Muslims and Jews Break Bread, and Build Bonds

13DINNERS-2-superJumboFlorence Nasar kept checking her phone. She was at an interfaith dinner last Sunday aimed at building friendships between New York Jews and Muslims, and the guests, all in their 20s and early 30s, sat on couches around her, sharing stories about their religious practices, their pasts and their quests to define who they are.

Ms. Nasar, a Syrian Jew, was actually living those themes. Her secret Muslim boyfriend was on his way.

She had not told her family about him, she explained to the other guests, because in the insular community in New Jersey where she was raised, intermarriage is forbidden. But Ms. Nasar, 27, an artist and a dancer, no longer lived at home.

She has recently been hosting interfaith events between Syrian Jews and Syrian Muslim refugees, eager to explore their shared heritage. Out of her own interest in understanding people, she had met someone.

 Ms. Nasar was one of about 100 guests at a series of intimate Jewish-Muslim dinners that took place last weekend around Manhattan and Brooklyn to build interfaith understanding. Lonnie Firestone, a modern Orthodox Jew and freelance writer from Brooklyn, came up with the idea for dinners after President Trump’s victory. She wanted to bring Muslims and Jews together in a spirit of friendship, so they could work together against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

How Trump Spurred Muslims And Jews To Eat Together — And Build Bridges

picture1-1466692203On the February night that President Trump unveiled his travel ban on immigrants from Muslim countries, Samir Malik, a 31-year-old tech developer whose parents are from Pakistan, was on his way to dinner in Brooklyn.

Text messages buzzed on his phone. Activist friends of his were on the way to JFK airport to protest. He worried, would his friends and family be affected?

Malik found comfort in the Orthodox Jewish family of six that had invited him to dinner.

“How are you feeling? Do you feel cared for?” his Jewish host asked Malik and his wife, also Muslim, with roots in India.

The gesture was encouraging. The dinner was part of an initiative to bring together Muslims and Jews for small home-cooked meals through New York City. There have been two rounds of these interfaith dinners since February, each drawing around 100 participants.

“The idea is for people who don’t interact as much to have an opportunity to get to know each other,” said Lonnie Firestone, a Modern Orthodox Jew and freelance writer from Brooklyn who is spearheading the effort.

The genesis of this project for Firestone was the election of Donald Trump, which shocked many liberals. On the heels of a divisive and polarizing campaign season, Firestone wanted to organize something that would bring people together.

“Trump’s campaign had fostered an inhospitable environment toward Muslims and to a lesser but still notable degree toward Jews, I felt that Jewish and Muslim Americans should become better advocates for one other,” Firestone said.

Interfaith work like this, of course, is not new. But bringing Jews into Muslim home, and Muslims in Jewish homes for home-cooked meals, felt both urgent and untested to Firestone.

The dinners are organized alongside a string of New York organizations, both Jewish and Muslim. Participants have come from Brooklyn’s Congregation Beth Elohim; the progressive “GetOrganizedBK” group; the Altshul minyan, an egalitarian Brooklyn minyan also in Brooklyn; the Prospect Heights Shul ; the Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee; the Islamic Center at NYU and a group called Muslim Urban Professionals.

 

In Bahrain, Arabs and Jews Gather (and Dance) at a Hanukkah Celebration

Orthodox Jews in black coats and skullcaps danced with Arabs in flowing robes and checkered kaffiyehs at a Hanukkah celebration over the weekend in Bahrain, a Muslim-majority monarchy whose king has sanctioned celebrations of the Jewish holiday.

Video of the celebration, which included a Jewish delegation giving a large silver menorah to Arab dignitaries and members of both groups dancing together, appeared on Monday on YouTube, where many commenters lauded the multicultural celebration.

The event drew the ire of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, which called the celebration a “humiliating and disgraceful display” in a statement.

“The positive energy that there was tonight needs to be spread around,” an unidentified Jewish man tells the group in American-accented English before handing over the menorah, which he called symbolic. “The symbol is that hopefully through this night we can bring infinite light to the world.”

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Bahraini officials hosted the Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony on Saturday, the first night of the eight-day holiday, and that it was attended by members of the country’s small Jewish population, foreign businessmen and “other local Bahrainis.”

The identities of the members of either delegation could not immediately be determined, but American Orthodox Jews suggested online that the Jewish group might have been backed by Eliezer Scheiner, a businessman and philanthropist from Brooklyn. Calls to Mr. Scheiner were not answered.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

Why Jews are coming to the defense of mosques in America

When Sheryl Olitzky first broached the subject of a Jewish-Muslim women’s group, Atiya Aftab didn’t buy it.

“Why is someone calling me because I’m Muslim?” Ms. Aftab recalls thinking. “This is creepy.”

