Muslims and Jews: “Enemies, or Allies in the Struggle Against Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism?”

Shahid Akhtar, co-founder and co-chair of Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (CAJM) and Walter Ruby, FFEU Muslim-Jewish Program Director, held an informative and sometimes provocative dialogue on Sunday June 15 at the Sayeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga, Ontario before an enthusiastic audience of about 75 Muslims and Jews from throughout Greater Toronto.

ImageThe theme of the discussion was Muslims and Jews: “Enemies, or Allies in the Struggle Against Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism?”  The dialogue was moderated by Imam Hamid Slimi of the Sayeda Khadija Center. Slimi, former president of the Canadian Council of Imams, is Founder and Director of the Faith of Life Network, which promotes the positive values of Islam for Muslims and non-Muslims alike in Canada and around the world.

During the course of the 90 minute conversation, Ruby and Akhtar spoke about the important progress they have seen in Muslim-Jewish relations in the years since Akhtar co-founded CAJM in 1996–making it the longest operating Muslim-Jewish organization in the world–and since FFEU began working to strengthen global Muslim-Jewish relations in 2007.  Since then, both pointed out, there has been important forward movement both in the Toronto area, where CAMJ has co-sponsored state of the art Weekend of Twinning events since 2008, and worldwide, where twinning events have brought together thousands of Muslims and Jews in more than 30 countries around the world.   

Yet both Akhtar and Ruby said that ongoing efforts to strengthen Muslim-Jewish relations have faced new and difficult challenges in recent months during which  there has been a palpable pulling apart among some Muslims and Jews in North American and Europe due to a deterioration of the Middle East peace process and violent acts, like the recent attack on the Holocaust Museum in Brussels by a French Islamist extremists that left three dead. Ruby and Akhtar said that members of the two faith communities should agree to disagree respectfully on aspects of the Middle East conflict and speak out forcefully against violence and terrorism, while stepping up efforts to build coalitions like recently created and FFEU-inspired Muslim-Jewish solidarity committees in Los Angeles, Washington, New Jersey, and New York. Following in the footsteps of CAJM, these committees are focused on bringing Muslims and Jews together to fight against  Islamophobia and anti-Semitism; educate the two communities about each other to as to discredit misinformation and half-truths that create roadblocks to understanding,  and organizing joint festive, educational and social service events that give Muslim and Jewish participants to strengthen inter-personal ties.Image

According to Akhtar, “Moments like the present, when difficult issues come up between our communities, are exactly the times we need most to be communicating with each other…We must raise our voices together when either community is discriminated against.” Ruby remarked, “There is a beautiful energy at this event, with Muslims and Jews really engaging and learning from each other.  I just spoke with a Muslim woman who was meeting Jews tonight for the first time in her life. Once you encounter people face to face, you can never again see them as part of a sinister ‘Other’.

Rabia Khedr, a hijab-clad blind woman who is a candidate for Mississauga City Council remarked, “It is wonderful to be among Muslims and Jews coming together to listen to and take part in a heartfelt dialogue like this one.  This event leaves me feeling more optimistic about our ability to strengthen Muslim Jewish relations.”

FFEU Kickstarts Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committees Across North America

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First meeting of the Greater Los Angeles Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee at the Islamic Center of Southern California

By: Walter Ruby, FFEU Muslim-Jewish Programs Director

FFEU-INITIATED MUSLIM-JEWISH SOLIDARITY COMMITTEES BEGIN WORK IN CITIES ACROSS NORTH AMERICA

In January 2014, FFEU opened a new chapter in its quest to create closer ties between Muslims and Jews in cities and metropolitan areas across North America with the creation of first Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committees in Greater Washington D.C., Greater Los Angeles, New Jersey and Queens, N.Y. The Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (CAJM), a Toronto-based body that has existed since 1996 and has longstanding ties with FFEU, will serve the function of a Solidarity Committee, bringing together Jews and Muslims in Toronto and other parts of Canada. It is anticipated that solidarity committees will soon be created in other cities where FFEU has worked successfully with local Muslim and Jewish communities to build ties of communication, reconciliation and cooperation over the past six years.

The purpose of the Solidarity Committees is to build on the inspiring success of the Weekend of Twinning in order to strengthen Muslim-Jewish communication in communities across North America on a year-round basis. The Solidarity Committees will serve as umbrella bodies for Muslim-Jewish relations in their metropolitan areas, with the task of coordinating and publicizing the work of local Muslim-Jewish groups, which until now have often been unaware of the work being done by others in their own areas.

