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Weekend of Twinning: Mosques and Synagogues Bond

This coming weekend (November 21-23), forty communities (see list) throughout the U.S. will feature a local mosque and synagogue joining together to host a joint program on the subject of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.  The goal of this national project sponsored by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding is to combat ethnic tension between Muslims and Jews.  The event will also seek common ground between the two religious traditions so that members of two faiths can study their shared sacred texts and discover their common humanity.

While the heaviest conflict between Jews and Muslims plays out in the Middle East, that does not mean that here at home all is sweetness and light.  There are numerous instances of rather acrid misunderstandings and even campaigns of hatred by Jews against Muslims and vice versa.

As an example, in this blog, I have been chronicling the anti-Muslim documentary films Obsession and Third Jihad produced by the Aish HaTorah offshoot Clarion Fund.  The latter deliberately marketed the films during the election campaign in a failed effort to drive a wedge between Barack Obama and the Jewish vote. The Republican Jewish Coalition, in attacking Barack Obama, attempted to capitalize on rumors deliberately circulated by Daniel Pipes and others to cast suspicion on him by claiming he was Muslim.

In New York, under the tutelage of Jewish extremists Pipes and David Yerushalmi, a local Jewish group organized to force a Muslim-American woman, Debbie Almontaser, out of her job as principal of the first Muslim public charter school in New York and the U.S.

Prior to that a group of Jewish Barnard College alumni lobbied hard against Nadia Abu El Haj’s attempt to gain academic tenure.  In all the above cases, perfectly reasonable, rational Muslims were targeted as Islamist extremists by frightened, ignorant Jews who believed the worst of them and their motives.

Conversely, here in Seattle, a Muslim-American lashed out against local Jews in a shooting at the Jewish Federation that left one staff member dead and several seriously injured.  I am sure if I knew the Muslim community as well as I know the Jewish community, I could list other instances of Muslim hatred of Jews. Because our own communities here in the U.S. are a microcosm of the conflict playing out in the Middle East, it is necessary that we work hard to overcome our differences here at home as well.

The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding is the brainchild of Orthodox Rabbi Marc Schneier.  It is his vehicle for international dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims.  In his capacity as world Jewry’s foremost proponent of interfaith dialogue, he has met the Pope and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Several months ago, Walter Ruby, the national director of the Twinning project and a freelance Jewish journalist whose work I greatly respect, asked me whether any synagogues in Seattle might be interested.  This blog often deals with Muslim-Jewish relations including what drives us apart and what unites us.  I wrote extensively about the Haq shooting.  Like both communities during that tragedy, I was looking for common ground rather than focussing on the hate that might divide us, and which felled the mentally ill Haq.

For that reason, I was delighted when Walter contacted me.  Truthfully, I had few friends or contacts in the local Muslim community.  But I did approach Rabbi Jill Borodin, at Congregation Beth Shalom, where I belong.  She was enthusiastic about trying to put together a Seattle twinning.  We started by contacting the Idriss mosque in Northgate since it was closest to us geographically.  Attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.

For a short time, a Muslim community leader offered to speak to our synagogue, though he was not an imam nor did he represent a mosque.  I had never met, nor heard of the leader before, but I was grateful for his offer which we accepted until a mosque did finally come forward.

Earlier, I had found via a web search the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS), a mosque in Redmond.  After several attempts, I finally reached their president, Hyder Ali, who consulted with his board and imam and received approval to go forward.  All this took weeks.  By the time Hyder came back with a positive answer, it was just after the High Holidays in October, and Rabbi Borodin didn’t feel we had enough time to pull off a successful, well-coordinated event for this coming weekend.

Walter persuaded her to persevere and she agreed to allow me to go forward with meetings with MAPS members to plan the event.  I had a delightful lunch with two of them and found that I shared more in common with them in our respective approaches to our own traditions than I did with some Jews.  They too grappled with aspects of traditional belief that troubled them.  They too were eager to overcome suspicion of the other to make common cause in fighting bigotry in our society.

