Virtual Twinning-December 18, 2011

(submitted by Walter Ruby, Muslim-Jewish Relations Program Officer, Foundation for Ethnic Understanding)

The 4th Annual Weekend of Twinning came to an end on Sunday, December 18 with a Virtual (Online) Twinning Event; a global conversation linking up nearly 30 members of the twinning community in the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Britain, Austria, Ukraine, Israel and Pakistan. The Virtual Twinning, an occasion to link up members of the global Muslim-Jewish twinning community who do not have the chance to meet directly via cutting-edge TeamSpeak3 technology, was co-sponsored by FFEU and the Muslim-Jewish Conference (MJC), a global organization of Muslims and Jews in their 20’s and 30’s committed to building ties of understanding and trust. Highlights of the Virtual Twinning included a presentation by Gabriel Buznick, a young Jewish leader in Argentina, of efforts by Muslims and Jews to strengthen relations there; remarks by Rokhsana Fiaz, executive director of the London-based Coexistence Trust, on the work of her agency to nurture ties between young Jews and Muslims on university campuses across the United Kingdom; and a overview of ongoing efforts to strengthen democracy in Egypt despite recent setbacks by Egyptian-American Mehdi Eliefifi, who recently returned to his home in New Jersey after an extended sojourn in his home country. Georgi Vogel Rosen, a participant in last summer’s Muslim-Jewish Conference in Kiev, who took a lead role in organizing a ‘feed the hungry’ event in Boston during the Weekend of Twinning last month bringing together members of the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council Reach Out group and Muslims Against Hunger Boston Chapter, spoke about an online petition campaign urging corporate advertisers on the TLC reality show “All American Muslim” to spurn efforts by Islamophobic groups to pull their commercials form the show. The petition, which has been spread worldwide via the Muslim-Jewish Friendship Forum, an online discussion forum that is an outgrowth of the MJC Kiev conference, has drawn over 40,000 signatures as of December 18. Both FFEU President Rabbi Marc Schneier and Chairman Russell Simmons have spoken out strongly against a decision by Lowe’s Home Improvement, Inc. to pull its advertising from All-American Muslim. Other presenters during the Virtual Twinning included Shahid Akhtar, founder and co-chairperson of the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (CAJM), which at over 15 years old is the oldest agency focused on strengthening Muslim-Jewish relations; Christine Warner, executive director of Shoulder to Shoulder, a Washington-based alliance of 27 national Jewish, Christian and Muslim organizations (including FFEU) dedicated to combating manifestations of Islamophobia in the U.S.; Dr. Ali Chaudry of the Center for Understanding Islam, who has co-authored a university level textbook on Islam; and Chelsea Garbell, president of the Bridges Muslim-Jewish group at NYU, who organized Weekend of Twinning events at university campuses across the U.S. and Canada. In closing remarks, both Walter Ruby of FFEU and Ilja Sichrovsky of MJC spoke of the importance of increasing interactivity between Muslims and Jews in countries worldwide as an essential component of the ongoing effort to build a global Muslim-Jewish movement committed to communication, reconciliation and cooperation. According to Ruby, “We need to follow up the success of the Weekend of Twinning by facilitating increased communication between Muslim-Jewish activists around the world, so that they become progressively more aware of what is happening in countries other than their own, and consequently come to feel ever more excited and empowered to be part of a growing world-wide movement. Events like the Virtual Twinning and social media initiatives like the Muslim-Jewish Friendship Forum offer us the means to accomplish that goal.”

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In Support of All American Muslims

 

In Support of All American Muslims

 

Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA;

Rabbi Marc Schneier, Founder and President, Foundation for Ethnic Understanding;

Imam Mohamed Magid, President, Islamic Society of North America;

 

Submitted on behalf of Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims; Upholding American Values, a campaign of 27 national faith groups, denominations and interfaith organizations working to end anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States by strengthening the voice of freedom and peace. www.ShoulderToShoulderCampaign.org

 

“Freedom of religion is a hallmark of this country. It is time to decide whether or not we are going to live up to our values.” – Dr. Ingrid Mattson, immediate past President of the Islamic Society of North America

This quote reflects well the challenge we as a country face in light of the past week’s controversy surrounding advertisements for TLC’s reality TV show All American Muslim. The show highlights five American Muslim families experiencing life in ways which we as Americans hold dear: beginning a family, serving in law enforcement, and coaching high school football. At the same time, they are shown practicing diverse expressions of their Islamic faith.

 

As religious leaders, we are committed to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with American Muslims – and with any religious community – when their ability to practice their religion or to express themselves publicly without fear of reprisal is compromised. Public displays of religious diversity in America are a cause for celebration, not for controversy, because they testify to the strength of religious liberty in the United States.

