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Antisemitism and other forms of racial hatred are on the rise—and Temple Isaiah in Palm Springs is taking a stand with the Interfaith Service to Stop Hate, taking place at 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 29.

During a recent phone interview, organizer Bob Weinstein explained the goal of the service.

“There’s been a tremendous spike in the hate of minorities, with Jews being shot dead in their houses of worship, and African Americans being persecuted in the streets,” Weinstein said. “Even in Palm Springs, we had an incident with the Black History Parade … where someone from the parade was attacked by a racist.

“The LGBT community is systematically being attacked. We have a very polarizing situation today where minorities are being viciously persecuted across the country and around the world. A Jewish person can’t walk down the streets of Paris without being attacked. What I wanted to do to combat this hate before it gets worse is partner up with local churches once a month … and have more of a brotherly service and try to get the pastors, temples and Baptist churches across the country to (tell) their congregations that hate and bigotry are not acceptable. We’d like to start this trend across the country.”

Weinstein said religious congregations are in a position to speak out against racial hatred.

“The base of the community is the community that goes to church or goes to a mosque,” he said. “Unless the leaders of these communities talk and teach their congregants that hate is not acceptable in our society, things could get worse. During the Nazi persecution of Jews in Europe during World War II, most of the churches remained silent, even though the church leaders were aware that Jews were being persecuted and murdered. You can’t have that today. You need to have the leaders of the community talk to their congregants and tell them, ‘This has to stop, and it’s not acceptable.’ We have to make a change for the better, and we have a capacity to do better.”

In 2018, the FBI reported that there were 7,175 hate crimes in the United States in 2017—1,054 more than the previous year, or a 17 percent increase.

“The problem is it’s becoming more acceptable,” Weinstein said. “Antisemitism is out in the open. Attacking African Americans in the street has become more acceptable. These things cannot be acceptable in our society; otherwise, we’re going to end up in a civil war. That’s the bottom line. We have to stop it, and we have to deescalate the situation before it gets worse.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there are at least 30 hate groups in Southern California.

“There have been a number of Nazi organizations and hate groups living in the Coachella Valley, and in the surrounding areas as well,” Weinstein said. “It’s always been a very conservative jurisdiction. Small pockets like Palm Springs are subject to periodic attacks like we had with George Zander a few years ago. We have to be on guard, and we have to fight back.”

The service at Temple Isaiah will include speakers including Congressman Raul Ruiz, Mayor Robert Moon, Palm Springs Councilmember Lisa Middleton, Palm Springs Councilmember Geoff Kors, and State Senator Jeff Stone.

“We’ll have speakers before the service from 6:30 to 7:30, and then at 7:30, we’ll have the service where our congregation will join the Baptist congregation in Palm Springs, Ajalon Baptist Church, an African American congregation, and their choir will join our cantor onstage, singing and praying together. We’ll be praying for peace and to stop the hate.”

Weinstein said Temple Isaiah has an important role to play in fighting for social justice in the Coachella Valley.

“Temple Isaiah has always been at the forefront of trying to seek justice not only for the Jewish community, but for minorities in general,” he said. “Many years ago, we had interfaith services with the African-American community and other communities throughout the Coachella Valley. We’re always trying to reach out. I think that not only should we reach out in this instance; we should try to set a trend for the rest of the country.”

The Interfaith Service to Stop Hate will take place at 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 29, at Temple Isaiah, 332 W. Alejo Road, in Palm Springs. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-325-2281, or visit www.templeisaiahps.com.

Published in Local Issues

Just after 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, Omar Mateen walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and started firing at the 320 or so people who were still in the club after the bartenders announced last call. In the three terrible hours that followed, at least 50 people lost their lives.

The country woke up to this horrifying news on Sunday morning, and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert quickly assembled a vigil to be held at 6:30 p.m. on Arenas Road in downtown Palm Springs. 

Mike Thompson, the LGBT Center’s chief executive officer, explained how the vigil came together.

“It was really kind of a matter of minutes,” Thompson told the Independent. “A few people already coordinated some activities, so it was immediately getting together with them and organizing the community organizers. It was great to have something to rally around, and the support has been tremendous.”

Thompson said that he had not spoken with anyone at The Center, Orlando’s LGBT community center, but he said he was heartened to see how many similar vigils and events had been scheduled in solidarity with Orlando.

“I’m on a list with a bunch of other community centers, and it’s been phenomenal to see the kind of support that’s being shown. There are 152 events scheduled over the next couple of days in 32 states, including San Juan, Puerto Rico and in Mexico City. In a 12-hour period of time, what’s been able to come together when communities mobilize—it’s pretty fantastic.”

He said it was important for the vigil to be held on Arenas—the epicenter of gay nightlife in the Coachella Valley.

