NEW JERSEY – Breaking decades-old barriers, US Muslims and Jews have come together in a series of events as part of a global initiative twinning mosques and synagogues on six continents to help promote a better understanding between followers of the two faiths.
“Both communities have been threatened by increasing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia,” Will Eastman, executive director of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, told New Jersey Jewish News on Monday, November 18.
“In New Jersey there have been mosques that have been vandalized, and swastikas have been spray-painted on both mosques and synagogues,” said Eastman, a Rutgers graduate from Marlboro who served as president of Rutgers Shalom/Salaam, an interfaith student group.
Eastman’s foundation is the prime sponsor of the “Week of Twinning” which included a series of events joining US Muslims and Jews.
Under the theme “Standing Up for the Other”, about 60 volunteers from both communities gathered at the Masjid-e-Ali mosque November 3 to prepare meals for the hungry and homeless at Penn Station in Newark.
The volunteers, including a number of Rutgers students and alumni, were engaged later in a discussion about efforts to combat prejudice.
Another event was held on November 10 at the Islamic Center of Morris County in Rockaway, which had swastikas spray-painted on it in June.
Brian Thompson, a Rutgers graduate of Highland Park, said he has long been involved in interfaith activities, and served as community service chair at Shalom/Salaam.
“It’s important for organizations to make formal statements, but it’s just as important for regular students and people to talk to one another and become involved with social action projects together,” he said.
Sponsored by The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a New York-based nonprofit organization, the “Twinning Mosques and Synagogues" initiative aims to promote ethnic harmony and build inter-group grassroots ties.
Since the initiative began in 2008, the Twinning Mosques and Synagogues 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).
Uniting in helping the needy, Muslims and Jews found the events more successful than discussion forums and official meetings.
“I love interfaith work,” Mashal Anjum of East Brunswick, who graduated from Rutgers in 2009 and was also involved with Shalom/Salaam and active in Muslims Against Hunger, said.
“It’s exciting, engaging, and so much fun. I love knowing more about other people, other religions. Both Muslims and Jews need that bridge.
“We need to be actively involved creating that bridge, and if we don’t do it, other people won’t believe we get along.”
Arie Schwartz, a Rutgers freshman engineering student from Edison, was encouraged to attend by a friend.
“The first thing that struck me as I walked in is that it didn’t feel much different than a local shul,” he said.
“I was working with some other [Muslim] Rutgers students and found some common ground talking about classes. It was amazing coming together for an obviously great cause and having two cultures that wouldn’t necessarily work together was all very positive.”
Parviz Hamedani, vice president of the mosque, said that as a physician and a Muslim he felt a responsibility to care for the sick, poor, and hungry without regard to religion, race, or ethnicity.
“We have so much in common between the Bible and Koran. And if we are not brothers in faith, we are all brothers in humanity,” he said.
“If we honestly sat down together and opened our hearts and read stories together, we would see that what unites us is so much more than what divides us.”
Hamedani, who was born in Pakistan, said he was proud to be an American citizen, and it was his goal through programs to “work with other Americans of every background to bring peace to America and the rest of the world.”
Interfaith ties between American Muslim and Jewish leaders have a history of successes.
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.
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