Jeff vonKaenel

This September 11, 2012, marks the 11th anniversary of 9/11. While that day was a day of many painful memories, I remember September 11, 2002, as a celebration of Sacramento coming together as a community.

It was on September 11, 2002, that the Sacramento News & Review, in conjunction with the Sacramento Interfaith Service Bureau, put on A Call for Unity, an interfaith, music and spoken-word event at Memorial Auditorium. This was a remarkable evening where several thousand people gathered to hear local faith groups perform.

The event was held for six more years at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis. In the process of preparing for the event, I attended different religious services in Sacramento, initially just to audition the choirs. But after visiting about a dozen different services—including St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Oak Park, a Russian Baptist church and a Sikh temple in West Sacramento, and the Spiritual Life Center in downtown Sacramento—I was having an incredibly fascinating experience. I eventually attended more than 100 services of all different faiths. If there was a Guinness World Record for interfaith attendance, perhaps I could qualify. I don’t know. But I do know that this experience had a huge impact on my life and my understanding of Sacramento.

There was no entrance fee. I did not call ahead. I just showed up at the beginning of services and took a seat. I did not tell them that I owned a newspaper, I was just a complete stranger that wandered in. Often, I did not know the language being spoken. Often, I would be the only white guy in the room, or the only non-Catholic, Latter-day Saint, Muslim or Buddhist in the room. It never mattered. I was always warmly received.

Usually at the end of services, a handful of people would make a special point of thanking me for coming. Sometimes dozens of people went out of their way to thank me for coming. These people did not know me from Adam.

As a result of attending so many services, I met and got to know many different Sacramento faith leaders. They are an incredible group. Funny, smart, super committed and often wise. I have been very blessed to consider them my friends. And Sacramento is blessed to have them here along with their very diverse congregations.

This September 11 is the 10th anniversary of our first A Call for Unity. It’s true that 9/11 left a mark on many of our lives, but as an alternative to focusing on fear and divisiveness, Sacramento’s interfaith community chose to celebrate our differences and diversity as well as our shared humanity. And Sacramento became a better community because of how we came together in response to this crisis.

Our content is free, but not free to produce

If you value our local news, arts and entertainment coverage, become an SN&R supporter with a one-time or recurring donation. Help us keep our reporters at work, bringing you the stories that need to be told.


Stay Updated

For the latest local news, arts and entertainment, sign up for our newsletter.
We'll tell you the story behind the story.

About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.