Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘Shabbat’

One God – Muslim and Jew

From Syracuse.com
by Sean Kirst/The Post-Standard
4 May 2012

A message for Shabbat: Love and mercy from the same God.

A quiet friendship breaks down walls: Photo (below) Imam Yaser Alkhooly (right), of the Islamic Society of Central New York, Rabbi Daniel Fellman of Temple Concord in Syracuse and Mohamed Khater (left), president of the Islamic Society. They’re pictured here at the Islamic Society; Alkhooly and Khater will speak tonight at Temple Concord.

Rabbi Daniel Fellman of Temple Concord was walking across a driveway last winter when he slipped and fell. While Fellman manages to laugh about the pain — leave it to him, he says, to find the only patch of black ice in Syracuse during an historically mild winter — the impact was no joke. It broke his back.

He soon heard from many worried friends, including Yaser Alkhooly and Mohamed Khater of the Islamic Society of Central New York. Alkhooly is imam – a religious leader and teacher – at the Comstock Avenue mosque, while Khater serves as president of the Islamic Society. Fellman was not surprised at their concern, even if that bond might be startling to Americans accustomed to supposed animosity between Muslims and Jews.

“I remember I brought some of the kids from our temple over here (to the Islamic Society) and they saw me put my arm around Yaser and Mohamed, and they were shocked,” Fellman said. “They were amazed, but I thought it’s good that we show them we can care about each other, as we want them to care about each other.”

The connection takes the spotlight tonight, when Alkhooly and Khater visit Temple Concord to speak during Shabbat, or the observance of the Jewish sabbath. Alkhooly said he intends to address the “two central components” of Islam, which involve the “oneness of worshipping one God” and the need for all Muslims to show mercy.

Those qualities, he said, provide a unifying factor for three great religions whose roots begin with Abraham — Islam, Judaism and Christianity. As for Khater, he intends to make a similar point: “We might have different laws, each of our religions might ask us to do different things, but in the end we have the same God and the values are really similar.”

Fellman said the friendship goes back for a few years, to the angry national dispute about the potential opening of an Islamic community center near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. Because the men who attacked the twin towers came from Muslim backgrounds, some Americans saw it as inappropriate to build a center for Islamic culture near a place of tragedy.

For his part, Fellman viewed those objections as baseless. He does not blame the millions of Muslims across the world for the actions of a few, any more than he would blame all Christians or Jews for the criminal actions of individuals raised within those faiths. Fellman made that point during an appearance on Central Issues, a WCNY television program hosted by George Kilpatrick. Alkhooly was a guest on the same show. Afterward, the two men found themselves sharing tales about their children.

“Yaser and I began to get to know each other,” Fellman said. The conversations became more frequent when Fellman, Khater and Alkhooly all served on ACTS, or The Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse. That coalition of local religious groups is dedicated to helping those of any faith who suffer from need or neglect.

“We live in Syracuse,” Alkhooly said, “and we all want to improve the city.”

The three friends concede they have political differences about Israel, the fate of the Palestinians and the Middle East. But political disagreements, they said, should not be enough to shatter larger commonalities. Indeed, one way toward resolving seemingly impossible global stalemates may be through small steps in faraway communities.

Work together, they agree, and it becomes impossible to see each other as the enemy.

Khater and Alkhooly noted how fear of the stranger has applied to each wave of American immigrants. Those barriers were easier to overcome, they said, when groups from different nations attended the same church. The fact that Muslims go to a mosque and Jews to a synagogue can still trigger suspicions about the motivations of each group.

What’s important to remember, Alkhooly said, is that American Muslims have the same goals as anyone else: They want peace, security and education for their children.

With Khater, Alkhooly will bring that message tonight to Temple Concord. While the three men say it will be a significant event, Fellman said it is only one result of the outreach that Khater and others within the Islamic Society have been doing for a long time.

“This is really nothing new,” Fellman said. “Mohamed has spent years and years building bridges in this community. If you ask me, for the rest of us, the real question is: Why has it taken this long?”

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Post-Standard

Religious Co-operation

From Tablet

A Bronx Tale
by Ted Regencia and Lindsay Minerva
23 January, 2012

A Bronx Tale

After the congregants of an Orthodox synagogue could no longer afford their rent, they found help in the local mosque.

Near the corner of Westchester Avenue and Pugsley Street in Parkchester, just off the elevated tracks of the No. 6 train, Yaakov Wayne Baumann stood outside a graffiti-covered storefront on a chilly Saturday morning. Suited up in a black overcoat with a matching wide-brimmed black fedora, the thickly bearded 42-year-old chatted with elderly congregants as they entered the building for Shabbat service.

The only unusual detail: This synagogue is a mosque.

Or rather, it’s housed inside a mosque. That’s right: Members of the Chabad of East Bronx, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, worship in the Islamic Cultural Center of North America, which is home to the Al-Iman mosque.

“People have a misconception that Muslims hate Jews,” said Baumann. “But here is an example of them working with us.”

