Jews and Muslims came together in Somerset as part of a global initiative twinning mosques and synagogues on six continents.
This year’s theme, “Standing Up for the Other,” brought together about 60 volunteers from both communities, including a number of Rutgers students and alumni, at the Masjid-e-Ali mosque Nov. 3.
The volunteers prepared meals for the hungry, and later joined together to discuss efforts to combat prejudice.
“Both communities have been threatened by increasing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia,” said Will Eastman, executive director of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.
The foundation is the prime sponsor of the “Week of Twinning,” which included a Nov. 10 event at the Islamic Center of Morris County in Rockaway, which had swastikas spray-painted on it in June.
“In New Jersey there have been mosques that have been vandalized, and swastikas have been spray-painted on both mosques and synagogues,” said Eastman, a Rutgers graduate from Marlboro who served as president of Rutgers Shalom/Salaam, an interfaith student group.
The diverse group of volunteers in Somerset Nov. 3 packed food to be distributed to the hungry and homeless at Penn Station in Newark.
Rutgers grad Brian Thompson of Highland Park said he has long been involved in interfaith activities, and served as community service chair at Shalom/Salaam.
“It’s important for organizations to make formal statements, but it’s just as important for regular students and people to talk to one another and become involved with social action projects together,” he said.
Mashal Anjum of East Brunswick, who graduated from Rutgers in 2009 and was also involved with Shalom/Salaam and active in Muslims Against Hunger, said, “I love interfaith work.
“It’s exciting, engaging, and so much fun. I love knowing more about other people, other religions. Both Muslims and Jews need that bridge. We need to be actively involved creating that bridge, and if we don’t do it, other people won’t believe we get along.”
Among others at the event were Rutgers Hillel senior associate director Rabbi Esther Reed; Rabbi Aharon Grossman of Rutgers Jewish Xperience; Franklin Township Mayor Brian Levine; two former Hillel presidents, Zeke Pariser and Sarah Morrison; Muslims Against Hunger founder Zamir Hassan; and Dr. M. Ali Chaudry, cofounder of the Islamic Center of Basking Ridge and commissioner at the state Commission on National and Community Service.
Arie Schwartz, a Rutgers freshman engineering student from Edison, was encouraged to attend by a friend.
“The first thing that struck me as I walked in is that it didn’t feel much different than a local shul,” he said. “I was working with some other [Muslim] Rutgers students and found some common ground talking about classes. It was amazing coming together for an obviously great cause and having two cultures that wouldn’t necessarily work together was all very positive.”
Parviz Hamedani, vice president of the mosque, said that as a physician and a Muslim he felt a responsibility to care for the sick, poor, and hungry without regard to religion, race, or ethnicity.
“We have so much in common between the Bible and Koran. And if we are not brothers in faith, we are all brothers in humanity,” he said. “If we honestly sat down together and opened our hearts and read stories together, we would see that what unites us is so much more than what divides us.”
Hamedani, who was born in Pakistan of Persian descent, said he was proud to be an American citizen, and it was his goal through programs such as this to “work with other Americans of every background to bring peace to America and the rest of the world.”