By: Walter Ruby, FFEU Muslim-Jewish Programs Director
FFEU Kickstarts Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committees
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 the first Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committees in New Jersey, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Toronto, Queens, and Atlanta. A fourth Solidarity Committee is also slated to be activated later this week in Queens, NY. The Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims, an existing organization with close ties to FFEU, will work to bring together Jews and Muslims in Toronto and other parts of Canada as well. We hope 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 Solidarity Committees will 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. The Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committees will also be able to use the FFEU blog to advertise events and post reflections on their own work.
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, programming that will 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 exciting activity by several of the committees. Three members of the Greater Washington Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee, 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. Additionally, Rom-Rymer and her co-chair of the 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 that will bring together rabbis and imams from around the Washington metropolitan area and get them more involved in Muslim-Jewish activities.
The New Jersey Solidarity Committee has focused attention on a case involving one of its members, the Islamic Center of Morris County (ICMC) in Rockaway, NJ. ICMC is fighting seemingly discriminatory rules by local zoning officials that forbid teaching Arabic and bringing catered food into the mosque. After hosting New Jersey Assistant Attorney General Paul Salvatoriello, who 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.
In Los Angeles, members have set a goal of developing joint programs across the sprawling metropolitan area that will strengthen Muslim-Jewish ties by 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 a conference in the fall highlighting the deepening of Muslim-Jewish relations in LA. FFEU Chairman Russell Simmons will speak at Claremont-Lincoln graduation ceremonies in May.
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.”