Indeed, though conventionally viewed as adversaries both here and abroad, the Jews and Muslims of the Bronx have been propelled into an unlikely bond by a demographic shift. The borough was once home to an estimated 630,000 Jews, but by 2002 that number had dropped to 45,100, according to a study by the Jewish Community Relations Council. At the same time, the Muslim population has been increasing. In Parkchester alone, there are currently five mosques, including Masjid Al-Iman.

“Nowhere in the world would Jews and Muslims be meeting under the same roof,” said Patricia Tomasulo, the Catholic Democratic precinct captain and Parkchester community organizer, who first introduced the leaders of the synagogue and mosque to each other. “It’s so unique.”

The relationship started years ago, when the Young Israel Congregation, then located on Virginia Avenue in Parkchester, was running clothing drives for needy families, according to Leon Bleckman, now 78, who was at the time the treasurer of the congregation. One of the recipients was Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, the founder of the Al-Iman Mosque, who was collecting donations for his congregants—many of whom are immigrants from Africa. The 49-year-old imam is an immigrant from Gambia in West Africa who came to the United States in 1986. After a year in Harlem, he moved to Parkchester, where he eventually founded the Muslim center and later established an Islamic grade school. Through that initial meeting, a rapport developed between the two houses of worship, and the synagogue continued to donate to the Islamic center, among other organizations.

But in 2003, after years of declining membership, Young Israel was forced to sell its building at 1375 Virginia Ave., according to a database maintained by Yeshiva University, which keeps historical records of synagogues. Before the closing, non-religious items were given away; in fact, among the beneficiaries was none other than Drammeh, who took some chairs and tables for his center.

Meanwhile, Bleckman and the remaining members moved to a nearby storefront location, renting it for $2,000 a month including utilities. With mostly elderly congregants, Young Israel struggled to survive financially and, at the end of 2007, was forced to close for good. The remaining congregants were left without a place to pray. During the synagogue’s farewell service, four young men from the Chabad Lubavitch world headquarters in Crown Heights showed up. Three months earlier, Bleckman, then chairman of the synagogue’s emergency fund, had appealed for help from the Chabad.

“The boys from the Chabad said they came to save us,” said Bleckman. “We were crying.”

At this point, Chabad took over the congregational reins from Young Israel, with members officially adopting the new name Chabad of East Bronx. Still, for the next six to seven weeks, Bleckman said they could not even hold a service because they had nowhere to hold it.

When Drammeh learned of their plight, he immediately volunteered to accommodate them at the Muslim center at 2006 Westchester Ave.—for free.

“They don’t pay anything, because these are old folks whose income are very limited now,” said Drammeh, adding that he felt it was his turn to help the people who had once helped him and his community. “Not every Muslim likes us, because not every Muslim believes that Muslims and Jews should be like this,” Drammeh said, referring to the shared space. But “there’s no reason why we should hate each other, why we cannot be families.” Drammeh in particular admires the dedication of the Chabad rabbis, who walked 15 miles from Brooklyn every Saturday to run prayer services for the small Parkchester community.

For the first six months, congregants held Friday night Sabbath services inside Drammeh’s cramped office. As more people began joining the congregation, Drammeh offered them a bigger room where they could set up a makeshift shul. (When it’s not in use, students from the Islamic school use it as their classroom.) Inside the synagogue, a worn, beige cotton curtain separates the men and women who attend the service. A solitary chandelier hangs just above the black wooden arc that holds the borrowed Torah, which is brought weekly from the Chabad headquarters. A large table covered with prayer books stands in the center, and a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe is displayed prominently on a nearby wall. During Shabbat, when Jewish congregants are strictly prohibited from working, they have to rely on the Muslim workers at the center or on Drammeh to do simple chores such as turning on the light and switching on the heater.

At first, it did not make sense, said Hana Kabakow, wife of Rabbi Meir Kabakow. “I was surprised,” said the 26-year-old congregant who was born and raised in Israel. “But when I came here I understood.” The Kabakows have been coming to the service from Brooklyn for the last two years.

Harriet Miller, another congregant, said she appreciated the center’s accommodating the synagogue. “They are very sweet people,” said the 79-year-old Bronx native and long-time resident of Parkchester, who added that she welcomes the new Muslim immigrants in her neighborhood: “We were not brought up to hate.”

Drammeh also understands the importance of teaching tolerance more broadly, and for turning the school—which was itself founded at the nearby St. Helena Catholic Church on, of all days, Sept. 11, 2001—into a model of sorts for religious tolerance in New York.

“We’re not as divided as the media portrays us to be,” Drammeh said. “Almost 90 percent of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian teachings are the same.”

His latest project involves introducing fifth-grade Jewish and Islamic school students to each other’s religious traditions. Other participants of the program, now in its sixth year, include the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, the Al Ihsan Academy of Queens, and the Kinneret Day School of Riverdale. At the end of the program, students organize an exhibit that shows family artifacts of their respective cultures and religion. The principal of the Islamic school, who is also Sheik Drammeh’s wife, said that even after the program ended, the participants became “fast friends” and would visit each other’s homes.

“They would have birthday parties together,” Shireena Drammeh said. “When someone invites you to their house, I mean, that says it all right there and then.”

Read entire story at Tablet.

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