On the evening of Tuesday, December 15, the recently created Montreal Muslim-Jewish Forum (MMJF), held a Season of Twinning event at the historic Atwater Public Library in Westmount. The event, which was sponsored by the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) featured Rabbi Lisa Gruschcow of Temple Emanu-El Beth Shalom in Montreal and Shaheen Ashraf, Secretary of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, Montreal Chapter on the subject of “Welcoming Syrian Refugees: Muslims and Jews -s Working Together.” Dr. Karen Mock brought greetings from the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims.

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Rabbi Lisa Grushcow addresses the Montreal Twinning Event

Rabbi -Grushcow, who wrote a ground-breaking article in the Montreal Gazette last September entitled “Why Our Congregation is Sponsoring At Least One Syrian Refugee Family”, gave an inspiring overview of how her congregation has moved forward with determination on the project in the months since then; including raising more than $60,000 and filing papers to bring at least two Syrian families to Montreal in coordination with relatives already here, and beginning the process of helping to find employment for members of the soon-to-arrive families.

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Dr. Karen Mock introduces keynote speakers Shaheen Ashraf and Rabbi Lisa Grushcow

Noting that both families are Muslim and that some in the Jewish community have questioned her as to why a synagogue would extend itself to help Syrian Muslims immigrate to Canada, Grushcow explained, “We are not only comfortable helping to bring these families here, but very glad to be playing a small part in a larger movement” embraced by the new Canadian government to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by February 2016. We cannot evoke the righteous (gentiles) who saved Jews during the Holocaust, and not do this now. This is an expression of the commitment at the heart of Judaism to Welcome the Stranger.”

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Shaheen Ashraf speaks at event

Ashraf spoke of the work of CCMW since its foundation in 1982, including fighting for gender equality, working against domestic violence, opposing religious discrimination, including efforts by the previous Government of Quebec to ban religious headgear in the workplace .and speaking out against terrorism and religious fanaticism. Ashraf expressed a readiness to work with the Jewish community, as well as other faith and ethnic communities on the Syrian refugee issue; noting that protecting refugees a value that goes back to the earliest days of Islam when followers of the Prophet Mohammed themselves fled their native Mecca and took refuge in the city of Medina.

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Fo Niemi of CRARR with Shaheen Ashraf and Rabbi Lisa Grushcow

In the general discussion that followed the presentation by Rabbi Grushcow and Ms. Ashraf, members of the two communities agreed to explore ways to cooperate on facilitating the integration of Syrian and other refugees, making a contribution to the fight against obstacles to immigrant integration and standing together against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry. Follow-up plans are to convene the planning committee of the Montreal Muslim-Jewish Forum next month to develop a concrete agenda for ongoing Muslim-Jewish cooperation in Montreal in both the Anglophone and Francophone sectors.

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Walter Ruby of FFEU with leaders of the Montreal Muslim-Jewish Forum


Shoulder to Shoulder & The Aspen Institute’s Open Letter in Washington Post

Shoulder to Shoulder and the Aspen Institute worked together in the last several weeks to pull together an open letter from faith and community leaders, including FFEU President Rabbi Marc Schneier, in response to the currently alarming levels of anti-Muslim bigotry. The letter ran as an ad in the Washington Post. Please see photos:

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Mahboob Akhter, Orange County Islamic Foundation, (949) 436-8604

Rabbi Rachel Kort, Temple Beth El of South Orange County, (949) 306-9855

Walter Ruby, Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (917) 294-1772

In a gesture of good will to residents of the Orange County Rescue Mission (OCRM) and to the larger Christian community, members of a prominent O.C. mosque and synagogue will serve lunch to some 200 residents at OCRM on Christmas Day. The volunteers from Orange County Islamic Foundation (OCIF) in Mission Viejo and Temple Beth of South Orange County (TBESOC) in Aliso Viejo will replace OCRM residents who normally serve lunch to their fellow residents, thereby allowing them to take a break from their daily task and to enjoy Christmas lunch with their families.