Several of the solidarity committees are organizing sub-committees focused on specific tasks; including Standing Up for Each Other (Muslims and Jews taking joint public stands against hate crimes, incitement or discrimination directed at either community); Learning About Each Other so as to counteract Islamophobia and anti-Semitism within our respective communities, and Organizing and Publicizing Cultural, Festive and Social Service Events in order to deepen communal ties and allow individual Jews and Muslims to connect on a personal level.

There has already been heartening forward motion by several of the committees. Three members of the Greater Washington Muslim-Jewish Forum (GWMJF) , Symi Rom-Rymer, Dr. Maqsood Chaudhry and Parvez Khan, took part in the recent meeting of a Muslim-Jewish delegation with the Danish Ambassador to the U.S. spearheaded by FFEU in order to protest Denmark’s recent adoption of a law outlawing kosher and halal slaughtering.  Rom-Rymer and her co-chair of the GWMJF Standing Up for the Other Committee, Suhail Khan, recently contacted a local cable television station, DCTV to express concern about the recent airing of an virulently anti-Jewish documentary entitled “Understanding Anti-Semitism” by Holocaust denier Christopher Bollyn.  Plans are underway for an event focused on bringing together rabbis and imams from around the Washington metropolitan area to get them more involved in Muslim-Jewish activities.

The GWMJF, together with the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society (JIDS) and JAM-DC are sponsoring a breakfast event on Sunday May 18 for imams, rabbis and mosque and synagogue administrators to encourage more houses of worship throughout the Greater Washington area to get more involved in promoting the building of Muslim-Jewish relations. For more details on this event, please contact Walter Ruby at walterruby@gmail.com

 

Participants in the second meeting of the New Jersey Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee at Masjid-e-Ali in Somerset

Participants in the second meeting of the New Jersey Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee at Masjid-e-Ali in Somerset

The New Jersey Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee (NJMJSC) has focused attention on a case involving one of its members, the Islamic Center of Morris County (ICMC) in Rockaway, NJ, which has been on the receiving end of seemingly discriminatory rules by local zoning officials forbidding the teaching of Arabic and bringing catered food into the mosque. The At NJMJSC’s second meeting at Masjid-e-Ali in Somerset, NJ, special guest New Jersey Assistant Attorney General Paul Salvatoriello said his office is fully committed to ensuring that mosques or synagogues are able to exercise their full rights to freedom of religion, members of the Solidarity Committee attended a meeting of the Borough of Rockaway Land Use Board and addressed the board about the importance of ensuring that the mosque is accorded the same rights given to local synagogues and churches. At the end of the meeting the Board appeared to reverse previous positions and to acknowledge that there is no just cause to deny personnel at ICMC the right to teach Arabic, knowledge of which is necessary for the practice of Islam, or to prevent the use of chafing dishes or a coffee machine.

At the third meeting of the NJMJSC, Dr. Ali Chaudry, founder and president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and Rabbi Deb Smith, spiritual leader of the Or Ha Lev Jewish Renewal Community led a fascinating discussion on “Zakat and Tzedakah: Similarities and Differences”, the first of an ongoing series of lectures on Islam and Judaism the two will be leading during subsequent NJMJSC meetings so as to promote greater understanding of the Other among members of our two communities.

In Los Angeles, members of the SoCal Muslim-Jewish Forum (SCMJF) have set a goal of developing joint programs across the sprawling metropolitan area focused on strengthening Muslim-Jewish ties and working together to serve the larger community. There will be an effort to greatly increase the number of LA twinning events during the upcoming Weekend of Twinning. It is anticipated that Claremont-Lincoln University, an ecumenical and inter­religious university with affiliated Muslim and Jewish seminaries (Banyan-Claremont and Jewish Institute of Religion) will sponsor together with SCMJF a conference/celebration in the fall highlighting the deepening of Muslim-Jewish relations in LA.  FFEU Chairman Russell Simmons will speak at Claremont-Lincoln graduation ceremonies on May 20.

