SEASON OF TWINNING IN TUNIS: TAKING IT TO THE STREETS

 

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FFEU European Director, Samia Hathroubi, meets members of Tunisian young adult interfaith organizations in Tunis

This year, after two consecutive years of holding conferences and film screenings to mark the Season of Twinning in Tunis, we decided to take our 2015 Season of Twinning event into the streets of the city. Part of our message in in doing so is that despite two high profile ISIS-inspired terror attacks in Tunisia this year which took a horrific toll in innocent lives, Tunisian Jews and Muslims are friends and not afraid to publicly encounter each other.

In cooperation with Yamina Thabet and her Tunisian Association in Support of Minorities, FFEU European Coordinator Samia Hathroubi led a tour of the old Jewish quarter of Tunis and held meetings with members of the small, but influential Jewish population which has remained there.

In 1945, there were more than 100,000 Jews in Tunisia, with the majority in the capital. Today, about 700 Jews remain in Tunis, with 1200 more in the ancient community on the island of Djerba. Yet many from the large Tunisian Jewish diasporas in France, Canada, Israel and elsewhere remain engaged with the community and visit here frequently for religious pilgirimages.

The tour of the Jewish Quarter began with a visit to the Cimetery Borgel, where the visitors were informed that 70 years ago the Jewish population of Tunis was a vibrant mix of people who had lived for generations in Tunisia, and others known collectively as “the Grana” who had migrated here from Italy, Portugal and Malta.

After that, we went to the Commemoration Masoleum, where we stood in silence in memory for all the Tunisian Jews who either died in work camps established by the Nazis in Tunisia during their occupation of the country in 1942-1943 or were deported to the death camps of Europe during the same terrible period.

We then headed to the Hafsia, the heart of the former Jewish quarter located in the heart of the medina (marketplace) of old Tunis. Within a cramped several bloc blocks almost 60 synagogues once stood. Today, many of these buildings are chic coffee houses, yet if one looks closely it is possible to find tell-tale signs–such as now empty alcoves in walls that once held mezuzzot —revealing that here were once Jewish homes and places of worship.

Moche Uzan, assistant to the Chief Rabbi of Tunis, Benjamin Hattab, gave a passionate presentation of the history of the Hafsia, complete with many colorful and moving anecdotes. The two men are now collaborating on a book showcasing the glorious history and complex present day reality of the Tunisian Jewish community.

Following the visit to the Jewish community, Samia Hathroubi held a meeting with members of Tunisian young adults organizations to give an overview of her work on behalf of FFEU in strengthening Muslim-Jewish relations across Europe. Participants in the event were all in their 20’s and included members of the Youth Council of Tunisia and of Yala, a youth empowerment organization.

The discussion focused on the pressing need for Tunisians to better understand their pluralistic identity, including its Judaic component. Embracing this identity, and affirming the rights of Jews, Christians and other minorities to full citizenship and participation in public life will spur the process of  democratization here five years after the Arab Spring was launched with demonstrations in Tunis against the dictatorial regime then in power.

Participants in the Young Adults event expressed enthusiasm for the mottos #NousSommesUnis and #Werefusetobeenemies. They vowed to participate in the Season of Twinning 2017, which will be a cultural event focused on the multi-faceted identity of Tunisia, including its Jewish part.

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O.C. MUSLIMS AND JEWS EXPRESS SOLIDARITY WITH CHRISTIANS BY SERVING LUNCH TO RESIDENTS OF ORANGE COUNTY RESCUE MISSION ON CHRISTMAS DAY

In a gesture of good will to residents of the Orange County Rescue Mission (OCRM) and to the larger Christian community, more than 20 members of the Orange County Islamic Foundation (OCIF) and Temple Beth El of South Orange County (TBESOC) served lunch to some 200 residents at OCRM on Christmas Day. The Muslim and Jewish volunteers replaced 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 volunteers from OCIF and TBESOC was the latest manifestation of a longstanding ‘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 was 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 www.ffeu.org, 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.

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Samia Dean of OCIF and Alana Spector of TBESOC on food line at OCRC

Mahboob Akhter, a member of the Board of Directors of OCIF, who l led the volunteers from the mosque, commented, “We and our friends from TBESOC decided to serve lunch to residents of the Rescue Mission on Christmas Day in order 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.”

According to Rabbi Rachel Kort of TBESOC, “By making it possible for all the residents of OCRM to share Christmas lunch with their families, the volunteers from TBESOC and OCIF were 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 we were very happy to be of service at the Rescue Mission.”.

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Rabbi Rachel Kort and Sherri Hoffman Krause of TBESOC with Sima Salim of OCIF

Walter Ruby, Muslim-Jewish Program Director at the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, who travelled from Washington for the event, commented, “It was 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.”

Samina Dean, a volunteer from OCIF, commented, “Bringing food to people in need is deeply meaningful to me because this is what the Prophet Issa—also known as Jesus Christ and deeply revered in Islam–would have done.” Alana Spector, a 20 year old university student who worked alongside Dean in serving food to residents of OCRM, commented, “I like to volunteer to help people in need and doing so alongside members of another faith—in this case, Muslims, makes it even more meaningful.”

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Members of OCIF and TBESOC slicing and dicing food for residents of OCRM 

Ali Ahmed, an IT specialist, remarked, “I love the idea of coming as a Muslim to a Christian facility and working alongside our Jewish friends to be of service to people in need. I would add that at this particular moment when there has been a rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes, an occasion like this reminds us that we are not alone.”

Sherri Hoffman Krause, the widow of the late Rabbi Allen Krause of TBESOC, who pioneered in reaching out to OCIF to offer solidarity and support in the aftermath of 9-11, remarked, “It is wonderful to see the relationship between our two congregations continuing to develop almost fifteen years later. I recall that when I was sitting shiva for my husband three years ago, members of OCIF came up to me and said, ‘We never would have imagined that Jews would be so concerned about our situation and supportive of us.’”

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Kim Hoffman, resident supervisor at OCRM with OCIF Board Member Mahboob Akhter and Sherry Hoffman Krause

Kim Hoffman, a resident of OCRM, who directed the Jewish and Muslim visitors in their food preparation, commented, “ I am a devout Christian and therefore disagree with these folks on religious doctrine theology, but it’s wonderful to find out that we agree on some things as well; such as being of service to our fellow human beings.’ Taking part in this event today with these good people, I realized, ‘This is how God moves.’”