“Because this event in Orlando happened in a gay bar, and we had our own tragedy with George Zander on Arenas back in November, it was important for us as a community to gather on this street and show our solidarity in our community. This is significant on so many levels for this community.”

Richard Noble, who walked across America with the rainbow flag to promote LGBT civil rights, was present holding a sign that said “Enough Gun Violence.”

Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2016, Christopher Durbin, said he felt sadness, followed by anger, when he heard about what is now the deadliest mass shooting ever in the United States.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “We’ve had many incidents like these of gun violence in the past, and nothing is being done. Maybe with the largest and most severe one in American history, something will be done.”

Durbin said the vigil offered inspiration on what was otherwise a dark day.

“I am so filled with pride and joy right now. This incredible turnout happened in a matter of a few hours,” he said. “It is heartwarming to see, and it is incredible to see what can be done so quickly in our beautiful town of Palm Springs.”

Just before the vigil started, the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus gave a beautiful performance of “God Bless America,” which resulted in some people choking back tears during the moment of silence that Thompson led, shortly before Congressman Raul Ruiz started to speak.

Ruiz spoke at length about the need for better gun-control laws.

“This is a time where we reaffirm our commitment to defeat terrorism around the international community,” Ruiz told the audience to applause.

At that moment, a man screamed, “Raul! What are you going to tell the NRA when you get back to Washington?”

Ruiz’s response: “I’m going to tell them to stop their bullshit!” he said to thunderous applause.

Ruiz ended his speech on a high note.

“I want to say that I stand with you; I mourn with you; and I dream of an equal America that demonstrates its greatness through the equality of its values, and I will always march with you,” Ruiz said.

When Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon spoke, he emphasized that safety was a priority.

“I want to assure you as your mayor that the city of Palm Springs and your Palm Springs City Council recognizes public safety is the No. 1 responsibility of our city and our City Council,” Moon said.

Moon added a call for solidarity.

“We must put a stop to this violence and tragic loss of life,” he said. “We must continue to work together, to support one another, and not give up the fight for equality for every person in the United States—regardless of their gender, their gender identity, their age, their religion or their sexual orientation. Let’s keep fighting until we win this battle.”

The first of three religious leaders to speak was Rabbi David Lazar, of Temple Isaiah.

“Look where you are standing, because you’re standing on holy ground,” Lazar told the crowd. “We are sanctifying this ground, this street, this row of clubs by being here and saying and doing and just being here. We’re sanctifying this ground. A place where other people come to be together to hold hands and celebrate—that place was defiled. While we can’t go to Orlando right now to do what we’re doing, we symbolically do it here.”

Imam Reymundo Nour from the Islamic Society of Palm Springs spoke out in support of the LGBT community.

“The Islamic Society of Palm Springs wants you to know that we stand with other Islamic organizations, civic leaders, human rights organizations, the clergy and the LGBT community,” Nour said. “We stand together in condemning this senseless act of violence.” 

Imam Nour reminded attendees what happened to the Islamic Society of Palm Springs back in December—an attack which made national headlines.

“Recently, in December, our mosque was firebombed by an individual who had similar hate sentiments,” he said. “The LGBT community stood behind us, so we’re here to stand behind you today. We pray for the victims and their loved ones, and we urge the residents of our valley, we urge the citizens of our nation, to stand with them in their time of need as they stood with us in ours and consistently stand with us in our time of need against bigotry, hatred, and discrimination.”

Kevin Johnson, of Bloom in the Desert Ministries, referenced the jigsaw-puzzle pattern on the stole he was wearing.

“It is a time for drawing together, and we are doing that,” he said. “It is also a time when we are called to action. The ordination stole I am wearing right now is rainbow-colored puzzle pieces. I wear it because it represents the intersection of oppressions … in the LGBT community. Let’s eliminate the lines, but until that can happen, but like jigsaw puzzles, our communities are connected to one another, and we can live, support, and work for one another.”

Johnson said it was important to speak out against violence and included the old ACT UP slogan, “Silence = Death.”

“Thoughts and prayers are fine, but they are not enough,” Johnson said. “Ending this madness will take votes, and I encourage everyone of good faith to cast votes to elect leaders and pass laws to bring sensible gun laws into our communities.”

Lisa Middleton, a transgender woman who is a member of the Palm Springs Planning Commission and former board member at the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, choked up when she first started speaking.

“We remember Harvey Milk; we remember Matthew Shepard; and we remember Brandon Teena,” Middleton said. “We did not need another reminder, but now we have Orlando.

