Alone, they were single battery-operated candles in each person’s hands, but placed together in a vase, they made “a shining beacon for all to see,” Stu Needel said.
The candles, which produced an orange electronic “flame,” had been distributed to the Christian, Jewish and Muslim participants in “Journey to Peace,” a multi-faith event in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day hosted by the Harford County Alliance of Abrahamic Faiths Sunday at Temple Adas Shalom in Havre de Grace.
Dr. King, the national civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968, was born Jan. 15, 1929 and would have been 89 on Monday.
Needel, the temple’s social action co-chair and a board of trustees member, asked participants sitting in the sanctuary for a closing prayer service to come forward and drop their candles in a vase, creating the deep orange glow.
“Our combined efforts create something larger than the sum of its parts, just as we make something greater when we combine our individual personalities, desires, beliefs and energies to make the world a better place for all of us,” Needel said.
Temple Adas Shalom Rabbi Gila Ruskin said “we are called by God to increase the light, each of us individually, as communities and as the entire family of humankind.”
About 135 people, including members of Adas Shalom, St. James AME Church in Havre de Grace and the Masjid Al Falaah mosque in Abingdon, took part in the interfaith event, according to Jonas Vogelhut, vice president of membership for the temple.
“I think the value of food and spirituality and community got the community involved, on a very cold day,” Vogelhut said.
The event, which was geared toward families, included an American Red Cross blood drive, a luncheon, activities for children and a viewing of clips from the films “Malcolm X” and “Marshall,” as well as a documentary about Daryl Davis, an African-American blues musician who has befriended members of the Ku Klux Klan and convinced a number of them to leave the white supremacist organization.
Roundtable discussions followed the film showing, during which participants talked about how the people in the clips made their journeys toward peace, along with their personal journeys to peace.
Earline Mittons, of Havre de Grace, recalled her own experiences with gender bias and how she treats people with respect even when they are unkind to her.
“You have to be consistent,” she said. “You have to prove who you are by your actions.”
Cindy Mumby, director of governmental and community relations for Harford County, was the facilitator for the group that included Mittons, other members of St. James and Adas Shalom.
Mumby gave her own thoughts about breaking down walls and stepping outside one’s comfort zone, saying “there is no substitute for face-to-face communication,” which allows people to see “the humanity in each other.”
“I think things like what we're doing today are so important,” she said.
Her boss, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, stopped by and observed the conversation.
“Ultimately, you love one another as brothers and sisters,” Glassman told the group.
Needel gave a report on the blood drive, which netted 16 usable units for the Red Cross.
“Today we have saved up to 48 lives, just from our donations,” he said.
Each unit has three components that can be used to save a patient, Needel said later. Those components include plasma, white blood cells/platelets and red blood cells, according to the American Red Cross website.
Nathan Temple, a member of Adas Shalom, was among the donors. Sunday was the first time the 20-year-old Abingdon resident has given blood.
“It was important to show that we are all one, and this is something everybody can benefit from, no matter what race,” Temple said.
The Rev. Baron Young, pastor of St. James, asked Dr. Rehan Kahn, president of the Masjid Al Falaah congregation, how many blood types people have.
Kahn, a Bel Air physician, said there are four main blood types — A, B, O and AB.
Young theorized what would happen if people discriminated by blood type, instead of race or religion.
“You would have diversity within the As, you would have diversity within the Bs, you would have diversity within the Os,” he said.
The closing prayer service included songs and readings from the Old Testament, New Testament and the Koran, the Muslim holy book.
Abdullah Kobiljonov, of Bel Air, recited verses from the Koran, singing in Arabic and then reading the English translation.
“Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you,” Kobiljonov read.
The Koran encourages followers of Islam to “avoid much negative assumption,” Kobiljonov read.
“Indeed some assumption is sin, and do not spy or backbite each other,” he recited. “Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother, you will detest it.”
Nora Karsche, 11, a Middle River resident and member of Masjid Al Falaah, read the story of Bilal ibn Rabah, a slave of Ethiopian origin who lived during the early days of Islam and was “one of the few who immediately embraced” the faith.
His masters beat and tortured him to get Bilal to renounce Islam, but he refused.
“Despite this repeated torture, Bilal refused to budge and only grew stronger in his faith,” Nora said.
His “self control and non-violent resistance” became a model for the American civil rights movement, led by Dr. King, Nora said.
Bilal’s freedom was purchased by followers of the prophet Muhammad, according to Nora. He was the first slave to convert to Islam, and he was the first muezzin, or prayer caller, according to the Islamic History website.
“He demonstrated to Muslims that any person, regardless of race, education or status, was capable of immense personal faith,” Nora said.
Sheikh Omar Baloch, imam of Masjid Al Falaah, asked God to grant the participants inner and outer peace.
“May God give us inner peace so we can bring outer peace to the world,” he prayed.