While a nation awaited the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian tampering with the US election — a development that threatened to further fracture an already divided nation — the message inside a sprawling ballroom Sunday afternoon was one of kindness and inclusion.
The goal of the Anti-Defamation League’s 12th annual “Nation of Immigrants” community seder — which drew some 400 people to the UMass Boston Campus Center — was to promote strength of diversity, as well as humane immigration policies.
But in an era of heated political rhetoric and anti-immigrant sentiment, organizers said, the event also served as a reminder of the work still to be done.
“We recognize that the journey is ongoing and incomplete for so many people, including thousands of people in Massachusetts and across the country who still live in fear, or don’t have access to health care or security,” said ADL New England regional director Robert Trestan, one of the event’s speakers.
One by one Sunday, a collection of speakers took turns on stage — among them Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who served as the event’s keynote speaker.
“We cannot and must not keep silent or be indifferent when we come face to face with hostility and violence against persons, groups, races, religions, or nationalities,” O’Malley said. “We must never forget where prejudice, bigotry, and fanaticism can lead.”
Others to speak included Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, along with Rabbi Claudia Kreiman of Temple Beth Zion, and Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern.
Representative Ayanna Pressley, Democrat of Boston, was scheduled to speak but was forced to cancel because of a recent leg injury, officials said.
During the course of the two-hour event, the nation’s current political climate — which has seen a rash of anti-immigration sentiment and a rise in hate crime — was never far from mind.
Last November, for instance, the FBI announced a 17 percent rise in hate crimes in 2017 — including a 37 percent jump in anti-Jewish hate crimes. Massachusetts has seen a barrage of racially and religouslycharged incidents in recent years, including one last week in which police in Fall River opened a hate crime investigation after several gravestones at the Hebrew Cemetery were vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti. According to reports, phrases like “heil Hitler” and “This is MAGA country” were written on gravestones in black magic marker. Several other gravestones were overturned, officials said.
“Many of the graves that were desecrated were of Jewish immigrants who came to this country many decades ago in search of the same dream that immigrants here today have,” said Trestan. “So [it’s] a stark reminder that we need to stand up for each other, and we need to take a firm stand.”
The call to action was a message that reverberated through Sunday’s event, and multiple speakers shared their own stories of arriving in America as immigrants.
“It’s a reminder that everyone has a story,” said Millona, of the MIRA Coalition. “Everyone came from somewhere to build this great nation.”
Guests, meanwhile, were invited to sign cards urging state legislators to consider four pieces of pro-immigration legislation. Organizers planned to mail the letters to state officials Monday morning.
But more than anything, Trestan hoped the event would serve as a kind of call to action.
As he put it Sunday, “It’s a motivation to stand up for others a little quicker, speak up with a louder voice, and advocate more strongly for the values that make America a nation of immigrants.”
Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @duganarnett.