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.
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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.

 

Sign of hope: An interfaith dinner for the needy by Muslims, Jews

interfaithIt’s hard to find the good this holiday season. From domestic political strife to global conflict, it seems violence and division will prove the overarching themes of this dwindling year.

It can be all too easy to focus on the darkness instead of the light, especially in my profession. But a trip to the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) in Redmond this week reminded me that for every cruel act that makes headlines, there’s a flood of compassion that often doesn’t.

You may have heard of MAPS because its sign has been vandalized twice in the past three weeks. But I didn’t visit the mosque to talk about acts under investigation as possible hate crimes. I was there to talk about Christmas Eve dinner for the needy.

 “We will be bringing rice and pita and curry chicken,” says Khizer Sheriff, co-founder of the Muslim Community Resource Center, the service arm of MAPS. “We try to turn the spice level down, but people really enjoy it. It’s something a little different.”

Sheriff is describing the Christmas Eve dinner he and other volunteers will be serving in Seattle to more than 100 people this evening (the space wasn’t available on Saturday).

This multicultural dinner was founded by a Jewish woman and staffed in part by MAPS and its service arm. It’s its fifth year and has become a favorite tradition.

“It really is about putting our faith in action,” says Sheriff. “Christmas Eve is just another occasion when we can share our blessings with others who are less fortunate.”

For his daughter, Nehath Sheriff, who has volunteered at every Christmas Eve dinner since the start, it’s a reminder of what really matters.

“I think that we all take dinner and family for granted,” she said. “It’s a very humbling experience.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE SEATTLE TIMES 

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 

Muslims, Jews benefit by reading each others’ holy texts

9-Velgenaidi-maha-withnameI recently attended and spoke at an interfaith iftar at Peninsula Temple Sholom, as the Burlingame synagogue opened its doors to celebrate Ramadan. Iftar is the evening meal at which Muslims end their daily fasts during Ramadan, and this event was packed with people from the synagogue as well as from nearby churches and mosques.

Conversation at my table was filled with questions about Islam that I hope I answered to the satisfaction of the guests. Based on feedback from my tablemates and others I chatted with, people were grateful that they were able learn more about Islam and Muslims, and they appreciated our sharing of ourselves.

Many of them left committed to continuing to work toward peace and harmony in our communities while fighting all forms of bigotry, including that which results from Islamophobia.

In turn, I am eternally grateful to Jewish communities and organizations that have consistently spoken out against Islamophobia and bigoted policies calling for banning Syrian refugees or Muslims from entering the United States. Their courage to speak out has given much comfort to American Muslims, showing them that they’re not alone in their fight against the onslaught of bigotry and hatred by politicians and religious leadership.

I am also grateful for the many churches and other Christian institutions, as well as interfaith councils, who have reached out to Muslims to host similar interfaith events or who have attended mosque open houses that have now become regular events during Ramadan and throughout the year.

I remain proud of my American Muslim community for its resilience, courage, openness and ability to adapt, change and improve constantly in its response to growing Islamophobia. I have never in my experience seen such rapid change and growth in such a short span of time — between 9/11 and the present — by any minority community that is under siege as the American Muslim community is.

Once this idea that Muslims are foreign to America is put to rest, I look forward to the time when American Muslims will regularly reciprocate by inviting Jews and Christians to mosques to learn about Christianity and Judaism and to understand better the traditions, practices and values of our neighbors.

I know many Muslims believe that they already know those other religions, since Islam comes after them in chronology of revelation. I, too, thought the same thing until I had the opportunity to actually read the Gospels and parts of the Torah.

FULL ARTICLE FROM JEWISH WEEKLY 

Most Muslims deplore violence. Most think homosexuality is wrong. They sound like Christians

_66643923_muslims_in_churchThe overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world reject violence.They also hold socially conservative views: 90 per cent think homosexuality is wrong, 84 per cent believe sex outside of marriage is a sin, and 77 per cent think abortion is wrong. Yes, the latest Pew Research could be shrunk to a soundbite: Muslims sound like conservative Christians.

It’s an enlightening survey –  showing just how varied, because widespread, Islam is. Look at the attitudes to polygamy: five per cent of Nigerians think it wrong while 85 per cent of those living in Bosnia-Herzegovina do. Again, more than 70 per cent of Saudis believe an apostate (someone who leaves their Muslim faith) should be executed while only 13 per cent of those in southeastern Europe do.

Talk of “Muslim” attitudes is tricky: a Muslim living in Beirut will have little in common with the mindset of the Muslim in Jedda. Similarly, a Muslim in Mali may harbour exactly the same hostility to gays as a Christian in Memphis. Every faith (and atheism is no exception) has its dark but deep-rooted prejudices – even in “tolerant” Britain. Mehdi Hasan has written about anti-Semitism among Muslims, while Baroness Warsi spoke out about Islamophobia at dinner parties among the bien-pensants. And we all know what secularists think of Christians.

More recently, in an address to the Board of Deputies a fortnight ago, Lady Warsi challenged the Muslim and Jewish communities to face their “wild” stereotypes about one another. Muslims should stop resenting Jewish success. Jews should stop suspecting that every statement against Israel masks an anti-Semitic attack. “To say so, would be like saying that any criticism of the politics of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was anti-Muslim.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE DAILY TELEGRAPH (UK)