During this period last month, the rabbi was away on a ten day trip.  It was then synagogue members began to ask questions about the event.  A few were concerned when they heard that the local Muslim community leader I mentioned above would be the one speaking at our shul (even though by then we had moved on to working with MAPS as our partner).  This leader was considered controversial by more conservative members of the Jewish community.  Enough of a brouhaha had been stirred up, that when Rabbi Borodin returned from her vacation she decided that more prep work and education needed to be done within the synagogue.

That’s why the Seattle Twinning program will not happen this weekend.  Instead, it’s planned for a later date possibly in December.  This gives congregants a chance to ask any questions they might have about the program and our Muslim partners; and it gives the rabbi an opportunity to both answer the questions and explain the rationale for hosting the program.  It also gives the Muslim-Jewish partners a chance to meet and fine-tune the program they’re planning.

While it’s true that suspicion and fear characterized the response of some members of my shul, I’m proud that this was overcome by a rabbi and synagogue leadership convinced that this project was the right thing to do.  All of us are subject to the prejudices by our co-religionists.  We are a product and microcosm of such attitudes.  But we are not prisoners of them.  We are able to liberate ourselves from them and reach across boundaries and barriers established that prevent such dialogue between Jews and Muslims.

If your Jewish community is hosting a Twinning program this weekend mazel tov to you for the vision and courage you have shown.  If you’re not and would like to, ask your rabbi or imam to contact the Foundation in order to participate in future programs.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • B.BarNavi November 17, 2008, 9:44 PM

    Gotta correct you on this one:

    “the first Muslim public charter school in New York and the U.S.”

    This would be a violation of the Establishment Clause. In fact, Khalil Gibran, whom the school is named after, was a Coptic Christian. It is the first ARABIC charter school.

  • B.BarNavi November 17, 2008, 9:58 PM

    I’m also alarmed at the lack of Sephardic participation in the program. You’d think that common cultural links provide a good foundation for dialogue. Apparently old grudges die hard.

  • Cheryl Stumbo November 17, 2008, 10:27 PM

    As one of the survivors of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle shooting in July ’06, I feel compelled to comment: the man who shot me and five of my colleagues (killing one and seriously injuring the rest of us, not to mention traumatizing the entire staff and volunteer base) was raised Muslim, yes, but by peace-loving parents, from all accounts. His problem was long-term, very serious mental illness. Let’s not attribute blame to ethnicity/religion when there are documentable medical explanations. Rationality and reason should prevail.

    • James October 27, 2009, 9:20 PM

      Cheryl, bless you for such a rational comment that blossoms from such an irrational situation. Every culture would claim itself to be peace loving; who can even begin to believe where hate and aggression stem from. They are human traits, not a muslim traits.

  • Jeff Z November 17, 2008, 10:59 PM

    Any mutual understanding and programs that foster dialogues and potential friendships can never hurt…

    They didn’t seem to work afte 9/11 but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t keep trying… even when Rabbis with prior close relationships with Imams approached them and offered to make a joint statement condemning the acts on 9/11 and stating that they are not in the name of Islam… the Saudis paymasters and perhaps a greater % than not of the general sentiment caused the Imams to decline the offer.

    I’m surprised that you could only cite one action of seeming racist attitude or violence against the Jewish community?
    And you mention it as a seeming removed afterthought after going on for several sentences about the converse? a movie that features Arabs talking about Arabs… so I guess every time we see Neterui Karta on Arabic Satellite that should be condemned with as much fervor?

    I suppose you may have forgotten about the murder at LAX which was somehow not classified as an anti Jewish act specifically though the obvious facts show otherwise…

    Or how about information regularly put on Arabic Satellite television that are in the fashion of Obsession and worse… for instance how about the gleeful gloating party thrown for Sami Kuntar, a fellow who bludgeoned a child with his rifle butt after murdering her father in front of her….

    That might qualify? perhaps….

    • Jeff Siddiqui October 27, 2009, 10:30 PM

      Jeff Z there are PLENTY of hate-filled instances to go around. We have a choice; we can either continue to wag our fingers at each other or, decide that ther is more than enough room for us all to live together in brotherhood. Yes, there will inevitably be bumps on the road, but do you want each of us to focus on every bump as we go along or, would you rather have us see that we are getting closer to the goal?

  • Richard Silverstein November 17, 2008, 11:33 PM

    @B.BarNavi: Yes, you’re right. It’s an Arab charter school. But of course opposition to it rests largely on the fact that the Jewish opponents suspect the Muslims behind it of a radical Islamist agenda.

  • Richard Silverstein November 17, 2008, 11:39 PM

    @Cheryl Stumbo: Welcome to this blog, Cheryl. And you have my admiration for the courage you & your co workers showed in the face of such tragedy and horror.

    You may not be aware of the intensive blogging I did about the shooting when it happened. I was one of the few Jewish bloggers who addressed the issues precisely as you presented them above. And I got into intense arguments with some of my right wing anti Muslim Jewish readers for it. They preferred to see Haq as an emblem of all Muslims who hate Jews.

    I did not mean in this post to say anything different than what you did in your comment. And I did say there that Haq is clearly mentally ill. The reason I did use the incident as I did was to juxtapose it with Jewish hate against Muslims. Clearly, some Muslims hate Jews. Haq’s crime is but one example. But I don’t want to make him a poster boy for Muslim hate for the reason you stated.

    • Jeff Siddiqui October 27, 2009, 10:39 PM

      Hello Richard,
      Naveed Haq caused a lot of anguish among Muslims by his attack on the Jewish Federation and he is rather severly mentally ill…However, he had converted to Christianity and had been attending a church for the prior year or two and he had been baptized about a couple of months earlier. He should be correctly identified either as a Christian or a Christian convert.

  • Richard Silverstein November 17, 2008, 11:45 PM

    @Jeff Z:

    the Saudis paymasters and perhaps a greater % than not of the general sentiment caused the Imams to decline the offer.

    That is such a dumbnut statement. There are literally hundreds of statements by imams and Muslim groups condemning not only 9/11 but all terror including that perpetrated by Muslims. I’ve never heard of any group of imams refusing to join a statement with rabbis. You’re just blathering.

    I’m surprised that you could only cite one action of seeming racist attitude or violence against the Jewish community

    Well, you’re prob. the right person to address this then due to yr intensely negative feelings about Muslims. Since all my examples of Jewish hate against Muslims were culled from events in the U.S. in the past yr. why don’t you come up with examples of Muslim hate against Jews. Keep in mind that I’m talking about incidents happening strictly in the U.S. since that is where the Twinning will happen.

    You came up with an incident that happened years ago at LAX. You & I are probably among the few that still remember it. What about something more recent.

  • Jeff Z November 18, 2008, 12:31 AM

    No blathering at all…. fact – in the weeks and months after 9/11 when there was shock and bewilderment – liberal and other mainstream Rabbis in NYC approached Imams in the city they had build up good relationships with and were eventually told that they couldn’t issue or sign on to a joint statement. That is a fact.

    The infantile intimation that I hate Muslims – such mudslinging seems to be specially reserved ironically just for yourself? Nowhere in my writing could it be culled… but that just seems to be regular fare for you…
    If that were the infantile mudslingling standard here – 1 could much more easily infer self hatred from what you have written and to which you take huge grandiose offense to.
    Don’t worry I’m the much bigger person.

    It’s also notable that in the 2 examples above 2 people actually died/were murdered and much more very well could have… yet you haven’t named one incident where such a horrible outcome occurred in the converse? Further, why is it that apparently only you and I can remember a murder at LAX? I mean no big deal, someone was actually murdered? nothing so noteworthy though?? oh you want a more recent example where a Jew was murdered, besides Seattle, and by carefully contextualizing only in the US, we can ignore the Jewish French youth who was kidnapped and tortured for weeks before being killed in a Muslim neighborhood… while not 1 person in the neighborhood said a word.

    In prior posts you rightfully defiantly state that words can do harm, of course only in 1 direction maligning the “right wingers” thus – I rightfully point out that such actions on Al Jazeera which occur far more regularly than some obscure film like Obssession would be very worthy to note and criticize. Thus, one would think that this being blared into the US, as well as the less watched Al Manar etc.. would be far more provocative and dangerous… and I only mentioned one such example – the celebration of the release of Sami Kuntar….

  • Richard Silverstein November 18, 2008, 1:29 AM

    @Jeff Z:

    That is a fact.

    No, it’s not a fact. You haven’t provided any proof for yr claim. Provide proof or you won’t be believed. I attach no credibility to commenters who make empty claims here unless they are backed up w. evidence.

