The council, which seeks to foster an environment where the leaders of Fair Lawn’s religious institutions feel comfortable gathering to discuss safety and security matters, was formed through a joint effort by the police department and borough council in light of the recent string of anti-Semitic bias attacks in Bergen County – including the discovery of anti-Semitic graffiti in two borough parks.
Sgt. Richard Schultz in Community Policing, who is spearheading the effort within the police department and led Thursday’s meeting, said its purpose was to lay out his vision for the Inter Faith Watch, define its goals and objectives, provide information on available local and county resources and explain to religious leaders the importance of holding a security mindset, both individually and collectively.
In addition to Schultz, representatives from the Office of Emergency Management and the Fire Prevention Bureau also spoke Thursday.
Schultz said he felt most everyone who attended the meeting was receptive to his ideas and that the biggest difficulty will be getting participants to transition from a reactive to a proactive mindset.
“This concept needs to be established, nurtured and maintained rather than let it fall by the wayside only to be resurrected the next time bias crime makes the headlines,” Schultz wrote in an email. “The other hurdle is to get everyone talking with one another and not just with the ones who were in attendance at the meeting, but with those who were not there as well.”
Schultz acknowledged that he still had a lot of work to do to get the interfaith council off the ground, and said his next step is to mail out packages to all houses of worship, tailored to the individual leaders of each, whether they attended the first meeting or not.
He has yet to set a date for a follow-up meeting, but said he plans to make the rounds at the houses of worship in Fair Lawn that did not have a representative at the meeting to try and get them on board with the idea.
"The surest way to combat the ignorance that fuels bias crime is through the free exchange of ideas, sharing of our knowledge and fostering of religious and cultural exchange amongst our citizens," Schultz said. "The more we know of each other, the more ownership we will have in each other's safety and the safety of our community."
The houses of worship that were present at Thursday's meeting included:
St. Anne Church, Fair Lawn Bible Church, St. Leon Armenian Church, Warren Point Presbyterian Church, Fair Lawn Jewish Center, Shomrei Torah, Ahavat Achim, Temple Beth Sholom, Episcopal Church of the Atonement, Young Israel of Fair Lawn and Van Riper Ellis Broadway Baptist Church.
Reverend Derek Taylor of Our Savior Lutheran Church could not attend due to a conflict, but Schultz said he is supportive of the concept and expressed an interest in participating in the council.