WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. – Following the weekend violence and protest clashes in Virginia, Western New York leaders expressed that it’s more important than ever to be unified.
In Williamsville Sunday, Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein hosted an interfaith picnic at Congregation Shir Shalom. His guests were Christians from North Presbyterian Church.
"It really makes a difference when you see what's happening in Charlottesville to know that we have neighbors that we can count on, that we're not alone,” said Rabbi Lazarus Klein.
This unifying event was planned months before Saturday’s violence that resulted in many injuries and one death.
"It's important for us to learn from one another and learn how to value each other's traditions,” said Pastor Bill Hennessey, who said his church has worked with their Jewish friends on a number of projects over the course of many years.
It's Jewish and black communities who are among the most targeted by hate groups like the KKK, Nazis, and some white supremacists.
Understandably, Saturday night's emboldened display of violence raises concerns. Buffalo’s NAACP president condemns the hate groups.
"They came there not for peaceful demonstration, but they came there with the intent of hurting people. They were armed and dressed in…riot gear,” Mark Blue of the NAACP said.
Rabbi Lazarus Klein noted that long before today, over the past several months, his congregation has increased its security.
"We live in trying times, and I personally have never felt threatened until this year as an American Jewish person,” he said.
In Buffalo, a rally of solidarity and peace took place in the Elmwood Village. Their message: End the hate.
"They don't make good decisions about how to treat other human beings,” shouted one rally leader about white supremacists.
Attendee Brian Cheverie said most Americans are ultimately the descendants of immigrants.
"E Pluribus Unum. From the many, one. Look around you. There are many, from everywhere,” he said, waving an American flag.
The takeaway from Western New Yorkers considering the future is that peace must be protected.
Commons Council President Darius Pridgen said violence is never the answer, and he also points out a frightening reality: Saturday’s events could have happened anywhere.
"There were people killed, both civilian and law enforcement, all who were there to express their opinions, and our opinions shouldn't lead us to death,” Pridgen said after Sunday morning's service at his church.
Another Rabbi, Rabbi Jonathan Freirich of Temple Beth Zion, said those who spread hateful sentiments do not represent what he calls “the American project.”
"We need to counter what we see on TV, not by turning or flipping the channel, or finding another news source, but by finding a person to talk to. And by finding people we don't normally talk to,” Rabbi Freirich said. “We need to reach out past our comfort zone because it is in the area of discomfort that growth and unity and trust will be built.”
Buffalo Police said the solidarity rally stayed peaceful and that there were zero incidents.