 

Withdrawing advertising support from All American Muslim due to pressure from an organization espousing anti-Muslim motivation is far from neutral. These demands send a chilling message to American Muslims that both their religious and non-religious practices are un-American and should be shielded from public view. The success of these demands has revealed again the outsized power of a relatively small group whose fear-based messages are amplified socially, in media and, at times, by Members of Congress against American Muslims.

 

We stand by the principle that to attack any religion in the United States is to do violence to the religious freedom of all Americans. Efforts like that against All American Muslim perpetuate the serious anti- Muslim discrimination that has grown in recent years, and our religious communities cannot sit by idly while American Muslims’ freedoms are compromised, or their day-to-day activities played down or covered up.

We challenge those invested in this controversy in any outlet – politically, online, in media, or in business – to cease propounding an exclusionary narrative, presenting it as normative or expressive of American values. We challenge you never to pull your support from any religious community in the face of discriminatory ideologies.

 

We urge those companies which have withdrawn their advertising from the show to publicly apologize and reinstate their advertising.

As national faith leaders, we bear a sacred responsibility to honor America’s varied faith traditions and to promote a culture of mutual respect and the assurance of religious freedom for all. Our society will be strengthened by confronting this challenge to the continued inclusion of American Muslims in the United States. We celebrate the valuable contributions they have made to our society through their service, family, worship and vocation.

ACTING AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AT THE FAITH COMMUNITY LEVEL

(submitted by Samira Kanji, President of Noor Cultural Centre, Toronto (annual Weekend of Twinning participant)

On December 6, at a vigil for remembrance of the victims of the Montreal massacre in 1989 (when 14 female students at L’Ecole Polytechniquewere killed by a lone gunman )  I spoke a few words relating to the Muslim community’s November-issued Call to Action to Eradicate Domestic Violence.  Earlier, during our Women’s Multifaith Symposium (November 20th) participants had also decided that the issue of domestic violence was deserving of greater attention at the faith community level, this being where the deterrent religious imperatives can be be imparted to the entire family.  At the vigil, mock grave markers had been erected for the over 600 victims of domestic violence in Ontario alone since 1990.  Looking at the names of the victims, it was evident that they came from a wide range of backgrounds, a reminder that the phenomenon visits all communities.  The Muslim community’s Call to Action unequivocally condemns all forms of domestic violence, including “honour” crimes, and lays out specific commitments for action by community centres to preventatively educate and counsel.

Chelsea Garbell: The Bridge Builder

 by Gentry BrownPublished December 15, 2011

It’s one thing to build a bridge. It’s another to make the journey across it. Chelsea Garbell does both.

 

Read this article in WSN Chrome

 

As president of Bridges, a Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue club, the Steinhardt junior’s dedication to fostering respectful conversation and understanding between the two religions goes far beyond the typical call of duty.

Following her interview with WSN, Garbell jetted off to Fast-A-Thon — an event held by NYU’s Islamic Center. She was attending not out of presidential obligation to Bridges but in genuine support of friends.

“This Fast-A-Thon matters to the friends I’ve made in the Muslim community, so it matters to me too,” she said. “It’s corny, but we really have built a lot of bridges.”

In addition to fostering community between the two groups, Garbell dedicates her time to Bridges planning panels and events, including the popular Jum’ah/Shabat Fridays. Jewish students attend the Jum’ah prayer at the Islamic Center with Muslim students, and then both communities head to Friday night Jewish services. Afterwards students get together for dinner or activities.

Garbell’s conciliatory influence has permeated throughout the NYU Bridges community to the national stage. Garbell was NYU’s nominee for the Truman Scholarship, and she has also acted to make her cause global. This summer, she traveled to Ghana with the American Jewish World Service to build a wall encircling a school for former child slaves.

Within NYU, Bridges has become so popular that the university has planned an Alternative Breaks trip to Nashville, Tenn. As part of the trip, students from the Jewish and Muslim communities will volunteer to help rebuild the region, which was damaged by heavy flooding earlier in the year. Students will also engage with the local religious communities.

Garbell and the three other board members planned the trip in conjunction with the Jewish Disaster Response Corps run by the Bronfman Center. She noted that so much interest has been generated that she still has freshmen asking if they can join.

Nationally, Bridges has inspired 16 other universities to participate in the fourth-annual weekend of “Twinning of Mosques and Synagogues,” for which Garbell helped coordinate involvement. The club is also one of 250 nominees for the president’s Interfaith Community Service Challenge.

