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Juneau comes together to remember victims of terror

Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2001

Even those who didn't know where the memorial service was Friday could find it by following the stream of people flowing toward Centennial Hall at noon or the cars lining up to circle through the full parking lot.

All three parts of the ballroom were opened up, with 1,000 chairs lined in tight rows, and still there weren't enough seats. People stood five deep along the walls and into the aisles.

"It's the largest gathering of people in Juneau at one time that I've seen," said Jane Ginter. Her husband and son were in the subway underneath the Pentagon when it was hit, but were unhurt. Now she's waiting for them to come home Monday.

In all, nearly 1,800 people gathered for the nondenominational service as part of a national day of remembrance for Tuesday's terrorist attacks.

"We gather today as people who struggle for answers," said the Rev. Greg Lindsay from Northern Light United Church, opening the service. "We are Jew and Christian, Protestant and Catholic, Sikh, Buddhist and Muslim ... Our presence speaks the promise that love is stronger than hate."

While the tone of the Juneau service was inclusive, hate crimes against Muslims and Sikhs in other parts of the country have touched some Juneau residents. Three seats stayed empty at the end of the row of religious leaders on stage. A Juneau Muslim family had been invited to speak as part of the service, but decided not to at the last minute. They are aware that Muslims have been attacked in other places.

"They're kind of leery of being identified," said HariDev Singh Khalsa.

Khalsa sat with his wife, Mukhya Kaur, near the front of the room, their white and yellow turbans easy to spot in the crowd of bare heads. The Khalsa's also realize that their traditional dress makes them stand out.

"We receive about 30 e-mails a day about people in other parts of the country who have been beaten or bombed... We heard that cab drivers are being pulled out of their cabs in New York and beat up," said Mukhya Kaur Khalsa. "People assume everybody with a turban is associated with bin Laden, whereas most Muslims don't even wear a turban."

The Khalsa's are American Sikhs, a branch of Hinduism. They feel safe in Juneau, but are looking toward a planned trip to Albuquerque in October with a little more caution.

"The world has changed for the Sikh religion," said Hari Dev Singh Khalsa.

Juneau residents denounced the hate crimes seen in other states.

"Muslims aren't the enemy," said Todd Buck. "Terrorists are the enemy. I have some good friends who are Arab."

The resounding prayers Friday were for peace and healing, for an end to violence, for courage and justice.

"There's a powerful sense of community in this room today and I believe that can give us all healing," Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer said as she looked over the crowd, many people wearing red, white or blue.

Then, at 12:30, Ulmer asked for a moment of silence, and even the children were quiet. Babies crying a moment before were muffled and the low whir of the ventilation could be heard, as in an empty room.

The silence melted into singing "God Bless America" and some people held up small flags. Ten baskets passed to collect donations filled quickly with bills and coins. When counted, the noontime collection amounted to $20,303, which will go to the Sept. 11 Fund set up to help the American Red Cross and other nonprofits with relief efforts and rebuilding in New York City and Washington, D.C. Donations can also be made through www.uwnyc.org.

After the service Heather Bunnell said she hopes the events of this past week revive American patriotism.

"I feel like it's once again we're uniting as a country back to 'in God we trust' and unfortunately it takes something like this to do this," Bunnell said, crying as she spoke. "My children, they're going to know God and they're going to love their neighbors and that means other countries too."

Her husband picked up the train of thought.

"For so many years and so many generations this country has had the luxury of peace on our home front," Barry Bunnell said. "Few understand the blood that's been shed and lives that have been lost to secure that freedom. For so much of America this has been an eye-opener to what so much of the rest of the world lives with every day."

In the foyer, people drew mountains, eagles and other pictures of hope on a billboard-sized easel Paul Wislotski had set up. He plans to send the drawings to the people of New York and Washington, D.C.

"America needs a way to grieve, and one way to grieve is through art," said Wislotski, who calls himself a missionary of art. He will have the easels up at Marine Park from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today. The United Methodist Churches of Greater Juneau are sponsoring a candlelight service in Marine Park at 7 p.m. today.

*****

Kristan Hutchison can be reached at khutchison@juneauempire.com.



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