The Queens Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Forum (QMJIF), initiated by the Central Queens Y and Jamaica Muslim Center, in addition to FFEU, held a meeting on March 27 at Central Queens Y at which participants from mosques, synagogues and Jewish and Muslim organizations across the Boro vowed to stand up for the Other, to take part in each other’s festive events and to work together for the betterment of the larger Queens community by undertaking community service projects devoted to beatifying the urban environment. After the shooting at a Jewish community center near Kansas City that left three dead by a Ku Klux Klan leader, the QMJIF issued a statement condemning the anti-Semitic attack as well as a recent incident on a public bus in Queens in which a man spat on and shouted insults at a Muslim girl.

The Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims convened a meeting of Jewish and Muslims leaders from across Greater Toronto on March 30 at the home of CAJM xx Dr. Karen Mock, at which they announced plans for a full range of Muslim-Jewish activities in Greater Toronto for the remainder of 2014, including a fund-raising event for CAJM to be held on June 17.

According to FFEU President Rabbi Marc Schneier; “We are gratified that the Solidarity committees are off to such a strong start. We believe these committees will help propel Muslim-Jewish relations to the next level in cities across North America.”

Vienna, Austria: Muslims and Jews band together to learn about one another and fight for their rights

Adapted from Moussa Al-Hassan Diaw’s summary

"Women in our religious communities" meeting

“Women in our religious communities” meeting

International Women’s Day, 2014: Muslims and Jews in Vienna, Austria, come together to learn about “Women in our religious communities”. This meeting of the European Muslim Jewish Dialogue, EMJD, organized by Tomer Weil and Moussa Al-Hassan Diaw, honored the role of important female heroines and figures in Jewish and Muslim history, as well as confronted the difficult questions of women in religion, tradition, custom and the current situation for women in religious communities worldwide.

Tomer, an active member of Jewish Students Organization of Austria (JÖH), and Moussa, a member of the European Union of Independent Students (EUISA); a representative of the Islamic Religious Authority of Austria (IGGiÖ); and a member of FFEU’s European board, first met at a 2013 Weekend of Twinning event.

Tomer Weil (JOH) and Muslima Seval (EUISSA-OSSU)

Tomer Weil (JOH) and Muslima Seval (EUISSA-OSSU)

Rabbi Dr. Kikel spoke with an audience of around 20 Muslim and Jewish students about circumcision, and the contentious ongoing debate on Europe to ban circumcision, prohibiting practice of both Muslim and Jewish traditions. Tomer and Razi Berger, also of JÖH, organized this event that encouraged a positive atmosphere of peace and understanding.

As Razi said, “these meetings are vital as they increase understanding between two peoples, an understanding that both sides are interested in love and not hate; it is only ignorance about the other that creates disagreement.”

Following the event, Tomer and Moussa decided to work together to create EMJD, an ongoing dialogue initiative that will sustain Jewish-Muslim conversation and cooperation in Vienna.  The International Women’s Day event kicked off this initiative. Vienna is not the only city in which these groups are forming; FFEU has initiated Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committees through North America as well.

The enriching conversations of both the twinning and International Women’s Day event have inspired Moussa and Tomer to continue organizing these meeting throughout the year.  Moussa Al-Diaw

Moussa explained his motivation and incentives for this work: “We, Muslims and Jews, have so much in common and share common values. Also, it seems that, as citizens in Europe and “the other” in our own societies, we sometimes have to struggle for the same causes to protest our religious freedoms. I feel a strong bond between Jews, as “people of the book”, and us, Muslims.”

Click here to check out the EMJD’s Facebook page for more info.

