In Berlin, Biking For Interfaith Unity


The landmark in the background is familiar — it’s Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, one of the most famous sites in Germany’s capital.

The sight in the foreground is less familiar — a Muslim imam and Orthodox rabbi riding a tandem bicycle together.

The organizers of the city’s recent Unity Ride hope that sights of leaders of the two Abrahamic faiths working — or in this case, pedaling — together will become more common.

At the end of the 2015 Berlin Bicycle Week, the Meet2Respect leadership campaign brought together leaders of several religions, with an emphasis on Jewish and Islamic representatives, to serve as examples of tolerance and mutual respect.

At the forefront of the ride were Burhan Kesici, general secretary of the German Islam Council, left, and Rabbi Shlomo Afanasev, an Uzbekistan-born leader of Berlin Jewry, followed by a few other imam-rabbi pairings and hundreds of other tandem bikers.

The route took the riders through the city to the Tempelhof Airport, stopping at Islamic and Jewish venues along the way.

Berlin’s Muslims and Jews largely live in separate neighborhoods with few natural opportunities for daily interaction.

With relations declining between Berlin’s 160,000-member Muslim community, the majority with roots in Turkey, and the city’s estimated 45,000 Jews, most from the former Soviet Union buttressed by a growing number of Israelis, Meet2Respect has organized a series of symbolic interfaith events, including joint school visits featuring Jewish and Muslim religious leaders.