The visit to OCRM, which has a Christian orientation, by six volunteers from the Orange County Islamic Foundation and six from Temple Beth El of South Orange County, is the latest manifestation of a decade-long ‘twinning’ relationship between members of the two congregations, which has made Orange County the focus of one of the most positive examples of grass roots Muslim-Jewish relationship building. The Christmas Day event is also the final event and capstone of the two month long International Season of Twinning, sponsored by the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, during which Muslims and Jews held more than 50 joint events in 20 countries across North America, Europe, South America, Australia, Israel and North Africa on the theme of “We Refuse to Be Enemies.” FFEU has been working since 2008 to build a global movement of Muslims and Jews committed to communication, reconciliation and cooperation.

Mahboob Akhter, a member of the Board of Directors of OCIF, who will lead the volunteers from the mosque, commented, “We and our friends form TBESOC decided to serve lunch to residents of the Rescue Mission on Christmas Day because we want to be there for them and for all of our Christian brothers and sisters. Our longer term purpose is to create an ‘Umbrella of Abrahamic Faiths’ through which Muslims, Jews and Christians will do good deeds for each other; starting by serving each other on our respective holidays and special occasions.”

According to Rabbi Rachel Kort of TBESOC, “By volunteering at OCRM and making it possible for all the residents to share Christmas lunch with their families, the volunteers from TBESOC and OCIF are fulfilling the moral imperative at the heart of both Islam and Judaism to reach out and succor those in society who are most in need. We share this ethical perspective with the Christian community as well, so are very happy to be of service at the Rescue Mission.”.

Walter Ruby, Muslim-Jewish Program Director at the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, who will fly in from Washington for the event, commented, “It is fitting that the final event of the Season of Twinning should be spearheaded by OCIF and TBESOC, two wonderful congregations which have developed a close twinning relationship that is an inspiration to Muslims and Jews around the world. It will be an honor for me to be there with them to as they perform a mission of kindness and caring for our Christian brothers and sisters at the Orange County Rescue Mission.

Tw15nning Coverage of Walter Ruby and Rabbi Michael Kushnick in Irving, Texas

Forward Article of Walter Ruby and an KILF News interview of Rabbi Michael Kushnick who attended the Tw15nning event in Irving ,Texas: 


“Like other liberal East Coasters with limited experience of Texas, I have tended to snidely dismiss the entire state as a jingoistic bastion of reaction. Yet a December 13 visit to Irving, a city of 232,000 abutting Dallas, forcefully reminded me that there is another Texas, at once religiously devout and deeply humane.

Amid an escalating drumbeat of anti-Muslim fervor in Irving — including Mayor Beth Van Duyne’s shrill evidence-free campaign claiming that a Muslim court is attempting to impose Sharia law, and a recent appearance outside the sprawling Islamic Center of Irving by a dozen burly men toting firearms and a large banner proclaiming “Stop the Islamization of America” — 200 Christians, Jews and Muslims gathered at ICI and appeared to turn down the temperature in the community with the simple act of sitting in small circles and holding heartfelt conversations.

The event, dubbed “One Irving for Us All: Through Different Faiths, Let’s Relate,” was co-sponsored by my own New York-based not-for profit agency, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, together with the anti-Islamophobia umbrella group Shoulder to Shoulder. Fifteen local churches, synagogues and mosques took part. Many participants, especially evangelical Christians, made clear that they disagree with their Muslim hosts on theological issues, but said that is all the more reason to befriend them and treat them kindly.

To be sure, not all Christians in the community share that enlightened viewpoint. The Rev. Dennis Webb, an African-American minister who serves on the Irving City Council and has publicly criticized Van Duyne for her anti-Muslim rhetoric, acknowledged that: “The reality is that there are plenty of people even in my own church who are afraid that God will strike them dead if they show up on these premises.”

Meanwhile, the palpable fear that many Muslims in the area feel for their physical safety, especially in the wake of the recent armed protests outside ICI and another nearby mosque, was never far from the surface. Rafiza Chowdhury, an ICI member who wears a hijab, commented: “Frankly, these days I am scared that something nasty could happen the next time I go shopping at Wal-Mart. Yet I realize that many of my non-Muslim neighbors are scared as well, frightened of the sinister image of the ‘Muslim next door’ being propagated in the media.”

ICI’s Imam Zia ul-Haque Sheikh, who invited leaders of the attending Jewish and Christian congregations to join in the creation of a new Irving Interfaith Council, had this message for non-Muslims: “Don’t fear Muslims, but instead make an effort to get to know your Muslim neighbors. It is the people who have never met a Muslim who are protesting outside our mosque with guns.”

