It was a steady 32 degrees when hundreds of people were gathering at the Sidney Albert Albany Jewish Community Center (JCC) on Thursday night (Feb. 2). They huddled in groups, catching up with friends and community members, trying to locate each other across the sea of people that covered the block (and then some) of the JCC. Most had walked from from multiple blocks away, as the parking lots had quickly filled, touting multi-colored signs. They pushed strollers and wheelchairs, wrapped in layers against the bitter wind as they lined up along the sidewalk. The main huddle centered around the lineup of speakers, which included local interfaith religious leaders and Albany politicians, barely audible among the conversing mass of people. Unless one stood close to the raised megaphone, at times the only evidence of a speaker was the dull thudding of mitten-clad applause.
An estimated 400 people had gathered to show strength in numbers against an unidentified aggressor. On Tuesday, Jan. 31, the Albany JCC received a call claiming there was an explosive planted in the building. In response, the Whitehall Road center evacuated the building and a response team was called. Nothing was found. This is the second time the JCC has received this type of call in two weeks, the first being on Jan. 18.
Russell Sage College student Cedar Brook, 23, walked half a mile to get to the vigil due to the overflow of people and took a spot among the line of people bordering the street, holding up a sign that read, “Odin loves you.” A member of the Pagan faith, Brook stood wrapped in a thick cloak, bare feet wiggling in the snowy grass. (“I took them off several years ago and I never put them back on.”)
Like the 550 who responded with interest to the vigil online, Brook was informed via social media.
“I got a Facebook invite and I hadn’t quite heard about any of the threats that were made on the JCC until then and it kind of disturbed me how little media coverage was touching on that,” Brook said. “What’s happening is wrong and things need to change. When people come together, good things happen.”
Looking around, the crowd had spread from the front yard and sidewalk and spilled into the parking lot. Children climbed up onto small snowbanks, shouting out, “Shalom!” and holding up signs that read, “Love the world to peace” and “Jews are my friends.”
Some shuffled their way deeper into the crowd to hear speakers such as Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy (D-Albany), who both told the crowd how they had been a part of the JCC for years. They had brought their children here. The JCC is a centerpiece to the community, a safe space.
The attendees reiterated their intent to stand against the hate and fear inflicted by the threat of their attackers. A group of mothers stood around with their toddlers, wrapped to the ears in scarves and or tucked into their mother’s arms in blanket cocoons. Despite the early evening chill, they wanted to stand with their friends and family in solidarity after hearing of the vigil on the local news broadcast. One mother came from Latham, telling The Alt that she came to help show a united front. “I am a Muslim and I support every religion. I support humanity. It’s not about who you worship, we are all human beings and we need to stand for eachother. No matter what, we’re gonna stand with our Jewish brothers, with our Christian brothers, with the brothers who don’t believe.”
She rocked back and forth, leaning her cheek into the baby fast asleep on her shoulder. “Humanity has one value and it’s standing for each other.”
“Same blood,” chimed in another mother, a local Albany Jewish community member. “We just want to take care of our children. That’s what anybody wants.”
photo by Katie Cusack