MUSLIM-JEWISH ENCOUNTER IN CRIMEA

Submitted by Anatoly Gendin, coordinator of the Progressive Jewish Communities of Crimea

There was a wonderful Jewish-Muslim meeting on November 20 at the Nir Tamid Synagogue in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, as part of the Crimean observance of the Weekend of Twinning. Members of the youth clubs of the Crimean Tatars and Jewish communities took part in the meeting, as did representatives of the Council of Elders of the Spiritual Center of the Muslims in Crimea and representatives of a broad range of Jewish organizations including the Simferopol Jewish community, the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Crimea and the Progressive Jewish Communities of Crimea. Anatoly Gendin, coordinator of the Progressive Jewish Communities of Crimea, speaking on behalf of Nir Tamid Synagogue, spoke about the grim realities of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Crimea, and expressed the hope that the encounter would be the beginning of an ongoing strengthening of Muslim- Jewish relations in the Crimean Peninsula, a beautiful but troubled autonomous region of Ukraine where ethnic Russian neo-nationalists have advocated reunion with Russia. Gendin argued that the Muslim and Jewish communities have more in common than they have differences, and said that the two communities should collaborate on joint projects for the betterment of both. Prof. Aydar Bulatov, a top Crimean Tatar leaders who serves as chairman of the Center for Islamic Studies in Simferopol, and who took part in the Kiev conference on Muslim-Jewish relations in May, 2011, co-sponsored by the Ukrainian Jewish Congress and Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, showed an exhibition of photographs of cemetery desecrations and other acts anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Crimea; graphic evidence that both communities are threatened by xenophobes and neo-nationalists in the region. The meeting concluded with a wide-ranging frank and open discussion during which many participants agreed that more such meetings are needed if the two communities are to better understand and provide support to each other. There were some skeptics who questioned the usefulness of such efforts, demanding to see instant proof that such Muslim-Jewish encounters are worth the trouble. However, the majority argued that a long term ongoing dialogue will be needed to build a functional alliance. Many expressed satisfaction that the youth of both communities were represented at the meeting and are now engaged in the process of dialogue; noting that they will be the ones who will ultimately reap the seeds of Muslim-Jewish communication and cooperation now being planted.

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