Local Muslims and Jews have launched a solidarity committee to work for mutual understanding and together fight acts of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
The committee came out of a program at the Islamic Center of Morris County in Rockaway, which had been targeted by anti-Islam vandals in June.
During the Nov. 10 gathering, volunteers prepared and packaged meals to be distributed at the Somerville Food Bank and Penn Station in Newark.
The event included discussions facilitated by Dr. M. Ali Chaudry, cofounder and president of the Islamic Center of Basking Ridge, and Deb Smith, founder of Havurah Or Ha-Lev, a Jewish Renewal community in Morris County.
The program was part of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding’s Sixth Annual Weekend of Twinning, an initiative that brings together for joint programs synagogues and mosques on six continents.
Programs were also held in New York City, Atlanta, and Washington, DC, as well as one the previous week at the Masjid-e-Ali mosque in Somerset.
“Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have been problems affecting both these communities both from the inside and the outside,” said Walter Ruby, director of Muslim-Jewish programs for the FFEU.
Chaudry, a member of the NJ Commission on National and Community Service, said although the committee would initially focus on north Jersey, he envisioned committees being established in all 21 NJ counties. It would serve as a watchdog for incidents, “whether it’s desecration of a Jewish cemetery, or the taunting of a Jew walking down the street wearing a kipa, or a Muslim walking and being called a terrorist.”
Chaudry, who also attended the Somerset event, said he has been working about six years on interfaith relations.
“A lot more intensive work needs to be done between Jews and Muslims,” said Chaudry, a Pakistani native who came to the United States in 1967. “We need to get as many mosques and synagogues involved as possible. Obviously the incident at that mosque was the trigger for holding this event there.”
Smith and Chaudry wrote the foundation’s study guide, which was used at the twinning events.
The interfaith events have a “no Palestine rule,” according to Smith. “We have an agreement that we’re just not going there.”
Smith, a rabbinical student at ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, has spoken at a mosque at the close of Ramadan and taken out a Torah scroll and explained its significance to Muslims. Smith’s community has been actively involved with Muslim interfaith work and has visited Muslims at prayer.
“Reb Deb,” as she is known to members of the havura, said she is proud to be their religious leader, because they “want to make the world a better place. My community has been in partnership with the Muslim community through meetings, teachings, and cooperative discussion. We need to build relations and see where the commonalities are.”
Rabbi Donald Rossoff of Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, who also attended the twinning event and volunteered for the committee, said his congregation has been interacting with the Jam-e-Masjid Islamic Center in Boonton since the mid-1990s. He has also attended events of the Peace Islands Institute, a Turkish-Muslim group that brings together Muslims, Jews, and Christians.
“I felt early on you can’t cross a bridge that’s burning,” said Rossoff. “You have to take time to build the bridge before the fire.”