When a Rockaway mosque encountered what it felt was unfair action by the local zoning board to undermine many of its activities, the New Jersey Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee sprang into action.
The Islamic Center of Morris County was going to be prohibited from teaching Arabic — because it doesn’t run a parochial school — and from bringing in prepared food in chafing dishes and using a coffee machine, because it has neither kitchen facilities nor a cooking license.
At a February meeting of the Rockaway Land Use Board, members of the committee, including cofounders Walter Ruby and Dr. Ali Chaudry, spoke out in favor of the ICMC and pointed to the unfairness and possible unconstitutionality of the ruling, and, according to Ruby, the board reversed its position.
Ruby wrote in a March 5 letter to the solidarity committee, “[We] will remain vigilant in ascertaining that the assurances given by the Land Use Planning Board members to ICMC are in fact carried out.”
The committee was launched in January by Chaudry, president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge; Ruby, NJ regional director for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding; and “Reb” Deb Smith of the Or Ha-Lev havura of Mount Arlington.
It is part of a sustained effort to create a network of similar organizations in locations around the country, including New York City, Washington, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. New Jersey is the farthest along, according to Ruby. It has already held two in-person meetings of a core constituency, one in January at the Islamic Center of Morris County, the other in February at the Masjid-e-Ali in Somerset.
A third meeting is planned for early April at White Meadow Temple in Rockaway.
Participating mosques and synagogues — besides the ICMC, White Meadow Temple, and Masjid-e-Ali — include Sisterhood of Salaam-Shalom, Muslims Against Hunger, and Rutgers University Hillel. Many others have expressed interest, including Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, Congregation Ohr Shalom-Summit Jewish Community Center, and Masjid Waarith ud Deen in Irvington.
For now, Ruby said, the committee has a close affiliation with his foundation, best known locally for organizing the “Weekend of Twinning,” during which synagogues and mosques annually hold joint programming.
“It is time to build on the success of the Weekend of Twinning and other hopeful Muslim-Jewish initiatives and take Muslim-Jewish relations in New Jersey to the next level,” said Ruby.
He sees the solidarity committee as an umbrella body that will coordinate and publicize Muslim-Jewish initiatives.
“The body will ultimately stand or fall on its own, as will all the solidarity committees across the country,” he said.
The NJ committee will focus on three pillars: mutual support, learning, and cultural and social service events.
The February meeting at Masjid-e-Ali featured Paul Salvatoriello, NJ deputy attorney general, and John Paige, supervising state investigator from the NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. They expressed support for the organization, especially in its efforts to speak out against hate crimes, incitement, and discrimination against either community. The two promised to remain engaged with the committee going forward.
At the next meeting, Chaudry and Smith will discuss misconceptions about Islam and Judaism. An event with Muslims Against Hunger, as well as a day for Muslim and Jewish doctors to offer free health screenings to people without insurance are both in the works.