The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee plays an important role at a time of rising antisemitism and other hate crimes in Wisconsin, said Pardeep Singh Kaleka, executive director of the 50-year-old nonprofit organization.
The 21 members of the Interfaith Conference are committed to regular dialogue within its leadership committee. They also offer programs designed to increase interfaith understanding, advocacy and social justice.
“During a time of any kind of tension, minority groups based on faith, race or religion bear the brunt of a blame culture,” Kaleka said. “With the COVID-19 pandemic and people losing their lives and their livelihood, it becomes easy to blame small minority groups.”
Harassment of Asian Americans is on the rise. Reports have surged that the group is being targeted because of xenophobic perceptions that all Asian people are carriers of COVID-19.
Antisemitic incidents have also increased, according to annual audits by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
Kaleka stressed that it’s important to be vigilant against the rise of hate. “The alt-right, anti-government, militia and patriot groups are taking up the narrative of white supremacy ideology and really endangering the Jewish community,” he said. “So, I think we try to combat that through education and trying to influence policy and dialogue.”
Facing the fear of the novel coronavirus outbreak, some people go into preservationist mode, Kaleka said. “They buy guns, purchase whatever they can to make sure that they themselves can exist and survive. Other people are engaging in becoming more loving. They learn from it and grow from it.
“We just really need to be engaged as far as the broader community in understanding one another and that’s something we strive for at the Interfaith Conference,” Kaleka said.
It’s easy to stick with what you know and what your comfort zone is, he said. “Getting outside of our walls, outside of our comfort zone is where I think we need to be as a society.”
To move from hate to love in a time of crisis, Kaleka said, “we need to understand that we are truly in this all together, especially facing the fear of the virus.”