“I have news for the haters: You are going to lose! There are more of us than there are of them. We are stronger than they are; we are better organized; and we have a pulse. It is time that people like Omar Mateen cannot get an AR-15. It is past time for that to happen. We know the club he went to; we know why he went to that club; we know who he targeted; and we know who he was after. He’s not going to win. They have tried to stop us before, put us in jail for who we loved, fired us when we came out, tried to stop us from getting married—and it didn’t work out too well for them. We are stronger; we are together; and this is our town and our country. It is our time! We’re going to stand together. We will stand strong, and ladies and gentlemen, we shall overcome!”

Published in Local Issues

When announcements started to pop up for two different gay men’s choruses last year, many people wondered why a not-so-large area like the Coachella Valley had two such choruses.

Turns out the groups have different philosophies—and the two choruses are offering two very different holiday shows this year.

The Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus—the older, more established organization—will be doing a modernism-themed show.

“The theme of our show this year is A Mid-Century Modern Holiday, said Doug Wilson, the artistic director of the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus. “If you look at midcentury architecture, it’s usually thought of being from 1945 to 1965, and we looked at the music written during that time period. We’re doing ‘Winter Wonderland,’ ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’ and ‘You Better Watch Out.’ We’re doing a lot of the songs that are really familiar to everyone. We’re also doing three Elvis Christmas hits.”

The program being offered by the newer group, Modern Men, is more relaxed in terms of a production, and is focused on the sentimental aspect of Christmas. After a show on Wednesday, Dec. 3, the chorus is offering a second performance on Saturday, Dec. 6.

“The concert title is Stars I Shall Find,” said Bruce Mangum, the artistic director of Modern Men. “We’re doing a mixture of traditional Christmas carols and holiday songs combined with some newer songs from the past 10 years or so. We’re including one powerful number called ‘Not in Our Town,’ which is based on an incident in Billings, Mont., where the town gathered around a Jewish family in support of them after being victims of a hate crime. We also do the traditional holiday songs.”

Back to the reason why there are now two gay men’s choruses in Palm Springs: There was a split due to the aforementioned differing philosophies. Someone who has been part of both choruses and who wished to remain anonymous said the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus had reached a huge 117 members at one point, and there was a disagreement between the artistic director at the time and the board of directors over the music, as well as other issues. The rift led to the formation of Modern Men. Some members have gone back and forth between the groups, and both groups have gone through recent leadership changes.

The directors offered their own perspectives.

“My answer is that it gives the guys a choice to select which group they want to be part of,” said Modern Men’s Mangum. “Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus is more known for their production-type concerns, and Modern Men is more known for just stand-and-sing. I just consider it the same as: Why do we have more than one restaurant or more than one real estate agency? It just gives people a choice. We invite people to find their niche.”

Mangum added that everyone is welcome in Modern Men.

“We have three straight men who sing with us, and that’s part of our credo, which is we invite all men, gay and straight, to consider Modern Men for their choral group,” he said. “We don’t even have the word ‘gay’ in our title. We reach out to the straight community as well for any men who like to sing and enjoy men’s choral music.”

Wilson said there are two choruses because there are two different visions of what a men’s chorus should be.

“There are enough men and enough diversity in thought of what a chorus should be that two choruses came out of that,” said Wilson. “People have different ideas of what a musical chorus should be doing, and we wanted to something that was a little more fun, and we also wanted to do a wider range of music. Sometimes other choruses want to do something that’s more a narrower range of music.”

Both choruses seem to have a lot to offer the community, and both have a committed group of volunteers.

“The volunteers really make a big difference,” Wilson said. “They want to contribute something to the chorus, and this is how they can contribute. They are probably not singers, and a lot of them have the skills we need to do a lot of the work.”

Mangum said Modern Men’s volunteers are also very dedicated.

“Most of our volunteers are spouses or partners of our members,” Mangum said. “We rely on them for last-minute details, and I’m very proud to say that this year, we are ahead in our ticket sales. ... We were ahead in the schedule, and that was thanks to our members getting the word out. They are invaluable, for sure.”

Both choruses are also looking ahead to their spring programs.

“We start right away in January in rehearsals for our spring concert, which is in April,” Mangum said. “The title of that is Get Your Kicks, and it will feature songs of basically the ’40s through the ’60s. It’s going to be a fun concert and kind of nostalgic for people.”

Meanwhile, the Gay Men’s Chorus will head to the 1970s for their spring show.

“In the spring, we’re doing what’s called ExtrABBAganza,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be all music from ABBA. I think it’s going to be great fun.”

In a related story, also see: Christmas With the Band: The Desert Winds Freedom Band’s Holiday Show Focuses on Classics.

Modern Men will be performing at 3 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 6, at Temple Isaiah, 332 W. Alejo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $25. For tickets or more information, visit www.modernmen.org. (Pictured below.)

The Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus will be performing at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 13; and 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 14, also at Temple Isaiah, 332 W. Alejo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets $25 to $50. For tickets or more information, visit www.psgmc.com.

Published in Previews