Capitol Hill Times | What is Love?

Capitol Hill businesses SugarPill and Substantial teamed up earlier this year to create the Love is Action campaign, offering open-source designs for civic action.

Now the neighborhood community council, chamber of commerce and First Covenant Church Seattle have co-opted the Love is Action message to build awareness and support in the community.

Love is Action: What is Love? was the first in a two-part series that addresses how the community can work to provide sanctuary, safety and support to those most vulnerable.

“Sanctuary is a big buzz word, right now,” said Paul Corner, senior pastor at First Covenant Church, during the April 20 event.

Panelists during last Thursday’s What is Love event spoke about their experiences with not only hateful actions against their faiths and causes, but also how they define and practice love and acceptance, and where they find strength.

Aneelah Afzali, who formed the American Muslim Empowerment Network through the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) addressed two acts of vandalism that occurred at the Redmond mosque where she worships last December.

“When that happened, the outpouring of community support is what really gave us strength and hope,” Afzali said.

And when a rash of vandalism occurred at Jewish cemeteries earlier this year, American Muslim Community Centers raised $160,000 to help, she said.

Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims in the United States had risen significantly prior to Donald Trump taking the 2016 presidential election, she said — up 67 percent in 2015.

Afzali spends a lot of time trying to clear up misinformation about Islam, which is more prevalent in Seattle than people might think, she said.

“I had one guy stand up one time and say, ‘I don’t believe anything you say,’ and it was just because I’m Muslim.”

Seattle and Washington state have been at the forefront of an ongoing challenge to Trump’s travel bans targeting Muslim-majority countries.

Despite those efforts, Trump’s revised immigration executive order has resulted in a 50 percent reduction in refugee admissions for 2017, down to 50,000 from 110,000.

“I haven’t even given up on Donald Trump yet,” said Chitra Hanstad, executive director for World Relief Seattle. “I think we need to keep praying for Donald Trump that he will change his mind on some of these things.”

World Relief announced in February it had to lay off more than 140 staffers and close five offices in the U.S. that were responsible for resettling more than 25,000 refugees over the past four decades.

World Relief Seattle had to lay off four employees, which was not easy, said Hanstad, who is approaching her 100 days on the job.

World Relief Seattle resettled 1,135 refugees in Western Washington last year, Hanstad said.

Republican congressman Dave Reichert took a lot of criticism earlier this year for not holding a series of town hall meetings in his Washington District 8.

Hanstad said Reichert did reach out to World Relief Seattle to find out more about the refugee resettlement process and hear stories from refugees here.

“And he was crying, and he said, ‘I’m on board. I’m totally on board,’” she said of the congressman’s decision to support increasing the United States’ commitment to supporting refugees. “To see a Republican that on board, that gave me more hope than I could imagine.”

Jaclyn Cohen, associate rabbi at Temple de Hirsch Sinai, said the March 10 vandalism of the synagogue’s original facade with a message denying the Holocaust — with $ for the Ss — “was really hurtful and insulting, and on many levels.”

She lauded the swift response by the community, police and media, and said Temple de Hirsch Sinai leadership was very savvy about how it responded to the hate crime.

Rabbi Daniel Weiner left the graffiti on the wall temporarily, telling the Capitol Hill Times then that it was important for the community to see it.

“We’re not going to let a few sick individuals deter us from who we are as Jews and who we are as Americans,” Weiner told the Capitol Hill Times on March 10.

Cohen said nurturing that message is a focus of hers, and her son is her greatest source of hope for the future.

“I have to make this shit better for my son,” she said, quickly apologizing for swearing. “He’s a total sponge, and he’s looking to me for guidance, which becomes more pronounced the older he becomes.”

Part of Cohen’s struggle since the November election has been addressing the anxiety felt within the congregation, while also acknowledging that there is a minority of Jews that voted for and continue to support Trump.

“The Jewish community is so much more fractured than I think any of us had thought,” she said.

The panelists all advocated for inclusion, especially in conversations about improving the current state of the country, and also encouraged attendees to reach out to people from other faiths to truly understand what their religion stands for.

Afzhali said the Prophet Muhammad taught love and respect for women. Her brother left Islam for most of his adult life, and as an atheist showed a very negative attitude toward women, she said. That changed when he converted back.

“He has the utmost respect for women,” she said.

For her peace of mind, Cohen said she limits her consumption of media and particularly social media. She said people need a break, and Shabbat — the Jewish sabbath — is “a weekly reminder of literally to just chill.”

OneTable is an online resource that helps Millenials host and attend Shabbat dinners, bringing people together for food and conversation.

“It’s growing like wildfire in a way that I don’t think most Jewish organizations have,” she said. “They are not hurting for funding, I can tell you that.”

Afzhali said she tries to keep her social media posts positive, not wanting to contribute more to the negative stories that already come through her feeds. She added praying five times a day also helps her disconnect and center her self.

Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce executive director Sierra Hansen said 7th Congressional District Rep. Pramila Jayapal will be the keynote speaker for the second event, Love is Action: What is Action? This event runs 6-8 p.m. Thursday, June 1, at The Summit, 420 E. Pike St., and is planned to include community representatives involved in immigration, environmentalism and LGBT causes, as well as someone from Planned Parenthood, Hansen said.

Read more at What is Love?