“I love that Bridges has taken a huge leap of expansion,” she said. “One of the biggest ways to fix anything is to develop understanding and break down the barriers of ‘us versus them’ and recognize what we have to share and also to respect the differences we have.”

The drive to build these bridges comes from Garbell’s religious observance and upbringing, which instilled a desire to give back to the community that has always fostered her.

“The Jewish community here has always been the number one driving force in my life,” she said. “It’s why I love being at NYU so much, more than anything else. I try to give back in any way that I can.”

Coordinating events for Bridges has allowed Garbell to explore her other interests, like women’s reproductive rights, grassroots campaigning, global public health and, of course, interfaith and religious tolerance.

With several successful discussion panels focusing on issues from food and fashion to gender and sexuality, Garbell and the Bridges board are taking the next step, a controversial one: They are planning an invite-only, sit-down conversation next semester targeted specifically for political discourse.

“It will be a time and space for people to actually talk about the difficult, uncomfortable issues in a context, with people that they have gotten to know and respect,” she said. “That’s really the whole point of Bridges … Once you have a relationship with somebody you can still have an argument and disagree and still walk away friends.”

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 15 print edition. Gentry Brown is a deputy university editor. Email her at gbrown@nyunews.com

Bridging Religious Divides

Bridging Religious Divides

 

By Dow MarmurColumnist

Ominous signs that the promising Arab Spring may be turning into a harsh Arab Winter are reflected in the toxic relations between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East and around the world.

People who live in the diaspora are often prone to import the radicalism of the countries in which they’ve their roots. Therefore, continued tensions between Jews and Muslims are bound to affect Canada, too. Reports of unrest on university campuses and elsewhere are troubling indicators.

That’s a compelling reason to welcome with enthusiasm and hope the initiative of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU). In cooperation with Muslim and Jewish representative bodies in different parts of the world, the foundation has this year again initiated interfaith twinning events that involved thousands of members of both faith communities.

Participants seem to have managed to avoid pious and vacuous declarations by engaging in genuine face-to-face encounters that brought together people from very different backgrounds, not just to be nice to each other but to do hands-on work together. Thus, for example, in Toronto as in other cities in North America, Muslims and Jews organized projects to feed the hungry and the homeless in their locality.

The initiatives of the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims deserve special attention and support. Joint projects make it possible for participants to get to know each other. This in turn helps them to free themselves from prejudices and stereotypes fostered by unscrupulous propagandists with agendas of their own.

The president of FFEU is quoted as saying that the result of this year’s encounters “reinforces our efforts to build a global movement of Muslims and Jews committed to communication, reconciliation, cooperation and understanding.”

And the organization’s chairman said: “There was a moment in time when some thought that bringing together imams and rabbis wouldn’t be productive. But I’ve had some of the greatest and most rewarding experiences of my life promoting dialogue. The fact that year after year more Muslims and Jews are joining the conversation speaks volumes.”

My own experience of interfaith work, including Muslim-Jewish dialogue, bears this out. I’ve learned that the more we come to appreciate the religious commitment of the other, the more we deepen our own. But to get there safely we must avoid the traps of engaging in empty public relations gestures and distance ourselves from the duplicity of those who want to appear conciliatory to the world while promoting hatred in their own communities.

To help make sure that leaders live up to their public statements, Christian counterparts should be involved in the encounters. Christian anti-Semitism is almost as old as Christendom. Through the ages it has often been much more virulent than its Muslim equivalent. Yet things are very different now. Today, most Christian denominations have learned to reach out to and appreciate Jews without seeking to subdue or convert them. The resulting growing mutual trust, reflected in fruitful cooperation, has greatly enhanced the standing of both Judaism and Christianity.

In order to preserve and develop its promising achievements, Muslim-Jewish dialogue needs the participation of Christians to act as witnesses and catalysts to help separate the political situation in the Middle East from the challenge of living in peace with each other here. The pioneering work of the Three Faiths Forum in the U.K. can serve as a helpful model.

Instead of vainly seeking to fight proxy wars between Palestinians and Israelis in the Canadian media and universities, we must discipline ourselves to live up to the teachings of our respective traditions by being good neighbours, thus serving faithfully both God and the country in which we live.

Dow Marmur is rabbi emeritus at Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple. His column appears every other week.

BOSTON YOUNG LEADERSHIP TWINNING EVENT FEATURING JCRC–REACH OUT AND MUSLIMS AGAINST HUNGER–BOSTON

(submitted by Georgi Vogel-Rosen)

 

On Sunday, December 11, nearly 40 Jewish and Muslim young leaders gathered at the Greater Boston Food Bank, where they packaged over 5,000 pounds of donated food and other items to be distributed to local families in need. The event, dubbed the Interfaith Day of Service, was co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council’s ReachOut! young adult community service program and Muslims Against Hunger.

