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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