Out of the Woods: Westport vigil underscores commitment to American ideals
Published 6:41 am, Thursday, July 2, 2015
Westport’s June 22 commemoration at Saugatuck Congregational Church of the nine black shooting victims a week prior in the all-black A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., was, without a doubt, one of the milestone events in our community’s history.
It should forever stand as a signal moment since our town was founded in 1835 when a representation of the townspeople came together to boldly demonstrate their allegiance, indeed, their devotion and love for the principles of democracy so deeply ingrained in our Constitution.
And, as seems to be the case across the nation, the sites, more often than not, that are chosen as places for memorial events are churches or other religious institutions with a connection to God. The gathering had a profound interfaith theme to it and for that this observer was grateful. My father, the late Albert M. Klein, who launched a reform temple in the Riverdale section of the Bronx in the 1940s, was a big believer in holding interfaith gatherings for the various religious churches and temples in the area where we lived.
I learned to understand much about other faiths in those years and it has helped me a great deal. I was pleased to observe the Rev. Allison Patton, pastor of the Saugatuck Congregational Church, asking those attending the vigil on the front lawn of the church, to place their hands on their chests “to mark this moment and to welcome the spirit of God.”
Further, according to reporter Anne M. Amato’s story on page 1 of this newspaper, Evan Levinson, who was at the vigil, told of “feeling despair after what's happened in South Carolina and in Sandy Hook, especially after what’s happened in South Carolina and in Sandy Hook, there’s lots of talk about gun control, but nothing seems to change.”
“I’m here because I could not be there (Charleston),” said Rozanne Gates. “I’m glad the town is doing something. I feel so helpless but I believe visibility is important and just showing up is extraordinarily important.”’
Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of the Conservative Synagogue of Westport told the 125 people there that, despite their different faiths, the vigil was a sign of support for those mourning their loved ones in South Carolina. “What happened there,” he said, was an act that showed total disregard for life.”
“We are holding a peaceful gathering on the grounds of a church—a hallowed place within our community where we all feel safe and included,” said First Selectman Jim Marpe. “Sadly, we are here because that statement cannot be made with certainty elsewhere in this country.”
Marpe added: "In recent years, we have joined together too often to remember, mourn and pay our respects to those who were simply living their lives who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
“We need to pass laws so that this senseless gun violence ends,”’ added Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein..
It should be noted that Marpe , a Republican, similar to his immediate predecessors, Democrats Gordon Joseloff and Diane Goss Farrell, has continued supporting bipartisan programs of welcoming minorities of all races and backgrounds to enhance Westport’s tradition of inclusiveness in its community.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer and author of “Westport, Connecticut, The Story of a New England Town's Rise to Prominence,” sponsored by the Westport Historical Society. His “Out of the Woods” column” appears every other Friday in the Westport News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.