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AJC interfaith rep sees hope for Muslim-Jewish relations
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AJC interfaith rep sees hope for Muslim-Jewish relations

Rabbi Noam Marans says America serves as moderating force

The American Jewish Committee representative who will attend the ceremony in Rome in which New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan will be elevated to cardinal hopes successful Catholic-Jewish dialogue can be a model for Muslim-Jewish relations.

“The greatest challenge on the interfaith front for the Jewish people is Jewish-Muslim relations in the 21st century,” Rabbi Noam Marans told 45 AJC members at a meeting Feb. 1 in Livingston.

Marans, the AJC’s director of interreligious and intergroup relations, said the revolution in relations between the church and Jews — whose high point, perhaps, was the Vatican’s 1965 move to absolve Jews from the death of Jesus — was a result of the moderating influence of American Catholics.

“It was those American Catholics in the 1960s who convinced their bishops in the Vatican to change the way Catholics were thinking about the Jewish people,” he said.

Similarly, he hopes American Muslims will provide a moderating force on Islam and in Jewish-Muslim relations.

“If there is going to be progress it will be here in America,” he said. “America is a sanitizing force on religion. It is a moderating force on religious expression. You can’t be here two or three generations without America influencing your religious expression for the better…the whole process of becoming American is a moderating influence.”

Following the meeting, Marans told NJ Jewish News that dealing with Muslims was “a sensitive topic.”

“Some oversimplify Muslim-Jewish relations as an Israel issue alone. This is mistaken,” he said. “If you don’t like our community to be stereotyped and have people assume all Jews are the same, you should not assume all Muslims are the same.”

Added Marans: “The challenge is to find appropriate forums for the Jewish community to do that that will be supportive of moderate Muslims. We have to develop relationships with like-minded Muslims who have progressive views like AJC’s and most of the Jewish community’s. It is not easy.”

Marans, who lives in Teaneck, said he and Dolan became friends in Oberammergau, Germany, while attending a revised Passion Play presented before Jewish leaders.

Dolan will be elevated to the rank of cardinal on Feb. 18 in Rome.

“I’m going to be on Shabbat morning at Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican to watch as Pope Benedict XVI places the red yarmulke on Archbishop Timothy Dolan,” he said.

Marans said he is also working to develop relationships with Latinos.

For the past three years, AJC has received $500,000 annual grants from the Ford Foundation “to further Latino-Jewish relations through the prism of immigration reform. We Jews have a history of figuring out how to integrate into America. How did we do at that? Not bad,” he said.

At Latino immigration rallies, “sometimes you see signs that say ‘Latinos are the new Jews.’ What you are hearing are their aspiration and their willingness to be in dialogue with us so we can be allies,” he said.

Marans insisted that the Jewish community “must take risks” to improve relations with leaders of both mainline Protestant churches — whose leaders have been highly critical of Israel — and evangelical faiths who are enormously supportive of Israel but “anathema to most Jews on domestic issues.”

Marans is also concerned about relations among Jews themselves.

In the United States, he noted, “there is less and less interaction between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews, and I think it is getting worse.”

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