Family moved to fight against intolerance

When his son-in-law, Belmont resident Ted Hennessy Jr., perished on American Airlines Flight 11 on Sept. 11, Wright Salisbury and his wife packed up and moved from Irvington, N.Y. to Lexington to support his daughter and her children.

He remembers the day well. Salisbury and his wife, Meme, were vacationing in upstate New York on Keuka Lake. In a call to their daughter for directions to a winery, the Salisburys found the unimaginable had happened: Ted had been on Flight 11 and was presumed dead.

“She [Meme> hung up the phone and dissolved in tears,” Salisbury said in a recent interview.

He said the only thing they could do was to stay with their daughter, Melanie, and her two children, Rachel and Matthew, to help them deal with the tragedy.

“We drove directly to Belmont and stayed there for the next six weeks,” he said. “[We> returned to Irvington, N.Y., where we had lived for 32 years and where Ted and Melanie had been married, and put our house on the market.”

But moving to Lexington was not enough, he said, and “All that took time. I thought a lot about what I should do.”

During that time he joined, and became a director, of a group called “Families of September 11,” and befriended many in the religious community.

Even that was not enough for Salisbury, who has worked for himself as an architect and graphic designer since the age of 29.

“I knew the real problem throughout the world is religious intolerance,” he said, and began to work on creating a group to deal with the intolerance.

With the help of his Episcopalian pastor, a rabbi and an Islam leader, Salisbury was able to found “The Center for Jewish-Christian-Muslim Understanding” (TCJCMU) in New York. The organization hosted its first event on Feb. 10 and will host another this fall.

But after the Salisburys moved to Lexington, Wright realized he had nothing in this area to keep him helping to resolve religious intolerance, so he again went into action and is in the midst of setting up a sister organization to TCJCMU in Lexington. He is calling it the “Lexington Center for Jewish-Christian-Muslim Understanding.”

He has already seen positive reaction from his new church, the Church of Our Redeemer.

“Through all this, I have been supported by the clergy and lay people of Lexington, especially by Our Redeemer’s pastor, Alden Flanders, who has met with me weekly and has introduced me to many other people who have been of great help,” he said.

Salisbury wants the center to welcome everyone.

“There are events people can come to. We want people to be active and I think it’s going to work,” he said.

For example, Belmont resident Barbara Beinhocker “plans to organize an art show,” and the organist at Redeemer, Cheryl Duerr, is going to hold a multi-faith concert. Boxborough resident Mary Lahaj will be teaching a series of Islam classes at the Church of Our Redeemer and “talking to our study group at Redeemer,” Salisbury said.

Salisbury recently joined an organization, “September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows,” through which he contacted Jonathan Tynes, a school teacher who lives in Woburn and teaches in Haverhill, “who will lecture and play guitar and sing songs of his own composition for some of our programs,” Salisbury said.

Also, a filmmaker will show her 15-minute piece “Peaceful Tomorrows,” and will introduce the film to the group.

Salisbury said the Center will publish a literary magazine called “The Center,” with fiction, non-fiction and poetry from the three religions, although the search is still on for an editor and a business manager.

At a meeting Tuesday night, Salisbury was able to secure support from the Peace and Justice Committee of the Massachusetts Diocese of the Episcopal Church and he hopes to also “become a mission of the Lexington Interfaith Clergy Association.”

Salisbury has also received support from individuals in the Lexington religious community.

According to the Center’s Web site, Rabbi Daniel Gropper from Temple Isaiah said, “I will absolutely support your efforts. … Thank you for taking up the banner in this important effort.”

The Rev. Lucinda Duncan of the Follen Church said, “Imagine developing that level of trust, interest and skill in listening, and in learning to respond with curiosity instead of defensiveness.”

Although he hopes many will take an interest, Salisbury is just hoping to get some people to volunteer.

“I don’t think we need an army of people. I think we need ten good people. … I feel there are many multi-faith organizations, but most are not Islamic or Jewish and none are local. If you have local organizations, it gets neighbors talking together.”

His hope for the Center is, “To have a better understanding of commonality between the three religions and a better feeling about a group you didn’t know before.”

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