‘Only way forward is together’: Interfaith march aims to combat hate amid Israel-Hamas war

About 100 people on Sunday marched in downtown Miami promoting unity and denouncing hate in an event set against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Israel and Gaza — and as reports of antisemitism and Islamophobia surge.

The march, organized by interfaith group Mosaic Miami, began at the Freedom Tower at Miami Dade College and ended at The Underline in Brickell. Organizers prohibited flags or political signs, instead providing green and turquoise signs that read, “We Are United.”

“In Miami, to be outwardly Jewish, outwardly Muslim, outwardly Black and outwardly different is dangerous,” said Matt Anderson, executive director of Mosaic Miami.

The annual march, which took place for the first time last year, is more difficult now given the ongoing violence in the Middle East, noted Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, CEO of the Miami Foundation. Everyone has an opinion — and is suffering, she said.

“Being here means you have the capacity to see the humanity of the people sitting on the other side of the table,” she added.

Fishman Lipsey said she has been terrified for herself and her children whenever she watches the news.

“What scares me the most is the unleashing of a tsunami of hate,” she said. “We should never celebrate the pain and suffering of other people.”

Barbara Beaudry, 78, was among the marchers — even though she said the last time she rallied was in the early 2000s during protests against the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. Beaudry and her husband Ralph, 88, a Catholic couple from Brickell, said they wanted to support the interfaith effort because they’re saddened by the war in the Middle East.

“War is such a tragedy. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on,” Barbara Beaudry said. “We’re here to support peace.”

More than two dozen groups sponsored the event, including Jewish Federation, the Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ, Temple Beth Am and the coalition of South Florida Muslim organizations (COSMOS).

The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald have been a sponsor of the march since last year.

While the event was intended to be apolitical, the situation in Israel and Gaza wasn’t far from people’s minds.

In front of a crowd at the Freedom Tower, Imam Abdul Hameed Samra of the Islamic Center of Greater Miami called for an immediate end to the violence.

He urged the United Nations and the United States to put a stop to the bombardment of Gaza and stand for humanity, especially children and elderly people who have been killed.

“We should stand for the values of life, liberty and freedom as Americans hold dear,” he said. “We must come together to reject all forms of bigotry and hate.”

Mohammad Mortazavi, left, and his wife attend the We Are United march on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, at the Freedom Tower in Miami.
Mohammad Mortazavi, left, and his wife attend the We Are United march on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, at the Freedom Tower in Miami.

Others wore pro-Israel t-shirts. Jaime Aklepi, a rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, spoke at the conclusion of the march at The Underline and said Jewish people have historically supported social justice movements, but have not received the same support in recent weeks.

More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, according to Israeli authorities, most of them in an Oct. 7 attack by the militant group Hamas. The group, which the U.S. lists as a terrorist organization, also took 242 hostages from Israel into Gaza.

Since then, the Israeli military’s bombardment of Gaza has killed 9,700 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The U.S. has urged Israel to take a humanitarian pause from its bombing of Gaza and rising civilian deaths amid a growing number of protesters globally calling for a ceasefire.

READ MORE: Interfaith march in Miami aims to unify religious groups, combat hate in Florida

In the weeks leading up to Sunday’s march, a rift between partners exemplified the challenge of bringing groups together in the current climate.

COSMOS initially considered boycotting the march due to concerns about Mosaic’s messaging, saying the organization’s position was “one sided” and that Mosaic should have done more to recognize the loss of Palestinian civilian lives at the hands of the Israeli military.

“Human lives on both sides should have the same value for an organization which prides itself in bringing Diversity, Equality and Inclusion as part of their mission,” a statement from COSMOS read.

After talks with Mosaic leaders, the issue was resolved within days and COSMOS decided to participate.

Mosaic was founded in 1935 as the Miami Branch of the National Conference of Christians & Jews, but was re-branded earlier this year to Mosaic Miami to include all faiths and backgrounds.

Despite the tensions, attendees sought to stay on message Sunday — focusing on unity.

As speeches took place at the Freedom Tower, Maureen Carson, 5, asked her mom: “What’s an imam?”

Jenny Carson explained to her daughter that an imam in the Islamic faith was analogous to a pastor. They are members of the Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ.

“I’m a strong believer in interfaith dialogue and exposing my daughter to different beliefs and experiences,” Carson said. “The more she gets exposed, the better.”

Jenny Carson, center, explains to her daughter, Maureen, 5, what an imam is at the We Are United march on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, at the Freedom Tower in Miami. “In the Islamic faith he’s like our pastor,” Carson explained.
Jenny Carson, center, explains to her daughter, Maureen, 5, what an imam is at the We Are United march on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, at the Freedom Tower in Miami. “In the Islamic faith he’s like our pastor,” Carson explained.

At about 4 p.m., the group started walking west toward North Miami Avenue, led by six members of the Richmond Heights Middle School band.

“Getting everyone together from different races and cultures and getting them to understand each other is important so we can end racism and other forms of hatred,” said Janissa Valdes, an eighth grader playing the trumpet.

Angeline Evans, 40, said she showed up to stand with the community and show her daughter Grace, 9, that people still believe in each other, in love and in neighborliness. Evans, who lives in Miami, said it’s important for kids to be see people come together as the world becomes more divided.

“Everything trickles down to kids,” she said. “When they’re hearing all the divisiveness, I think it’s important that they see the unity as well.”

Sharmaynne Thomas, an Overtown native, treaded along with SharLay, her six-month-old German Shepherd. As soon as she heard about the march, the disabled veteran-turned-electrician said that she knew she wanted to participate.

“I thought maybe I could do something [other] than carry a gun to have peace,” said Thomas, 69. “Because someone has to do something to stop the fighting.”