Meeting in Washington DC to protect religious rights abroad

      Last Thursday, February 27, 2014, Rabbi Schneier of FFEU and Dr. Sayyid Sayeed of ISNA, Islamic Society of North America,  spearheaded a delegation of ten Muslim and Jewish leaders in a meeting with Denmark’s ambassador to the U.S., Peter Taksøe-Jensen.These ten men and women met with the ambassador to appeal a  new Danish law that effectively bans halal and kosher ritual slaughter. 
The law, passed just a few weeks ago, mandates that animals must be stunned before slaughter for consumption. This law directly contradicts both Muslim and Jewish injunctions regarding halal and kosher slaughter, forcing both Muslim and Jewish communities in Denmark to import their meat and constricting the practice of these religions. As Dr. Sayyid Sayeed said before the meeting, “one can only wonder if the Danish government is seeking to make life so difficult for Muslims and Jews that many will decide to leave the country.”The delegation included: Professor Marshall Breger, former Presidents Ronald Reagan’s and H.W. Bush’s liaison to the American Jewish community; Symi Rom-Rymer, co-chair of Standing Up for Each Other sub-committee of Greater Washington Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee; Dr. Mohammad Elsanousi, ISNA director of community outreach; Dr. Masqood Chaudry, president of the Mclean Islamic Center, Jason Kampf, FFEU board member; Parvez Khan, of Jews and Muslims (JAM) DC; and Will Eastman, Executive director of FFEU.These leaders expressed their concerns that such a law is discriminatory and violates the religious rights and freedom of Denmark’s Jewish and Muslim communities. During the meeting, the ambassador acknowledged the delegation’s concern and agreed that the new law may be tarnishing Denmark’s image in Muslim and Jewish communities around the world. He promised to bring these concerns to his government in Copenhagen. Further, the FFEU will continue to work on protesting this law and is organizing similar meetings with Denmark’s ambassadors in London and Paris.

Read more about the meeting in Danish and Jewish press.

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Muslims and Jews stand together as part of International Weekend of Twinning

Muslims and Jews around the world came together during the Annual International Weekend of Twinning.

In the North West the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester (MJF) hosted several events around the County.

MJF Twinning activities started at Khizra Mosque in North Manchester on Friday with the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Cllr Naeem Hasan, welcoming Rabbi Arnold Saunders and Rabbi Daniel Walker to the Muslim Friday prayer service.

Following the service, the Rabbis were given a tour of the mosque and community centre led by Cllr Afzal Khan, a former Lord Mayor.

They were then met by group of worshippers and both Rabbis were given a copy of the Quran in English by a member of the Muslim community, Rasheed Mustapha.

Qari Jameel gave the Rabbi’s a recital from the Quran following by a translation, and the group discussed just how similar their scriptures are.

On Saturday,Rabbi Arnold Saunders from Higher Crumpsall Synagogue welcomed Cllr Afzal Khan to join in the service & kiddush, whilst the same time the South Manchester, Cheadle Yeshurun Synagogue opened their doors to a group of local Muslims who included Lord Mayor Cllr Naeem Hasan, Shahid Adam Saleem, Abdullah Saleem, Afzal Chaudhri and Jameela Chaudhri to join in the Jewish service.

The guests were impressed with the warm hospitality and Jewish service, and particularly touched when an Islamic reference was quoted as part of the service.

On Monday, Cheadle CMA Masjid, Chair, Dr Usman Choudry, welcomed the Chair of Yeshurun Synagogue, Dr Tony Kaye, along with Mrs Lesley Kaye, HHJ Charles Bloom QC, Janice Bloom and Amanda Kremnitzer to observe the Muslim Isha prayer.

Following the prayers the guests enjoyed a lively meeting with the trustees & worshippers whilst eating kosher food provided by the CMA which was blessed by Charles with a traditional Hebrew prayer.

Usman thanked Shahid from MJF for arranging the social and described the 3 hour event as very informative gathering where both faith communities demonstrated many common aspects during their broad discussions increasing empathy and understanding.

Shahid Adam Saleem, who led on the organisation for the MJF, said, “Thank you to all participants for their positive contributions and we look forward to building on the positive relations formed to increase community harmony and make this an annual event with many more activities”.

Jonny Wineberg, Co-Chair of The MJF, said, “We are proud to stand up for each others rights and challenge intolerance wherever it exists. But even more, we are proud of the respect and understanding we foster between our two great communities and present to the wider community.

“Our thanks go to all those involved in organising and delivering these events and we invite Synagogues and Mosques from around the County to start building relations with their nearest twin and participate in the 7th Weekend of Twinning in November 2014″.

The Weekend of Twinning is an annual event sponsored by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) and held every Autumn.

This year, there were more than 130 twinning events involving Muslims and Jews in more than 30 countries on all six inhabited continents. Participating Synagogues and Mosques and Muslim and Jewish organisations around the world undertook a wide range of activities.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, the President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a New York-based not-for–profit that sponsors the Weekend of Twinning, asserts that “Dialogue is an important first step in building ties of communication and cooperation between Muslims and Jews, but it is not enough. Whenever Jews or Muslims are targets of bigotry anywhere in the world, members of the two communities should stand together against both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism”.