Some attending the ICI event acknowledged that it is their very discomfort with Islam that drew them there. Frank Braganier, a Christian Irving resident in his 70s who said he was visiting a mosque for the first time, got into an intense discussion with an ICI member named Rashid, who came to Texas from Somalia as a political asylum seeker. Addressing Rashid, Braganier said, “While I am relieved to feel welcome and safe here today, I remain concerned that other Muslims who are coming to America want to put their laws above the U.S. Constitution, and that some, like the couple in San Bernardino, are prepared to commit mass murder in the name of Islam.”

“It is a complete distortion that Muslims are trying to put Sharia above American law,” Rashid responded. “The vast majority of American Muslims totally reject violence in the name of Islam. I myself am enormously grateful to America for giving me refuge and a chance to succeed in life. I have been here for 20 years and my only transgression was one speeding ticket.”

Listening to that exchange, it seemed to me that Rashid had touched Braganier with his palpable love for America and caused Braganier to rethink the canard that American Muslims are trying to impose Islamic law. I jumped into the conversation to emphasize that the savage behavior of the Islamic State group and its acolytes (including the couple in San Bernardino) runs completely counter to the precepts of the Quran, which, like the Talmud, affirms: “If anyone killed a person, it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind.” Yet, I reflected, the hard reality is that neither Rashid nor Imam Zia nor allies of the American Muslim community like myself can guarantee that tomorrow will not see a new massacre of innocents at the hands of another fanatic claiming that his motivation came from the Quran.

Unfortunately, it is the vast majority of peaceful American Muslims who are the most vulnerable to retaliation, whether in the form of Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim travel ban or actual acts of violence. Still, it was heartening that most non-Muslim attendees at ICI showed a keen desire to prevent innocent Muslims from being wrongfully victimized by vigilantism.

In that vein, Rabbi Michael Kushnick of Congregation Anshai Torah, who made the trip to Irving from Plano on the other side of Greater Dallas together with several congregants, drew strong applause when he said, “We Jews know what it is like to be persecuted, so I challenge the Jewish community of North Texas to stand up and speak out for the right of all faiths to practice their religions freely and without fear.” Noting that he recently accepted an invitation to speak at the Friday afternoon prayer service at a nearby mosque, Kushnick said, “The key thing is that we need to open our congregational doors and get people of other faiths inside our buildings.”

But is that enough? Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, a statewide grassroots network that lobbies on behalf of religious freedom and social justice, contended that while the encounter at ICI had opened important channels of communication, direct political action will also be needed to counter the roiling Islamophobia in the Irving City Council and Texas State Legislature, where an anti-Sharia bill is considered likely to pass in the coming legislative session. “Events at which Christians and Jews come to a mosque to say ‘We stand with you’ are fine, but what we really need now is to show legislators that they will suffer electoral consequences if they continue to go in the present ugly direction,” Moorhead said.

Although there are no quick fixes or easy answers, I found myself feeling inspired by the spiritual energy and sheer human decency of many of the people I encountered. At a dangerous historical moment defined by ghastly acts of terror and demagogic calls to crack down on all Muslims, my day in Irving left me with the hope and conviction that all is not lost if people of diverse faiths and ethnicities can put aside fear and come together to build ties of communication and cooperation.

Walter Ruby is the Muslim-Jewish Program Director of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.”

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Spotlight Storytelling: Digging Deeper Featuring the stories of Muslims and Jews in LA on Thursday, December 17th, 2015 at 7 p.m.

NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, which brings together Muslim and Jewish teens and young adults in Los Angeles for innovative, life-transforming encounters, held its annual Muslim-Jewish storytelling event in downtown LA on the evening of November 17 under the title “Spotlight 2015: Digging Deep.”  FFEU, a longtime supporter of NewGround, which is a member of the SoCal Muslim-Jewish Forum, was among the co-sponsors of this unique Season of Twinning event.


Join us for an evening of storytelling, music & fun!

Since 2011, NewGround created a community-building event of true storytelling, based off of the format of NPR’s “The Moth”.    

