Jewish-Muslim Bonds Deepening
Wed, 11/13/2013

An interfaith initiative that bordered on the quixotic when it began five years ago — pairing synagogues and mosques for weekend-long programs that feature theological dialogue and cultural exchanges — has already grown into a symbol of how it is possible to cross religious barriers.

The New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, an independent ecumenical group that stresses the improvement of Muslim-Jewish relations, will sponsor its sixth annual Weekend of Twinning on Nov. 15-17. The weekend will mark the start of a month-long series of programs co-hosted by Jewish and Muslim houses of worship, and other institutions of the two Abrahamic faiths.

When the project started in 2008, such extensive Jewish-Muslim programming was largely terra incognita. Earlier “Your Neighbor’s Faith” programs in this country usually meant Jews and Catholic and Protestants.

When the Twinning project started, the participants were 50 synagogues and 50 mosques in North America. This year, the number is more than 300, including a variety of Jewish and Muslim organizations on six continents. Thousands of Jews and Muslims in more than 30 countries are expected to take part.

When the project began, it was mostly one synagogue partnered with one mosque. This year will feature many citywide, collective twinning events with the participation of multiple Jewish and Islamic institutions.

This year’s theme is “Standing Up for the Other,” emphasizing both religions’ common status as minorities in many lands, and their susceptibility, respectively, to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

The steady growth of the Twinning weekends, while the influence of extremists in both religions apparently has also grown, shows that all communities have men and women of good will.

There is another, emerging sign of Judaism and Islam’s common ground. The Jewish Week, in interviews around the country, has found a still-small trend of mosques being established in Jewish areas in the United States, sometimes next door to a synagogue. In most cases, the newcomer Muslims have received a welcoming reception.

In Baltimore, an Ahmadiyya mosque opened last year in the heart of the city’s Jewish neighborhood, across the street from the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. In Skokie, a community near Chicago where many Holocaust survivors live, a mosque recently received permission from village trustees to occupy the former site of a Holocaust museum. And in a suburb of Philadelphia, a Chabad center was established a decade ago next to an existing mosque.

In each case, members of both religious communities say they have welcomed and supported each other. Despite initial wariness on the part of some Jews and Muslims, despite the perception of them being implacable opponents, neither side reports threats or graffiti or vandalism.

The recent experience in Sheepshead Bay was different. When some members of the growing Muslim community in southern Brooklyn proposed building a mosque three years ago on a residential side street, many members of the local Jewish community — the Jewish population there is mostly émigrés from the former Soviet Union — protested.

In rallies and in flyers, the opposition stressed such quality-of-life concerns as noise and traffic; the website of the Bay People, which is coordinating the opposition, stated that the “neighborhood residents … will not benefit from having a mosque and a Muslim community center.” But some Sheepshead Bay residents are openly against a Muslim presence among many Jews, reports the head of one Jewish community organization, who has heard comments like, “What right do they have to build a mosque in our neighborhood?”

In the city where the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place, where the controversy over the planned “Ground Zero Mosque” in Lower Manhattan enflamed passions three years ago, old fears and suspicions of Muslims — once strangers who to a growing extent are becoming our neighbors — have clearly not dissipated for some.

Building coalitions, identifying partners and fostering common values in various religious and ethnic communities do not produce overnight results. But, as the success of Twinning weekends and the acceptance of mosques in Jewish areas shows, the bonds that are strengthening the fabric of American society can find support in communities that formerly thought they had little in common.
 

editor@Jewishweek.org

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.

Comments

The Jewish community should be more worried about strengthening Jewish identity than serving as a cover for radical Moslems intent on destroying Israel and, ultimately, all Jews. There have been countless Muslim attacks on synagogues both here in the US and more so around the world. There has not been any cases of Jews attacking mosques.

Firstly they must stop thinking of killing us, printing and speaking hate! A tall order indeed.

Russel Simmons has made a career out of promoting vulgar entertainment and is an unabashed supporter of Louis Farakhan. Mr Schneier has a putrid personal track record and a penchant for publicity and apologetics.

