Jews and Muslims ‘twin’ for common agenda

Jews and Muslims ‘twin’ for common agenda

Members of Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell visit the Ulu Cami mosque in Paterson.
Members of Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell visit the Ulu Cami mosque in Paterson.

Building a Common Agenda” was the theme of the second annual Weekend of Twinning, Nov. 13-15, which brought together 100 mosques and 100 synagogues from across North America and Europe — double the number that participated last year.

Several New Jersey congregations took part in the program, which is spearheaded by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and endorsed by the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the World Jewish Congress, and the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims. The program resulted from a resolution passed at the National Summit of Imams and Rabbis held two years ago in New York and hosted by the foundation.

Among the issues covered by the participating houses of worship were saving the environment, fighting poverty, immigration reform, and confronting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell twinned with the Ulu Cami (Turkish) mosque in Paterson. Members of the mosque attended Friday night and Shabbat morning services at the synagogue. On Friday evening, Nuray Somnez, director of women’s programs at the mosque, and Susan Werk, director of Jewish education at the synagogue, together led a discussion of the Sarah and Hagar stories in their respective religious traditions. Dr. Levent Koc, executive director of the mosque, addressed the congregation at Shabbat morning services, along with Rabbi Herman Savitz, a member of Agudath Israel who talked about his time in Turkey in the ’60s as an Air Force chaplain. On Sunday, a dozen congregation members visited the mosque, where they learned about Muslim prayer services.

Temple B’nai Or in Morristown held a meeting on Sunday with members of Jam-e-Masjid Islamic Center in Boonton, with which it has a longstanding relationship, as well as with the Islamic Center of Morris County in Rockaway and the Islamic Center of Basking Ridge to plan joint social action projects. Among the ideas discussed were workshops on women’s health issues and domestic violence and job networking. A tentative name for the group was also selected: The Muslim-Jewish Social Action Alliance of Morris County.

Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills will join with Masjid Waarith-ud-Deen in Irvington this coming weekend, as members of the synagogue attend prayer services at the mosque.

B’nai Or and B’nai Jeshurun both participated last year as well.

At Rutgers University, a handful of people representing Jews and Muslims, graduates and undergraduates, and faculty and alumni gathered on campus on Nov. 15 to discuss how to revitalize joint Muslim-Jewish anti-bigotry efforts and joint community service projects at Rutgers.

Undergraduate Leora Cohen said, “At Rutgers, we have a very diverse population, but most people stick to the comfort zone of their own kind in terms of friendships. There is less conflict between Muslims and Jews on campus today than during the second Intifada, but there is still a need for Muslims and Jews to get to know each other a lot better.”

“For generations, there have been a series of misunderstandings by Jews and Muslims on what the other religious community believes and practices,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, foundation president and co-organizer of the Weekend of Twinning. “These misperceptions and other societal and political factors have unfortunately led to tensions between our two communities.” The weekend’s discussions, workgroups, and panels offer “ways to confront hate in our communities.”

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