CAIRO – Celebrating the spirits of thanksgiving, Muslim and Jewish volunteers have joined hands in the US eastern state of Virginia to extend help to the needy, promoting harmony between followers of the two Abrahamic faiths.
“In this time of warfare it was a beautiful experience to see the two come together,” Haider Dost, a Muslim student at Virginia’s George Mason University, told St. Louis Post Dispatch.
Dost was one of Muslim volunteers who worked with Jewish students to feed the homeless Sunday in Franklin Park, just blocks from the White House.
The event was one of more than 17 Jewish-Muslim “twinning” volunteer projects across the nation in the days surrounding Thanksgiving.
These efforts were organized by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a New York City-based group that is behind similar events this weekend across the United States.
As part of the events, Jews will visit mosques and Muslims visit synagogue in an effort to promote understanding between followers of the two faiths.
One of those projects forged a new partnership in Northern Virginia between the McLean Islamic Center and Temple Rodef Shalom in which children from both the mosque and synagogue together cleaning up a Maryland park.
“That’s a testament to both Jews and Muslims,” FFEU founder Rabbi Marc Schneier said.
“As the children of Abraham, not only do we share a common faith, we share a common fate.”
Though there are no official figures, America is believed to be home to nearly eight million Muslims.
A 2010 report of the North American Jewish Data Bank puts the number of Jews in the US at around 6.5 million.
The inter-faith efforts come against the backdrop of continuing Israeli attacks on Gaza, which have left more than 40 Palestinians, including eight children, dead and hundreds injured in four days. Three Israelis were also killed in Palestinian rocket attacks.
A few miles away in Washington, Muslim graduate students from Georgetown University, St. Marks Church-Northshore and Mizpah Congregation were creating a match.
The students, members of the Georgetown Muslim Student Association, "wanted to help a Christian congregation on a project," Rev. Steven D. Martin, the executive director of the Oak Ridge, Tenn.-based New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, told Times Free Press on November 24.
"We saw the opportunity to make the match."
Moreover, Muslim students participated in the Grateful Gobbler Walk on Thanksgiving Day, an interfaith prayer service on Friday and an interfaith Thanksgiving service at Mizpah on Friday night.
On Sunday morning, they will have breakfast at St. Marks, hear a prayer by Mizpah Rabbi Bill Tepper and share reflections on their visit before leaving.
Too often, said Martin, people have a "negative image" of Muslims. "But people are people, and [the students] are just wanting to show that."
Interfaith ties between American Muslim and Jewish leaders have a history of successes.
Founded in 1989, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding has worked for years to improve black-Jewish relations as well as Latino-Jewish relations.
In recent years, the group has focused on Jewish-Muslim relations, planning a series of efforts to promote understanding.
The group has launched an initiative titled “Twinning Mosques and Synagogues” to promote ethnic harmony and build inter-group grassroots ties.
Since the initiative began in 2008, it brought together 50 Jewish and 50 Muslim congregations across the United States and Canada at one-on-one programs.
A group of high-profile Muslim and Jewish organizations participate in the initiative, including the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (CAJM).
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