Imam Shamsi Ali, co-author with Rabbi Marc Schneier, of the newly released book Sons of Abraham; A Candid Conversation about the Issues that Divide and Unite Muslims and Jews (Beacon Press) asserts, “No two faiths in this world have more in common than Islam and Judaism. In that spirit, we must truly become our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers”.

The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding is encouraging participants in this year’s Weekend of Twinning to join the movement against bigotry by forming local Muslim-Jewish Solidarity committees and by signing a pledge on Twitter reading: “I pledge to combat Islamophobia, anti-Semitism + all forms of hate for #WeekendofTwinning.”

Welcoming the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims to the Muslim/Jewish Film Series during the Weekend of Twinning of Synagogues and Mosques

Monday, January 13, 2014

Samira Kanji, Azeezah Kanji, Barbara Landau, and Karen Mock

On Jan. 18, Temple Emanu-el and the Noor Cultural Centre, an Islamic educational and cultural organization, will continue their ongoing dialogue through the vehicle of film.

The first film in the Muslim/Jewish series was held in November during the annual Weekend of Twinning of synagogues and mosques, conceived by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) in New York, N.Y., and co-ordinated in Canada by the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (CAJM). Since it began in 2008, the twinning program has expanded worldwide to Jewish and Muslim communities who get together to build connections of understanding and friendship.

In November, members of Toronto’s Jewish and Muslim communities gathered at Temple Emanu-el to watch Arranged, a beautiful tale of unlikely friendship based on a true story, in which Rochel – an Orthodox Jewish woman – and Nasira – a conservative Muslim woman – meet as new teachers in a Brooklyn, N.Y., public school. Both are in the process of having their marriages arranged (or more accurately, of being introduced to potential partners by family and community members.) Their similar journeys to betrothal, and their shared experiences as religiously devout women in a secular environment, bring Nasira and Rochel together.

This month, the Jewish/Muslim Film Series continues at the Noor Cultural Centre with an award-winning Lebanese movie, Where Do We Go Now?  which received Ecumenical Special Mention and the Francois Chalais Prize at the Cannes Film Festival (2011), and the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (2011). This humourous and insightful film promises to stimulate a dynamic and fruitful discussion of how neighbours from different faith communities can diffuse tensions through various means, when political strife threatens peace and friendship.

The value of important initiatives such as the Weekend of Twinning and the Jewish/Muslim Film Series lies in their ability to illuminate the commonality of our struggles, diffracted through the prism of our differences. We hope more and more people from our two diverse communities will join us (admission is free) as we continue to find common ground and to deepen our friendships, thereby enhancing our understanding of and commitment to what it means to be Canadian.

Film is a wonderful vehicle for people to start what can be called ‘courageous conversations.’ It is very effective to share a common experience through a film, and then have a frank discussion afterwards.  As Jews and Muslims living in Toronto, we constantly encounter the diversity of religious beliefs and practices within our respective traditions, as well as the diversity between them. Such encounters with difference may be deeply challenging and yet profoundly enriching. Watching Arranged together helped bridge schisms across both interfaith and intra-faith divisions – between Jewish and Muslim, conservative and liberal, Orthodox and Reform – to dispel stereotypes by bringing into focus the humanity of those on the other side of the divide.

It may seem counter-intuitive to describe Arranged as a feminist film, given the popular portrayal of religion as utterly and irredeemably patriarchal. Religious women, Muslim and Jewish, are frequently represented as deluded by some figment of “false consciousness,” generated by their internalization of perniciously patriarchal norms. For example, the image of the oppressed religious woman haunts recent arguments supporting Quebec’s proposed charter of values, with restrictions on religious veiling imagined as freeing (if not saving) Muslim women.

Arranged disrupts the all-too-common-but-simplistic narrative that women’s empowerment necessarily lies in liberation from the shackles of religion.  Some women undoubtedly experience religion as an oppressive imposition. But for many women, religion is an important source of selfhood and belonging, of meaning and guidance. The film beautifully shows how the protagonists navigate multiple systems of norms – family expectations, culture and tradition, religion, liberal feminism, secularism – as they chart the courses of their futures.

As our subsequent discussion revealed, we are all shaped and limited by many influences we don’t necessarily choose, or even consciously perceive: the values of our families and religious communities; societal norms of gender and morality; state laws; popular media; advertising. None of us exercises choice wholly free of conditioning and social constraint.

Samira Kanji and Azeezah Kanji are with Noor Cultural Centre (www.noorculturalcentre.ca). Barbara Landau and Karen Mock represent the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (www.cajmcanada.org), founded in 1996 and organizing the Weekend of Twinning in the GTA since 2008. For more information on the film series and/or to participate in further activities of the CAJM, please check their websites.

See more at: http://www.cjnews.com/arts/film-series-continues-jewish-and-muslim-twins-toronto#sthash.vO5HAvRU.dpuf

Bradford synagogue saved by city’s Muslims

Bradford synagogue saved by city’s Muslims

Faced with closure a year ago, today Bradford’s synagogue’s future is bright, a model of cross-cultural co-operation
by Helen Pidd, The GuardianFriday 20 December 2013 10.25 EST
Bradford Synagogue
Zulfi Karim, secretary of Bradford Council of Mosques, and Rudi Leavor, chairman of the Bradford Reform Synagogue. Photograph: Gary Calton

It 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.

This burgeoning relationship is perhaps unexpected. When David Ward, one of the city’s MPs, had the Liberal Democrat whip withdrawn over disparaging remarks about “the Jews” and Israel as an “apartheid state”, he was publicly supported by many of his Muslim constituents. George Galloway, the Respect MP for Bradford West and an open opponent of Israel, has organised convoys to Gaza and was praised by many of his voters after refusing to engage in a debate with an Israeli student at Oxford University earlier this year.

The cross-cultural co-operation is warmly welcomed by Leavor, who moved to the city from Berlin as a refugee in 1937. “It’s fantastic,” he said this week, in a joint interview with Zulfi Karim, secretary of Bradford Council of Mosques. “Rudi is my new found big brother,” said Karim, who is on the board at the central Westgate mosque a few hundred metres up the road from the synagogue. “It makes me proud that we can protect our neighbours and at the same time preserve an important part of Bradford’s cultural heritage.”

Bradford synagogue

A fundraising effort led by the secretary of a nearby mosque has secured the long-term future of the synagogue. Photograph: Gary Calton

Now the two men get on so well that when Leavor goes on holiday he gives the synagogue keys to Karim, as well as the alarm code. They have begun what they hope will be a lasting tradition, whereby the Jewish community invites local Muslims and Christians to an oneg shabbat (Friday night dinner) and Muslims return the invitation for a Ramadan feast and Christians during the harvest festival. For the latter, Karim provided halal mince for the shepherd’s pie.

At the start of December, Karim and other Muslims attended a hanukah service at the synagogue. Yet until a year ago, Karim didn’t even realise the synagogue existed. “The Jewish community kept themselves to themselves,” he said. Since the last race riots in the city in 2001, there has been no sign to mark the building. “We didn’t want to be the cause of potential trouble, so we took the plaque down over 10 years ago,” said Leavor, who said there was an incident a few years ago when one man left the synagogue wearing his kippah, or skull cap, and was spat at by two Pakistani men passing in a car.

The Muslims only started to help the synagogue by chance, explains Leavor. He had been approached by Zulficar Ali, owner of Bradford’s popular Sweet Centre restaurant, which is just a few doors away from the synagogue. Ali wanted Leavor to help oppose a planning permission for yet another curry house in the area. Leavor agreed and together managed to block the application. Ali then introduced Leavor to a local social enterprise, the Carlisle Business Centre, which awards grants to worthy causes. They gave several hundred pounds for emergency roof repairs, and a local businessman, Khalid Pervais, donated a further £1,400.

It was only after getting involved that Karim learned that the mill where his father worked after emigrating from Pakistan in the 1960s was run by a Jewish descendant of Joseph Strauss, the rabbi who founded the synagogue in 1880.

Once all of the lottery funding comes through, together with £25,000 pledged by Bradford Council, work will begin to renovate the synagogue. The kitchen will be cleared up, disabled access will be improved and it will open for educational visits from school groups throughout the week. Karim is convinced such initiatives will help build tolerance. “You look at those who killed Lee Rigby, supposedly in the name of Islam. The question is: what makes these young men so radicalised, so angry, so intolerant? I really, really deeply, strongly feel that the way forward is interfaith dialogue – perhaps through food, perhaps through visiting a synagogue or other places of worship.”