 

“The desire to help those in need transcends religious and ethnic boundaries,” said Georgi Vogel Rosen, one of the event’s organizers. “ReachOut! volunteers have been working on hunger issues since the group’s inception, and we are so excited to join with Muslims Against Hunger in this effort. Working together will only make us more effective.”

 

The volunteers first met for a catered kosher/halal lunch at a nearby hotel and participated in fun, interactive icebreaker games which focused on their commonalities. As they chatted and laughed together in small groups, volunteers talked about their families, movies, music, their names, and their mutual affection for Fenway Park. The group then headed to the Food Bank, where they sorted and boxed enough meals to feed 3,774 people in the Boston area.

 

Jordyn Rozensky, the Young Adult Social Justice Coordinator at the Jewish Community Relations Council, reported that there was a lot of enthusiasm around the event. “”The feedback from the event has been overwhelmingly positive. Participants welcomed the opportunity to join together and adress issues of hunger and poverty together. Along the way real connections were made as volunteers shared laughter, stories and an experience of giving back.”

 

Nazia Ahmed, who heads Muslims Against Hunger, agreed. “It was a pleasure working with ReachOut and the JCRC. The event was really successful in bringing Muslims and Jews in the Boston area together for the common goal of helping the less fortunate. I hope that we can continue to work together for the common good to benefit others as well as to build bridges of understanding between Muslims and Jews.”

MUSLIM-JEWISH TWINNING EVENT IN MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

(submitted by Walter Ruby)

Leila-Miriam Rahimi, a graduate student at the University of Melbourne, is the unofficial Weekend of Twinning role model of the year.
A budding documentary filmmaker with a passion for interfaith relations, Rahimi came from Australia to New York last summer and did an internship with the ASMA Society, Pax Christi, and the Muslim Consultative Network, working with an Afghan women’s organization in Queens. She returned home in August determined to organize a Jewish-Muslim twinning event in Melbourne, but quickly found out that it was difficult to find Muslim and Jewish communal organizations; either at the university or in the larger society, who were willing to step forward and embrace the idea. While Rahimi soon found Jewish and Muslim students who were willing to participate in such an event, she had no organizations to co-sponsor the event and no physical space in which to hold it.

Then, several weeks before the Weekend of Twinning, Leila e-mailed me to say, “I am gung-ho to have a twinning, even if I have to hold it in my own apartment.Would that be OK?” Well, I myself had been trying without success for at least three years from far-off New Jersey to convince Australian synagogues and mosques and various communal organizations to take a chance on holding a twinning event. The time was not yet ripe I had been told; we need to wait a few more years.” And suddenly a young woman steps forward and says; “Hey, I can hold it in my apartment.” Of course it was OK!

Leila already had a promise from a Muslim leader, Dr. Abdullah Saeed, professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Melborne, to lecture on Islam at her event. At the last minute, she managed to locate an Orthodox rabbi who was ready to come to speak about Judaism, Rabbi Dovid Gutnick of the historic Melbourne City Synagogue, built in 1857 and the oldest in the city.
In a brief report after the cozy twinning event in her apartment attended by a small but enthusiastic coterie of Muslim and Jewish students from the University of Melbourne, Rahimi reported, “The twinning was awesome. Both speakers were wonderful. Prof Saeed was very knowledgeable and humble. The students loved him. Rabbi Gutnick was also very knowledgeble and made his presence felt with a great sense of humor….We mainly discussed the similarities between Islam and Judaism – which both the Muslim and Jewish students found astonishing. Who knew that we both pray 3-times a day, fast, consider Fridays ‘holy’, have similar dietary restricting (kosher/halal)…and that we even have similar religious rules around such questions as facial hair, circumcision and female modesty? People were amazed by the similarities.”

Rahimi added, “The feedback from the students was amazing. Everyone seemed to love the event and found it very informative and would definitely want to do it again. Both Professor Saeed and Rabbi Gutnick indicated they’re both very interested in partaking in this event properly next year in a setting where we can bring together a larger group. Still, it may be the case that at this stage, a ‘twinning in Oz (slang for Australia) is more likely to happen in an informal setting than an institutional one. There is still little trust between the communities, so to get things started we need to improvise a bit. The twinning wasn’t perfect, but overall, I think we made a good start.”

Congratulations, mabruk and yashar koach to Leila-Miriam Rahimi, Rabbi Dovid Gutnick, Prof. Abdullah Saeed and the Jewish and Muslim students who took part in the first-ever Jewish-Muslim Weekend of Twinning in Australia. Against all odds, they came together and made a start.”