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Jews help rebuild Kosovo mosque

ROME, Sept. 9 (JTA) — The dedication of a war-damaged mosque in Kosovo that Jews, Catholics and Muslims rebuilt together is providing a rare gleam of hope against the background of religious tensions elsewhere.

“It was a nice ray of light,” said a Jewish source who attended the brief but moving dedication ceremony last Friday. “It showed that while Israelis and Palestinians are locked in bloody conflict, and while anti-Semitic rhetoric flared at the U.N.” World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, “there can still be cooperation between Jews and Muslims.”

Taking part in the ceremony were representatives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which spearheaded the project, as well as Rexhep Boja, the Kosovar grand mufti, and Mark Sopi, the Roman Catholic bishop.

“This is a symbol of tolerance, peace and a brighter future for the citizens of Kosovo,” said Rexhap, who led hundreds in prayers in the new building after the inauguration.

He hopes the restoration will “contribute to stability of this place, this region and beyond,” Rexhap said.

JDC Board member Alan Batkin called the mosque “tangible proof that the three faiths that are so connected to each other can work together in peace and harmony.”

The mosque, in the village of Shqiponje, was one of more than 200 mosques damaged or destroyed during the war in Kosovo in the late 1990s.

It was reduced to rubble during the fighting and has been fully rebuilt as a compact structure with seven low, golden domes and a soaring minaret. Plaques in Albanian and English note that the restoration was carried out by a Jewish-Muslim-Catholic partnership.

The restoration was coordinated and largely funded by the JDC as part of a major nonsectarian relief program it initiated in Kosovo two years ago to aid the hundreds of thousands of refugees who returned to the area after the end of hostilities.

“Through its nonsectarian programs in Kosovo, JDC has renovated 40 schools and established a psychology department at the University of Pristina,” program director Eli Eliezri said. In addition, working together with ORT, a Jewish group that focuses on educational and vocational training, JDC has sponsored numerous vocational training courses, he added.

Eliezri initiated and supervised the mosque restoration after local Muslims asked for help with it last year.

“An agreement was made before the current intifada broke out, but events in the Middle East did not affect the project one iota,” said a source connected with the project.

Funding came from individual donations to the Kosovo mailbox set up by JDC to finance its entire $2 million nonsectarian program.

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