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December 18, 2008 - Image 34

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-12-18

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Reaching Out

California groups try to bridge the Muslim-Jewish divide.

Tom Tugend
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Los Angeles


here was nothing unusual about
some 20 devout Muslims from
the King Fahad Mosque bowing
and prostrating themselves as they recited
the Isha, or night prayer. Only the site was
Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, and the
worshipers were outnumbered by about
80 Jews watching the unfamiliar ritual.
At the same time, in another room of
the Reform temple, Jewish congregants
were participating in the Ma'ariv evening
prayer, watched respectfully by a group of
The separate but interwoven prayer
sessions this month represented the
beginning of a "twinning" movement that
will bring together 50 synagogues and
50 mosques across the United States and
Canada. The twinning weekend, under the
theme "Confronting Islamophobia and
Anti-Semitism Together:' is one indicator
of earnest attempts by American Jews and
Muslims to reach beyond the Middle East
conflict to join hands in battling prejudic-
es within and against their communities.
There are other signs as well. In Los
Angeles, a major university, a Jewish insti-
tution and an Islamic foundation jointly
established a Center for Muslim-Jewish
Engagement. And at the University of
California-Irvine, usually pictured as a
hotbed of Muslim-Jewish antagonism,
student leaders of both faiths recently
returned from a two-week trip to Israel
and the Palestinian territories.
Although past attempts at Jewish-
Muslim dialogues generally have been
short-lived in the face of Mideast flare-
ups, Temple Emanuel Rabbi Laura Geller
was optimistic that the twinning project
would succeed because "for the first time,
mosques and synagogues are giving their
full backing."
On Nov. 21, Temple Kol Ami in West
Bloomfield hosted a special Shabbat ser-
vice as part of the Weekend of Twinning.
Rabbi Norman Roman and Imam
Mohammad Mardini of the American
Muslim Center of Dearborn addressed
prejudices and misconceptions.
The national twinning project was
launched a year ago when the New York-


December 18 • 2008

based Foundation for Ethnic
Understanding, led by Orthodox
Rabbi Marc Schneier and hip-
hop mogul Russell Simmons,
invited 13 Jewish and 13 Muslim
spiritual leaders to a meeting.
"Our goal was to enlist 25 syna-
gogues and 25 mosques, but we
ended up with double the num-
ber," said Schneier, whose foun-
dation has largely concentrated
on Jewish-black relations.
"Both American Jews and
Muslims are children of
Abraham and citizens of the
same country, and we share
a common faith and destiny,"
he said. "Of course, we cannot
ignore the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict — it's the elephant
in the room — but I see the
emergence of moderate, centrist
Muslim voices, particularly
- Reuven Firestone, right, co-director of the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement, shows the
Torah to visiting scholars of Islam."
in the United States, and we
must do everything possible to
encourage such voices."
those with whom they disagree."
attitudes in the Jewish world, but there is
Urging Jews to reclaim some of the
There appeared to be no such caveats
no inherent conflict between Judaism and
passion they invested in the civil rights
needed for the Temple Emanuel audi-
Islam," Firestone said. "We have much in
struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, Schneier ence. At a post-meeting reception, Adam
common in our goals and aspirations."
said that a similar outreach to Muslims
Motiwala, 24, an information technology
Firestone and Dafer Dakhil, the direc-
"can serve as a paradigm for Europe and
consultant whose parents emigrated from
tor of the Al Khattab Foundation, are the
perhaps even for the Middle East.
Pakistan, called the evening "awesome."
co-directors of the new center, with Hebah
During the weekend program, twinning
At another table, Bobbe Salkowitz
Farrag, a recent graduate of the American
sessions between mosques and syna-
commented, "I think there is a feeling in
University in Cairo, as associate director.
gogues were held across the country.
this country that we can't push problems
under the rug anymore. We have to be
Religious Database
Obama Factor
honest, but reach out to each other at the
The center's first major project will be to
At Temple Emanuel in California, the pres- same time."
compile a massive database on key Jewish
idential election of Barack Obama was an
As the concept of the twinning project
and Muslim religious texts for the general
implicit factor in the hopeful attitudes of
evolved, Schneier turned for expert advice
public. For instance, someone searching
several speakers. After saying, "Together,
to the newly formed Center for Muslim-
for an authoritative definition of "kosher"
Jews and Muslims can send a message to
Jewish Engagement. The center is the first
also would be referred to the Islamic
the purveyors of hate and bigotry:' Usman
of its kind and was established through
equivalent, "halal." On a more popular
Madha, the director of the King Fahad
an agreement signed by the University of
level, the center is planning a film series
Mosque, led 300 attendees in a rousing,
Southern California's Center for Religion
on Jewish and Muslim topics, Farrag said.
"Yes, we can; yes, we can" — the Obama
and Civic Culture, Hebrew Union College-
Steven Spielberg's Righteous Persons
campaign's mantra.
Jewish Institute of Religion and the
Foundation has provided a $50,000 start-
Worried that the weekend meetings,
education-oriented Omar Ibn Al Khattab
up grant to the center, but Firestone wor-
which are being publicized nationally
ries about future financing. Noting that
through public service announcements
The three partners, all in the same Los
previous cooperative ventures between the
on CNN and a full-page ad in the New
Angeles neighborhood, had been working
two faiths have foundered on political and
York Times, may become overly emotional, together for some time and decided to
nationalistic differences, Firestone said,
organizers issued a set of guidelines for
formalize their collaboration, said Reuven
"We're aware of these hurdles, but what
discussion leaders. The guidelines encour- Firestone, a professor of medieval Jewish
would kill us is not trouble in the Middle
age "all participants to listen to one anoth- and Islamic studies at HUC.
East but lack of funding. There are not a
er in a courteous and respectful fashion,
"There are some anti-Jewish attitudes in lot of Jews or Muslims who want to invest
without interrupting or shouting down
the Muslim world and some anti-Muslim
in what we are doing."

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