Bay Ridge

Task force strives for unity in Bay Ridge in response to intolerance

Aug. 19 breakfast event to take place at mosque

August 13, 2014 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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In the wake of a series of troubling anti-Muslim incidents in Brooklyn, a task force made up of religious, business and community leaders in Bay Ridge has decided to hold its annual breakfast event at a mosque as a sign of solidarity, the group’s leader said.

The Rev. Khader El-Yateem, chairman of the Bay Ridge Unity Task Force, said the organization is making a statement of support for the Muslim community. The annual breakfast will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 19, at the Beit Elmaqdis Islamic Center at 6206 Sixth Ave., at 9 a.m.

“We are saying, ‘We are coming to your house to show you we support you and want everyone to be united at this time.’ We have a breakfast every year, but this year, we wanted to make a statement that we do not want the troubles in the Middle East to visit us here in Bay Ridge,” Pastor El-Yateem told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday.

The breakfast has traditionally attracted religious leaders, police brass, civic activists and business leaders.

This time around, the invitation-only breakfast is taking place amid a backdrop of the current Israeli-Hamas war as well as a shocking series of anti-Muslim incidents in Bay Ridge and other neighborhoods.

A 19-year-old suspect was arrested last week for allegedly driving up to the front of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, a mosque at 6807 Fifth Ave., in a car festooned with Israeli flags and blaring loud Hebrew music while Muslim worshipers were inside reciting Ramadan prayers.

The incident took place during the early morning hours of July 20, police said.

The suspect, who was arrested by the Police Department’s Hate Crime Task Force, was charged with disruption of a religious service and disorderly conduct.

Dr. Husam Rimawi, president of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, said at a press conference held at the mosque a few days after the incident that worshipers thought at first that the vehicle was a police car. The worshipers believed that someone was trying to intimidate them, Rimawi said. “People were frightened. We tried to calm everyone down,” he said.

In another incident, attackers threw eggs at worshipers as they arrived at the Tayba Islamic Center at 2165 Coney Island Ave. for Ramadan services on July 18. The egg throwers also shouted anti-Islamic slurs, according to a spokesman for the mosque. One victim, a 72-year-old man, was struck by an egg on the left side of his face.

The goal of the task force’s breakfast, according to Pastor El-Yateem, who is also the spiritual leader of Salam Arabic Lutheran Church, is to gather the community’s movers and shakers in one room so that they could meet each other and forge a spirit of cooperation.

“We have religious leaders of all faiths, police officials and community leaders all coming together. The idea is to meet one another face to face and set up an alliance so that we can discuss issues of concern in our community,” he said.

The task force was created in October of 2000 with assistance from then-Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes.

“We were already in existence when Sept. 11 happened. We came together to unite the community,” Pastor El-Yateem said. “We were able to do many things, including bringing supplies to the first responders.”

The task force has also sponsored neighborhood clean-up campaigns over the years.

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