Going To Bat For Muslim-Jewish Ties


As they explored common ground during a busy mission to New York this week, an international delegation of rabbis and imams found it easy to agree on one thing: They wanted to see the Yankees beat the Orioles Monday. And thanks to a walkoff homer by Hideki Matsui, they got their wish with a 2-1 Yankees victory.

After a day packed with conferences, the game was a welcome chance to unwind. Earlier in the day the group visited the United Nations and World Jewish Congress and, in a sight rarely seen at a mosque, men with yarmulkes doffed their shoes to listen to a panel discussion alongside worshipers crouched in daily prayer at the Islamic Cultural Center on East 96th Street.

Later, they gathered in a luxury box as guests of the Yankees, with a lavish kosher buffet of shish kebab, hummus, hot dogs and mini-hamburgers.

The four-day mission was convened by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding to build support for an initiative to twin mosques and synagogues in Europe for joint programs and an exchange of visits on Nov. 13-15.

Fifty such pairs participated in last year’s program.
After a long history of fostering ties between Jews and African Americans here, the foundation in the past two years has switched its focus to Jews and Muslims, says Rabbi Marc Schneier, president and co-founder of the group.

Most of the 29 participants were from Europe, where a rising tide of Islamic extremism has triggered alarm in Jewish communities.

Sheikh Muhammad Al Hussaini of London told The Jewish Week the extremist rise stems from “the inability of the older generation to engage” the offspring of immigrants from Muslim countries.

“[The immigrants] come from a more radical Islam that is a bit more inappropriate for the situation in which they now find themselves,” said Imam Hussaini, whose family came from Iraq to the United Kingdom in the 1960s. If the newcomers are unable to become fully engaged within their mosque communities, he added, “they turn to ‘Sheikh Google’ — the Internet,” where many are drawn to extremism.

While Imam Hussaini grew up with Jewish friends in London public schools and now teaches an interfaith program at the Leo Baeck rabbinical college in Finchley, he says, “I meet people every day who have never met a Jew in their lives, which makes these kinds of interactions very important.”

Rabbi Avichai Apel, an Orthodox rabbi from Israel who serves the Jewish community in Dortmund, Germany, has a good working relationship with a local imam and plans to participate in the twinning weekend.

He notes the irony that Jews in Germany feel somewhat safer from the anti-Semitism that has plagued other communities. But there are still plenty of worries.

“There are a lot of [neo]-Nazis, but I can tell you today that most of the anti-Semitic problems come from Muslims,” said the rabbi. The mission also included visits to City Hall, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the State Department and White House.