement focused on respect and understanding between individuals, even if positions and ideas may not align.
“For those who believe that another person can’t have value if you don’t agree, today that has to stop,” Pascal said. “This is about bringing respect for one another back into our homes, our communities, our places of business, schools, everywhere. It has to happen everywhere if we’re going to change the conversation and change the culture.”
Kline and Pascal were adamant that this movement can only take hold if community members in attendance were willing to carry the message back into their own communities, a sentiment shared by Menna.
According to Menna, the borough has a history of assisting the general community by providing an avenue for expression, quite literally providing a route through town earlier this year for the “March for our Lives” demonstration March 24 and again in July for the “Families Belong Together” protests. But he believes the key to ensuring “No Hate at Home” makes an impact is carrying the messaging beyond Red Bank’s borders.
“The sense that I get is that people who participate in events like today’s are overwhelmingly from outside of Red Bank,” Menna said. “It tells me that the people we need to reach need to be reached in their own communities. For each person in the crowd today who is from Rumson or Little Silver, there are a thousand people who are not reached.”
Menna said surrounding municipalities can’t be forced to form a committee similar to HRAC, but individuals from those communities should be making applications to their respective governing bodies to host the types of events “where people can voice their collective sentiments about human rights.”
“The people (HRAC) is trying to reach are not the people who are living in Red Bank,” Menna said. “We already know about it. The people (HRAC) is trying to reach are the people who are living in the leafy communities of Rumson, Fair Haven, Little Silver, Monmouth Beach, Interlaken. That’s where the message has to go.”
Kline called the Aug. 30 rally a good start, but said the work to ensure this is not a “one-off” begins now.
“Rallies and marches are nice because you get to wave your flag and hold your sign and go home feeling good about it. But then what?” Kline said. “We need to have signs in yards, decals on cars and conversation in our communities. We need to create a change in our culture. With this rally, we’ve started the conversation.”
This article was first published in the Sept. 6 – 13, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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