    So far in yr comment you’ve accused me of being infantile twice and accused me of “self-hatred.” So far, you’ve violated my comment rules in 4 diff. ways. That’s almost a record. I strongly urge you to read this site’s Comment Rules and follow them. If you can’t you won’t be publishing any further comments here.

    As for the LAX incident, yes we know. It was a terrorist incident. People died. But as I said, I’m interested in incidents that happened in a more recent time frame as were all the incidents I cited. So once again, can you cite any recent incidents of Muslim hatred directed at Jews here in the U.S.?

    The Twinning event is happening in the U.S. Not in France or Israel. This event isn’t meant to fight the battles of France or Israel. It’s meant to deal with the situation here in the U.S.

    So once again Al Manar, Sami Kuntar, etc. are all convenient whipping boys of the Jewish right, which you so feebly represent. But they’re not directly relevant to this event. Stop beating this dead horse. Stay on topic. If you don’t like the topic, don’t participate.

  • Jeff Z November 18, 2008, 1:58 AM

    No that was just 1 example of the type of propoganda in a similar and far worse fashion as Obssession that is regularly broadcast into Arabic homes in the US…. you slyly avoid that point of course. Obssession is using the MEast to infer propoganda about Arabs and Muslims narrated by Arabs and Muslims from the MEast. Al Jazeera is an Arabic Muslim station from the MEast broadcasting worldwide about the MEast and the world… which regularly makes statements and propoganda about not just Israel but Jews as well that is as bad and worse than Jews. Ie. the relevance.

    And like clockwork you accuse me of accusing you of ‘self hatred’ which I did not… I made a point that if 1 were to use your logic or lack thereof where you mudsling me with hating Muslims then one could much more easily intimate what that you are guilty of self hatred.
    However, both are obviously ridiculous and I very obviously did none other than to point out your behavior and hypocrisy….
    I find it incredibly intellectually dishonest as well as 3rd rate for you to use that in reverse after you accused and slandered me – but somehow it’s not surprising.

    In regards to the Rabbis after 9/11 it’s been a long time but I read about it and viewed it on television. If I feel like wasting some time and researching it, perhaps I will… however, based on you turning around the above to accuse me of breaking “your rules” which I did not after it was you who broke your own rules… I’m not really seeing the point of “engaging” you in any intellectual fair play give and take.

  • Joachim Martillo November 18, 2008, 4:43 AM

    A rich and powerful segment of the Jewish community has been working under a long term strategy to forestall this type of activity.

    The American Jewish Committee’s recent attack on progressive Jews is part of the program, which is connected with Islamophobic incitement like the movie Obsession.

    Towards the end of my paper “The Real Significance of the AJC Attack on Progressive Jews”, I discuss the reasons and the model for the two campaigns, which are really one.

    I need to add a bullet point about making movies structured like Der Ewige Jude.

    Note that the above link works properly if you use Internet Explorer but may not work with Firefox or other browsers, which require the user to search for the word Commentary.

  • Andy November 18, 2008, 9:38 AM

    Joachim –

    To get your (internal) link to work with other browsers, try removing the # character from its name attribute value, i.e., it should be name=”Commentary” and not name=”#Commentary”.

  • Joachim Martillo November 18, 2008, 10:09 AM

    Thanks, it works much better now. I guess I misread the specification.

  • Richard Silverstein November 18, 2008, 5:00 PM

    @Jeff Z: You’re whining & I find it very tedious. If you have anything substantive to say, say it. If not, don’t come here to whine about what a bad person I am and what a swell person you are.

    I don’t think I’ve ever banned anyone for being tedious, dull or boring, but you’ve really tempted me.

  • Jeff Siddiqui November 23, 2008, 1:04 AM

    There are MANY, MANY people of good will from all faiths and races, who keep trying again and again, to maintain friendship and to help build bridges with each other. It is our duty on this Earth, to focus on reasons why we can be friends, rather than reasons why we should remain enemies. To this end, it is painful to see evidence of blind hostility here. Nevertheless, those of us who would like to envision our children growing up in a more peaceful world, must persevere, regardless of those shooting spitballs at us.

