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L.A. Jews, Muslims dialogue

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LOS ANGELES, Feb. 8 (JTA) — As the world waits to see how the change of government in Israel will affect the Mideast peace process, in Los Angeles, at least, Jews and Muslims are still talking to each other.

Speaking at a meeting of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council a day after Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon was elected Israel’s next prime minister, four leaders of the local Jewish-Muslim dialogue set aside the bitter divisions that have plagued their co-religionists in the Middle East.

“We are not an extension of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and it would be chutzpah for us to tell them how to solve their differences,” said Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood.

His view was the consensus one on the panel. Other members included fellow Reform Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Temple Kol Tikvah, who like Rosove is active in interfaith relations; Salam Al-Marayati, founder and director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council; and Maher Hathout, past chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California.

Speakers stressed the importance of truly understanding each other’s religion and viewpoint, and both rabbis told the same story to illustrate the point:

A rebbe asks one of his followers, “Do you love me?”

“Of course,” the person responds.

“Do you know what hurts and pains me?” the rebbe continues.

“No,” the follower responds.

“Then how can you love me if you do not know what hurts me?” concludes the rebbe.

The Jewish-Muslim dialogue was formed four years ago and, after a brief hiatus, reactivated two years ago. Its code of ethics calls for avoiding stereotypes and sweeping generalities, and emphasizes civil and respectful discussions.

It’s not easy to obey these admonitions with passions running high in the Middle East. But, referring to Sharon’s election, Al-Marayati said, “the dialogue was created to meet precisely such a situation.”

When audience members complained about verbal attacks on Jews at a local Muslim meeting, Hathout cited a similar outburst against him at a Jewish event.

“People are not divided between Muslim and Jew, but between the stupid and the intelligent,” he said.

Surprisingly, none of the dozen questions from the 300-person audience at the Beverly Hills Hotel asked panelists for their reaction to Sharon’s win.

The speakers were also united in opposing President Bush’s proposal to have faith-based groups receive government funds for social services.

“The Bush program scares me,” Jacobs said to audience applause. “It would be a very dangerous road to travel.”

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