Rabbis, priests, ministers and imams join in singing “This Land Is Your Land” at the community vigil. Photo by Chris Jennewein

The San Diego region’s religious and political leaders vowed to fight hate Monday at a community vigil organized in the wake of Saturday’s deadly synagogue attack.

More than 4,000 people packed the stadium at Poway High School, just three miles away and on the same road where Chabad of Poway is located.

“Our region stands proudly and in solidarity with our Jewish-American community,” said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “We must spread the values of acceptance and love.”

Signs at the community vigil

In attendance at the event, which was organized by the Anti-Defamation League and other local Jewish organizations, were San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit and FBI Special Agent Suzanne Turner. All three law enforcement agencies are working to investigate the tragic shooting.

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus said his city has endured through wildfires and the murder of Chelsea King and would remain strong.

“Here we are again — Poway strong,” he told the crowd. “Poway is no place for hate, not now, not ever.” Vaus said he feels like his arms have grown several inches longer, trying to wrap them around his community.

Michael Hopkins, CEO of Jewish Family Service of San Diego, lamented that the violence seen elsewhere in the world had finally reached San Diego.

“In the past six weeks, churches, a mosque and now our synagogue have been attacked,” he said, referring to violence in Sri Lanka and New Zealand. But he vowed, “This is not the new normal. I refuse to accept that.”

Tammy Gillies, regional director of the ADL of San Diego, asked for a moment of silence for Lori Gilbert Kaye, whose funeral was earlier Monday.

When the community came together to honor the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting six months ago, thousands also showed up. “It’s wonderful that you’re here, but I don’t want to do this anymore,” Gillies said. “Today it’s us — tomorrow it could be anyone.

Gillies praised faith leaders, law enforcement and students for their presence, saying “It means so much to the Jewish community.”

FBI Special Agent Suzanne Turner (left), San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit and San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore at the vigil.

Sheriff Gore said he and his fellow law enforcement colleagues see evil every day but try to find ways to bring people together. Chief Nisleit reminded the audience that “love will always overwhelm hate.”

Rabbi Yonah Fradkin, executive director of Chabad of San Diego, said the Chabad movement in Judaism was founded in the United States, not long after the Holocaust ended. He added that Chabad stresses equality among faiths and humanity.

Michael Jesser, CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego, said the funeral for Kaye was a phenomenal opportunity to learn about her, including her love for Chabad and acts of kindness.

Hopkins of Jewish Family Service said he felt angry, heartbroken and sad about the Saturday tragedy — but he also felt the attendees’ support.

“If you’re not Jewish, I want to thank you for standing with us,” Hopkins said “These acts of violence are intended to scare us, but fear and intimidation will not silence our voices.”

He said there’s no right or wrong way to respond to tragedy, and it was important for people to accept their feelings, volunteer, take breaks from social media and take care of themselves.

Marian Kim-Phelps, Poway Unified School District superintendent, said her district features a Stop The Hate program, but that effort must extend beyond school and into the home and workplace.

The Rev. Gerald W. Brown of Mt. Moriah Christian Church in Sorrento Valley said that by attending the vigil, people are really standing up for love. He asked every audience member to turn to each other and say, “I love you.”

Rabbi Scott Meltzer of Ohr Shalom Synagogue in Bankers Hill called for awareness of humanity’s common bond.

“We are not different people. We are not different races. We are cousins. We are all one family on this planet,” he said.

The vigil ended with all the religious leaders — rabbis, priests, ministers and imams — joining in singing “This Land is Your Land.”

— City News Service contributed to this report.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.