Aside from circumstances of expediency and to foster the advancement of Islam, the Koran forbids Jewish-Moslem bonds. Deception for the advancement of Islam is both a venerable and an honorable tradition in Islam. Given the blatant and fundamental contempt the Koran and the Hadiths have for Jews (“pigs and apes,” Koran 5:60, “the rocks and trees will cry out, there is a Jew hiding behind me, Moslem, come and kill him,” in two authoritative Hadiths), a thoughtful skeptic might ask why do the Moslems participate in these twinnings? The answer is quite obvious. Allying with Jews today advances the interests of the Moslem community. Profound and authoritative events in the history of Islam however teach us that the compromises Moslems make when weak have no bearing on the ultimate positions Moslems take when strong. Mohammad for instance made a peace treaty with the people of Mecca when weak and two years later when strong claimed the treaty was no longer in force and conquered Mecca. The official position of Jews (and Christians) in Islam is that we are an inferior people to be subjugated, Koran 9:29 and 9:30 (though some hold these verses can be read to mean we should be killed). Ignorant Jews will point out favorable verses in the Koran. These verses are earlier revealed verses while the blatantly anti-Jewish verses are later revealed. According to fundamental Islamic understanding of the Koran, latter verses supercede or abrogate earlier verses. Thus the truth of the Islamic position on Jews is revealed in the verses of subjugation (if not execution) while ignorant Jews celebrate the meaningless earlier verses. Moslems under the command of Mohammad himself killed the Jews of Medina, and the life of Mohammed is a prime source of religious authority in Islam. Thus any Moslem who believes Jews should be killed does so with strong support in Islamic canonic tradition. A Moslem who befriends Jews and Christians for reasons other than deception transgresses the admonition against becoming friends with unbelievers, Koran 3:28. The Jews shipped under the most horrible of conditions to the death camps nonetheless believed the Nazis when quite paradoxically the Nazis offered them showers. Once again many Jews refuse to believe the reality of our situation. The fundamental position of Islam to Jews is hostile and any outreach the Moslems make today is simply to use foolish Jews (“pigs and apes”) to advance Moslem interests.

"influence of extremists in both religions apparently has also grown" - really? I have not heard of one terrorist act by Jews in comparison to the tens of thousands by Muslims following their Koran. That is fact. Research Mapping Sharia, an empirical study of mosques in the US. 80 % are run by Imams preaching hate for the West, Israel, the US. They are funded by the Wahabist Saudi Arabia. Why don't you ask your Muslim twinning partners to vocalize their outrage at terrorist acts in every country in which they occur? Ask them how they feel about stoning women, genital mutilation, hanging homosexuals? Ask them how they feel about Shari'a Law in the US. Synagogue members should ask them how they feel about Israel. Ask them why Muslims aligned themselves with Hitler? That would be a refreshing perspective on the twinning project.

In the final analysis, the words we exchange and the religious rituals we share with each other, only have meaning when we actually do "Stand up for the Other". Sadly the Seattle Muslim communities were dealt a severe blow when their Jewish brethren failed to speak out against a major Islamophobic institution and honored him as a keynote speaker instead. The WA Holocaust Education and Resource Center in Seattle, invited Mark Weitzman, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) as their keynote speaker at their annual fundraising luncheon. When we Muslims discovered this, we brought the facts of SWCs long and continuing history of promoting anti-Muslim fear and hate (they produced a film called “EVER AGAIN” that raises the specter of Muslims…equated with Nazis…taking over Europe, they showed a virulently anti-Islamic film called “The Third Jihad”, they invite speakers who equate Islam with Nazism and hate), but the Holocaust Center refused to consider withdrawing their invitation honoring Weitzman. Even when we shared the information of Weitzman participating in many anti-Muslim panels alongside well-known Islamophobes such as Daniel Pipes etc., the Holocaust Center did not react.

We asked the Holocaust Center to simply issue a statement condemning anti-Islam hate activities of the SWC and rejecting the film “Ever Again” (all of which stand front-and-center against everything the Holocaust Center is trying to communicate to the world) and asking Weitzman to consider doing the same but again, the Holocaust Center refused. One local Synagogues Rabbi who is on the Holocaust Center’s board, refused to take any stand against the honoring of Weitzman, in spite of recognizing our presentations as valid.

Ironically, this happened during the anniversary of Kristallnacht, conjuring images of Jews being trucked away as others watched in silence.

From our point of view, this failure to support action against such an egregious hate-monger is a crashing blow to faith-relations between Jews and Muslims. We Muslims are being told that it is now time for a “Healing” as we moved forward from the “lessons learnt”. Given the lack of understanding or action by the Holocaust Center and by the Synagogue, it is very difficult to understand what it is we are standing together on and what it is that the twinning and pairing is supposed to do for Jews and Muslims.

I believe 'Twinning' is only good for Muslims, not Jews. I will believe it is good for Jews when a Synagogue can also be Twinned with a mosque and welcomed in a Muslim community. Let's try Dearborn, Michigan for starters. This is just another form of Tikkum Olum that will come back and cut the head off of the Jewish communities doing it and give Jews another issue that will divide and conquer us.

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.