A big group of people, including rabbis, a man in a pastor's collar and a woman in a hijab
Participants at the interfaith unity luncheon Jan. 19 in Berkeley

Trump era sparks interfaith unity meeting in Berkeley

After saying she fears what the Trump era might mean for Muslims, Ameena Jandali noted that at least it was “good to be in a room of allies.”

More than 50 allies, to be exact.

A woman in a hijab speaks at a podium
Ameena Jandali

Jandali, a founding member of the Islamic Networks Group, addressed several dozen East Bay interfaith clergy and community activists who gathered last week to map a social justice agenda going forward.

The Jan. 19 luncheon meeting, dubbed “Sharing Oaths for Solidarity and Understanding,” took place at the David Brower Center in Berkeley. The Jewish Federation of the East Bay, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the East Bay Council of Rabbis served as co-conveners.

In attendance were representatives from several East Bay churches, synagogues, Muslim groups and Jewish organizations, including Rabbi Yoel Kahn (Congregation Beth El, Berkeley), Rabbi Barnett Brickner (Temple Israel, Alameda) and Rabbi Mark Bloom (Temple Beth Abraham, Oakland).

Rabbi James Brandt, CEO of the East Bay Federation, welcomed the attendees, noting “a great shift in our nation,” referring to the election of President Donald Trump.

“We thought it was important to take time to come together to share with each other, to grow in faith and commit at this moment,” he said. “I know that this room is filled with people called upon to speak out and ensure our capacity for goodness.”

Brandt was one of four speakers invoking oaths, or calls to action against what they view as Trump’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-women and anti-social safety net views.

The Rev. Will McGarvey delivered another one of the oaths. Declaring the United States “an adolescent nation still trying to figure out how to be adult,” the pastor at Community Presbyterian Church in Pittsburg urged marginalized communities and their allies to focus on safety, solidarity and sanity.

“We have to speak out on behalf of others,” he said. “It’s hard to see the level of disrespect going on in the Congress, especially a Congress holding up legislation that might be a blessing for someone.”

I am so scared on many levels, as a Muslim, as a woman, as an immigrant and as an environmentalist. Four years can wreak a lot of havoc.” — Ameena Jandali

Jandali, bedecked in an olive-green hijab, said, “I am so scared on many levels, as a Muslim, as a woman, as an immigrant and as an environmentalist. Four years can wreak a lot of havoc.”

During the working lunch, participants took time to meet each other and strategize.

Rabbi Mike Rothbaum, co-chair of the progressive Jewish organization Bend the Arc, urged intensified grassroots action to push back against Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress, but tipped his hat to the efforts of the conservative tea party movement.

“They gave us a playbook,” Rothbaum said.

Kate Chance, interfaith coordinator for the Islamic Networks Group, likewise urged an upwelling of grassroots activism. “We work with 30 organizations in our interfaith effort,” she said. “We have had wonderful messages of support, especially from Jewish organizations. It’s been beautiful.”

After 30 minutes, attendees were invited to report back to the gathering.

The Rev. Daniel Buford of Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action suggested that should a Muslim registry become law, people of all faiths should sign up in solidarity. Another urged the attendees to remain in touch in the months and years ahead, stressing the importance of building relationships “during non-stress times.”

The meeting ended with Judith Markowitz, director of leadership for the East Bay Federation, leading the singing of a song by noted Bay Area cantor and musician Linda Hirschhorn. The lyrics included the lines, “Circle round for freedom, circle round for peace. For all of us imprisoned, circle for release.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.