    Richard, I commend you for the work you are doing to help make people aware of the deprivation and dispossession by some groups on others, thank you.

    I would like one thing clarified please.
    Haq, the shooter at the Jewish Federation, is NOT Muslim even though he was born and brought up one. He had been attending some church for over a year before his murderous attack and had been baptized a Christian about two months prior to his attack.
    The reason I offer this clarification is because identifying him as a Muslim, only serves those who would like to spread more ill-will against Muslims.

    By the way, please do not hesitate to use my name if you talk about me, I lost my shyness a long time ago.

  • Richard Silverstein November 23, 2008, 1:37 AM

    Indeed, Jeff is the “community leader” I referred to in my post above & I thank him for coming forward at a time when Beth Shalom could not identify a mosque or imam to partner with us. Without his help, we may never have made contact with MAPS & he deserves our thanks for that.

  • Cheryl Stumbo November 23, 2008, 7:47 AM

    During the shooting itself (I was there, I heard him), Haq identified himself as “an angry Muslim-American, angry at Israel and all you Jews.” The man was clearly having an identity crisis, brought on my his severe mental illness: while he held two degrees, he couldn’t hold down a steady job, even as a tutor or a telemarketer; he was upset that women didn’t like him because he was short, bald and overweight; he was afraid his Muslim upbringing turned women off to him, too. He needed to feel significant, he reached a breaking point and he turned to the war between Israel and Lebanon (“my people, Arabs, Muslims”) to stir up his emotions. It could have been anything. But he did deliberately target Jews. It was a “perfect storm” of his mental illness, the TV news coverage of the war, and one thread of his identity. Without the mental illness the shooting wouldn’t have happened (I believe).

  • Jeff Siddiqui November 23, 2008, 11:22 AM

    Hello Cheryl,

    I am hate to disagree with you on anything because of what you have gone through but I must address the “Muslim upbringing” part because that suggests there is something about Muslims that turns women off.
    There is nothing about a “Muslim upbringing” that is really any different from a Christian or Jewish upbringing.
    He also referred to Arabs as “my people”, however, with his Pakistani heritage, he is less of an Arab (Semite) than most Jews are. He could just as easily be targeting women because he is a man, but that should not be an indictment of a male upbringing either.
    As far as I understand, Haq was brought up in a family that was NOT very orthodox in their faith, but, as you said, who can understand what goes on in a sick mind?
    We know he was a Christian when he committed his murder and the shootings; we can only speculate that he was feeling enraged about something that he felt “Jews” were doing and felt had had to “defend” Muslims by attacking Jews.

  • Cheryl Stumbo November 23, 2008, 1:37 PM

    Hi Jeff — We do not have to speculate about what he was feeling enraged about…he TOLD us what he was feeling enraged about. During the event and after (to his parents, to psychologists and psychiatrists, all of whom testified). And from how his participation in the non-denominational Christian congregation was described by the man who invited him to it, it was about trying to find somewhere to fit in. And I am in no way indicting his Muslim upbringing, in fact I think he was probably raised by very decent parents, parents who in fact founded their mosque. I don’t think his religion (Muslim, Christian or otherwise) had anything to do with his decision to break into, assault and kill, but I do think it helped his agitated mind select a target for his frustration.

  • Richard Silverstein November 24, 2008, 2:07 PM

    @Jeff Siddiqui: I can appreciate how Haq’s repulsive act would make any good Muslim want to flee as far away fr. it as possible & make you severely uncomfortable in terms of his being identitified as Muslim. But the truth is that he seemed in his sloganeering during the shooting to be identifying himself as an Arab or Muslim. That was what was motivating his mind during the killing. Yes, he was baptized & may have identified as a Christian at some pt of other. But I think that’s more a symptom of his profoundly disturbed mind & failed search for identity.

    On no acct. do I agree with the Jewish rightists like Pipes & Geller who identify this crime with Islam. It had nothing to do w. Islam. A sick Jewish or Chrisitian or Muslim mind does not implicate those religions in the victim’s sickness. Let’s be crystal clear about that.

    That being said, there are Jews (& Muslims) who are not mentally ill who DO use their religion to fuel their hate of the other. Those people I have no tolerance or stomach for. But Naveed Haq is not one of those.