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.
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.”.
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.”
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.’”
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.’”