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 

Jewish, Muslim volunteers using ‘Mitzvah Day’ to do good deeds, give Christians a Christmas break

mitzvah_day_in_metro_detroit_0_51742004_ver1-0_640_480DETROIT (WXYZ) – While many Christians will celebrate Christmas with church, presents and a family dinner there are thousands of people in the metro Detroit area that will get the day off, but have little to celebrate.

It’s why for several decades people of the Jewish faith have taken advantage of the day to step up volunteer efforts during what’s now called “Mitzvah Day.” They have also joined together with those of Muslim faith to give back.

“It’s a day we’re proud of,” said David Kurzmann, a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council and AJC. “It’s a day that, for decades now, has become a family tradition.”

Nearly 1,000 Jewish and Muslim volunteers spread themselves across Detroit on Christmas to take part in ‘mitzvahs’ — good deeds — helping Detroit area social service agencies in 51 different communities.

“We can enable the Christian employees here to take some time to be with their families and take the place of some regular volunteers from the Christian community that would regularly be here,” said Kurzmann.

FULL ARTICLE FROM WXYZ NEWS

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 

Jewish-Muslim relations in the Age of Trump

jewish-muslim

The election of Donald Trump as president and the appointment of former Breitbart News chair Stephen Bannon as chief White House strategist have generated a great deal of unease in the Muslim community. As Jews, we have both a moral obligation and an enlightened self-interest to make sure Muslim Americans feel safe and completely at home in America.

Three years ago, North Brunswick resident Sheryl Olitzky launched the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, the only national organization focusing on Muslim and Jewish women with the goal of living in harmony. Of the approximately 50 Sisterhood chapters already running or in the works nationwide, 14 are in New Jersey.

“By providing a safe environment for Muslim and Jewish women to come together to focus on commonalities, respect differences, and create enduring friendships, we find that attitudes toward another religious community improve overall,” she said. In the weeks since the election, Olitzky, who now serves as the organization’s executive director, said, “We have heard from hundreds of women that the Sisterhood is the only place where they feel like they are understood, can be honest about their concerns and feelings, and find support.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM NORTH JERSEY JEWISH NEWS 

Both Feeling Threatened, American Muslims and Jews Join Hands

06unity-4-master768NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Jolted into action by a wave of hate crimesthat followed the election victory of Donald J. Trump, American Muslims and Jews are banding together in a surprising new alliance.

They are putting aside for now their divisions over Israel to join forces to resist whatever may come next. New groups are forming and interfaith coalitions that already existed say interest is increasing.

Vaseem Firdaus, a Muslim who has lived in the United States for 42 years, spent Friday night at a Shabbat dinner for members of a women’s group called the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, in a home here filled with Jewish art and ritual objects.

Until Donald J. Trump was elected, Ms. Firdaus, who is 56 and a manufacturing manager at Exxon Mobil, felt secure living as a Muslim in America. She has a daughter who is a doctor and a son who is an engineer, and she recently traveled to Tampa with her husband looking to buy a vacation home. But Mr. Trump’s victory has shaken her sense of comfort and security.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES