Speaking to a crowd of people of varying religious and racial backgrounds Friday night, Rep. Donald Payne called for more interaction and dialogue between the Jewish and African-American communities.
"The thing that concerns me these days is where is that camaraderie between us now?" Payne asked. "Where has that common bond gone, because a lot of people don't realize, even the NAACP got its start with non-African American members at the helm. So there's a long history of our peoples working together, but where are we now?"
That was just one of the subjects Payne discussed during his speech at the Temple Beth-El's 31st Annual Martin Luther King Sabbath service on Friday.
Among the attendees were Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and Temple Beth-El President Kay Magilavy, as well as Payne, who gave a 25-minute speech that invoked King's legacy and endures in modern society.
"Dr. King fought for the least of all us," said Payne. "The people that did not have a voice, irrespective of what you looked like. His was a message of equality, the content of your character and not the color of your skin."
Payne spoke to the crowd about his upbringing, and how it gave him the opportunity to interact with people from different cultures. Payne, a Newark native, said he spent much of his formative years at the Jewish YWHA on Newark's Chancellor Avenue, where he developed friendships with people from different walks of life.
The 10th Congressional District representative also spoke on what he considers to be the sense of divisiveness and a lack of camaraderie in today's society. Payne called the rhetoric surrounding the race for the Republican presidential nomination "reprehensible," and while he didn't refer to him by name, he pointed to the success of candidate Donald Trump as a sign of that divisiveness.
"We are all immigrants, this is a nation built on immigration," added Payne. "Now at this point in this country's history we want to say close our borders, close our ports. Shall we take the Statue of Liberty down or take the words of the bottom of it? 'Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.' Does this nation not stand for that anymore?"
The congressman also criticized Gov. Chris Christie for his recent comment on President Barack Obama's stance on gun control, where Christie called the president a "petulant child."
"There's some things you just shouldn't say," said Payne. "And the president of the United States whether you like the way he looks, like his politics, like the things he stand for, he's still the president of the United States, and you should respect the office."
Payne also spoke on what he sees as a regressive trend in communication between community groups, comparing the sense of unity that existed between the black and Jewish communities in his youth, with the one that exists today.
After the ceremony was concluded with an inter-faith prayer, Payne spoke to the Jersey Journal about a need for communication between different ethnic communities.
"Tonight is great, but it's like 'see you here in 364 days.'" said Payne. "We need to continue to have other opportunities where we come together on other nights, and just continue to have more and more opportunities to communicate.
"Someone has to able to say that things aren't how they used to be and how they need to be, so we can move this country forward in a manner in which it should be."