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Holy Blossom panel to explore Jewish-Muslim relations

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Holy Blossom synagogue
Holy Blossom synagogue

Karen Mock, former CEO of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, former national director of the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada and a member of Holy Blossom Temple, says her email inbox is often full of messages from Jewish people who “spread stereotypes and promote fear of Muslims and Arabs, and of Islam in general.”

Jews know the impact of prejudice and stereotyping probably more than any other people, Mock stressed, so, “recognizing and countering Islamophobia – the Muslim equivalent to anti-Semitism – should be a priority for our community.”

Mock is one of several speakers who will be participating in an interfaith panel at Holy Blossom Nov. 26 about Jewish-Muslim relations.

Titled “We Refuse to Be Enemies,” the event is being presented by Holy Blossom and The CJN. In addition to Mock, it will feature Holy Blossom’s associate rabbi, Michael Satz; CJN editor Yoni Goldstein; Shahid Akhtar, founding co-chair of the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims; and Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.

Mock, who helped the synagogue co-ordinate the event, said she recommended Akhtar and Hogben as speakers because of their experience with, and commitment to, interfaith dialogue, as well as to ensure gender balance on the panel.

She said planning for the event began as anti-Muslim feeling in Canada spread,  triggered by the recent debate about women wearing the niqab during the Canadian citizenship swearing-in ceremony.

Rabbi Satz said Holy Blossom has a long history of working with other religious groups and wants to show that Muslims and Jews in Canada are “in this together” and need to find common ground in order to make the community and the world a better place.

Hogben, whose organization promotes equality and empowerment for Canadian Muslim women, said it uses education, interfaith programming and distribution of resource kits to fight issues such as domestic violence and to help Muslim women integrate into mainstream Canadian society.

Further, it seeks to educate people about the organization’s interpretation of Islam as a religion that believes in equality, social justice and compassion.

“I’m honoured to be invited to the synagogue. That they would invite and welcome a Canadian Muslim woman, I think that’s pretty wonderful, and I think it’s crucial that people of faith come together. There are differences between us, but it’s important to build on the similarities and see what we can do to work together,” Hogben said.

Mock emphasized that while anti-Muslim feelings in the Jewish community sometimes occur in response to events in the Middle East, the conflict in Israel is “political, not religious,” and that for Jewish-Muslim dialogue programs to be effective, it’s important to put aside political issues initially, until people have developed a relationship.

“Later, we find ways to help non-Jews understand the centrality of Israel to many Jews in the Diaspora and at the same time acknowledge that criticism of Israeli policies and practices is not anti-Semitic. We help both sides to understand the contexts [of where the other is coming from] and also how to recognize when that criticism becomes vilification and crosses the line into anti-Semitism.”

Ultimately, she said, it’s important for people of all faiths to work together to defeat terrorism and the promotion of all forms of discrimination and hatred.

“Jewish people have been at the forefront of this kind of work and should take a leadership role in assisting people to know their neighbours and to promote the idea that most Muslims hold the same ideals we do. It’s the extremists that we need to marginalize – in all communities,” Mock said.

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