Our community-based co-sponsors currently include:

LA City Human Relations Commission, The MAJOR Fund, The New Israel Fund, HUC, SC INTERFAITH, TIYYA, ILM, JQI, MPAC, MECA, MALAK, JWW, ICSC, IKAR, JEWSCHOOL, BEND THE ARC, MPV, IMAN CENTER, FFEU, MTO Sufi Association, & more

We look forward to having you with us!
December 17, 2015 at 7pm – 9pm
Downtown Independent: 251 S Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90012


Facebook page:


In the wake of the horrendous shootings in nearby San Bernadino, and amidst global terrorism and backlash against innocent Muslim-Americans, over 300 Los Angeles area Jews and Muslims came together to declare ’We Refuse to Be Enemies’ in a program featuring joint Muslim-Jewish prayer and a celebration of traditional Muslim and Jewish musical motifs. The event took place on Sunday afternoon December 6 at the I.M.A.N. Cultural Center, the city’s premiere Iranian Muslim community center.

The event, sponsored by the SoCal Muslim-Jewish Forum (SCMJF), an organization affiliated with the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding which works to strengthen Muslim-Jewish relations across Greater Los Angeles; was a spiritually uplifting occasion, featuring a joint observance of Muslim and Jewish afternoon prayers, led by “Two Faiths, One Prayer; a change-maker project from NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change. Offering a melodic and at times ecstatic backdrop to the event was a heartfelt musical performance featuring SCMJF member Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels jamming with Muslim musicians Ahmed Pierstroff, Bassem Rashidi and Moose Simjee. Many of the participants in the event banged on drums and shook tamborines provided by the musicians and snake-danced together around the auditorium.


Music and Dance bridging communities together!

The carnage in San Bernadino, only 60 miles east of LA, hung heavy over the event; suffusing the proceedings with a sense of sadness and forboding; even while seeming to infuse greater urgency into the desire of all the participants to connect with each other and celebrate together as Muslims, Jews and human beings.

Before launching into a passionate rendition of his amalgam of Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu with the word ‘Salaam’ prominently inserted, and the Bob Marley anthem One Love, One Heart, Comess-Daniels reminded the audience, ““There is anger in every tradition. This week, we had an event that for Muslims and Jews who work together, hurt particularly, one that threatens to take us miles backward. … Today is a day we must say to each other, ‘Your children are my children; my children are your children.”


“A Chance To Speak Your Peace” New friends exchange personal stories

Addressing the crowd, before Jewish and Muslim worshippers began their respective prayers side by side, Andrea Hodos of Two Faiths One Prayer commented, “Its very dark out there and in such situations, people tend to close off and to pull within their own camp. What we are saying today is, ‘No, God wants us to find a way to be Together.” Soraya Ahyaudin, Hodos’ Muslim co-leader in Two Faiths One Prayer, cited the Quranic verse noting that if God had wanted people to be of only one type, he could have created them that way, but instead “created different tribes.” According to Ahyaudin, “The diversity is how God created us. So this is how I get close to God, by embracing the Other.”


“Two Faiths One Prayer” Muslims and Jews pray side-by-side

FFEU Muslim-Jewish Program Director Walter Ruby told the audience, “Amidst the pain and sorrow of recent events, let us joyfully embrace each other and celebrate today. Let us groove out together in enjoyment of the gorgeous Muslim and Jewish music we will be hearing and to join our voices in prayer.” Noor-Malika Chishti, the chief organizer of the event for the SoCal Muslim-Jewish Forum said, “This was a powerful and timely response to the violence in San Bernadino, Paris, Beirut and too many other places, and gives us the strength and inspiration we need to push forward and deepen our ties; spurning the efforts to pull us apart and reaffirming that we refuse to be enemies.”

Dr. Sadegh Namazikhah, President of the Iman Center said the event, “brought tears to my eyes” and expressed the hope “that this will lead to many more Muslim-Jewish events involving members of both the Iranian Muslim and Jewish communities.”

#WeRefuseToBeEnemies #Tw15nning #SpreadHummusNotHate

#Tw15nning in Sydney!

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On December 10th, (The 5th night Chanukah), Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio of The Emanuel Synagogue, Sydney, hosted a discussion and celebration, for the Season of #‎Tw15nning‬, on Religious Freedom. Jeremy Jones led the Jewish delegation and Sheikh Amin Hady the Muslim Group. The event was joined by some Christian friends from the National Council of Churches for the formalities, the candle-lighting and the donuts and latkes. #WeRefuseToBeEnemies

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(Pictured Left to Right): Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio of The Emanuel Synagogue, Sydney, Jeremy Jones, Chair of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council and Sheikh Amin Hady of the Zetland Mosque.