But as Ms. Olitzky made her case over lattes at a Starbucks in suburban New Jersey, Aftab found herself drawn in.

The success of groups such as the Sisterhood point to a growing – and perhaps unprecedented – desire among American Muslims and Jews to work toward a common goal, some say.

Over the years, “More people have become aware of their common faiths given the rise of toxic anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic hate,” says Haroon Moghul, senior fellow and director of development at The Center for Global Policy, a New York think tank. “There’s been a definite change, and for the better.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR 

Two Muslim families entrusted with care of holy Christian site for centuries

keyJerusalem (CNN)The key to one of Christianity’s holiest sites is held by a Muslim family, and it has been for centuries. This is more than just tradition. It is the very essence of Jerusalem, part of what makes the Old City’s cultural and religious history so special.

We meet Adeeb Joudeh at the Jaffa Gate to the Old City. It is 3:30 a.m. At this hour, the tension of the city has melted into the darkness. The narrow alleys are eerily quiet. As Joudeh makes his way through the city’s deserted streets, his footsteps are unnaturally loud, echoing off the walls of the empty stone streets.
He carries with him an ancient cast-iron key, some 500 years old. The key is 12 inches long, with a triangular metal handle and a square end.
It is the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where many believe Jesus Christ was crucified and entombed. The church is one of Christianity’s holiest sites, and many Christian denominations share this holy space for prayer. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the world make a pilgrimage here for the Easter holidays. Few are aware of Joudeh’s significance, and how important a part his Muslim ancestors have played in the story of this holy place.
Joudeh’s family has held the key in their protection for generations. In his house, Joudeh keeps a binder full of pictures of his grandfather and great-grandfather who once held this sacred task, and his family has kept the historic contracts bestowing upon his family this job, written on parchment and signed in golden ink. The oldest dates back to 1517.
“This is the family heritage,” Joudeh says, smiling as he talks. “It’s all we own as a family, and this is an honor not only for our family. This is an honor for all Muslims in the world.”

Jews, Muslims worship together in Providence in interfaith service organized by two Wheeler students

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PROVIDENCE — The sound of prayers in Arabic and Hebrew resounded simultaneously outside of the State House Sunday night in the name of peace and justice.

Two high school seniors — August Kahn and Danish Azam — from Providence’s Wheeler School organized the interfaith prayer service that drew roughly 40 people. Kahn, who is Jewish, and Azam, who is Muslim, said their goal was to show that Jewish and Muslim communities in Rhode Island are committed to having productive dialogue. They also said the event was intended to condemn religious extremism and intolerance.

“We want to show that there’s a group of people who are willing to foster and promote interfaith dialogue and come together to understand each other,” said Kahn, an 18-year-old from Barrington.

Azam, a 17-year-old from Warwick, said the two got the idea after watching a video online that showed a small interfaith group praying in Los Angeles. He said their goal was to draw a larger group to a public space.

They drew children, parents and the elderly to the event, which they advertised on Facebook. Tensions in the Middle East also prompted the pair to organize the event.

“Judaism and Islam are both Abrahamic religions so they share common roots. We are allies,” Azam said.

While the prayers recited were from the Jewish and Muslim faiths, the pair pointed out that some who came weren’t of either faith, but attended to show support for the dialogue.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL 

Bradford (UK) synagogue saved by city’s Muslims

Bradford-Synagogue-012It was around this time last year that the trustees of Bradford’s final remaining synagogue faced a tough choice. The roof of the Grade II-listed Moorish building was leaking; there was serious damage to the eastern wall, where the ark held the Torah scrolls; and there was no way the modest subscriptions paid annually by the temple’s 45 members could cover the cost.

Rudi Leavor, the synagogue’s 87-year-old chairman, reluctantly proposed the nuclear option: to sell the beautiful 132-year-old building, forcing the congregation to go 10 miles to Leeds to worship.

It was a terrible proposition, coming just after the city’s only Orthodox synagogue had shut its doors in November 2012, unable to regularly gather 10 men for the Minyan, the quorum of 10 Jewish male adults required for certain religious obligations.

But rather than close, Bradford Reform Synagogue’s future is brighter than ever after the intervention of Bradford’s Muslim community, which according to the 2011 census outnumbers the city’s Jews by 129,041 to 299.

A fundraising effort – led by the secretary of a nearby mosque, together with the owner of a popular curry house and a local textile magnate – has secured the long-term future of the synagogue and forged a friendship between Bradfordian followers of Islam and Judaism. All things being well, by Christmas the first tranche of £103,000 of lottery money will have reached the synagogue’s bank account after some of Bradford’s most influential Muslims helped Leavor and other Jews to mount a bid.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE GUARDIAN (UK)