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Vancouver Jews, Muslims engage in dialogue

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RICHMOND, B.C. – The spirit of collaboration between Vancouver’s Muslim and Jewish communities was fomented on April 28, when members of both gathered at Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Richmond, B.C., for a discussion on the spiritual foundations of fasting from a Muslim and Jewish perspective.

Some 80 congregants, evenly split between the two groups, arrived for a panel discussion that occurred just 24 hours after the shooting at San Diego’s Chabad of Poway synagogue.

“Given the events that happened yesterday, it’s all the more heartening to have us gathered here today,” said Rabbi Adam Rubin of Beth Tikvah Synagogue, in his opening remarks. “We pray for a time when there doesn’t have to be security in front of churches, synagogues and mosques and we can be comfortable and fearless in our religious spaces.”

Rabbi Rubin said the idea for the discussion came from a meeting between Rabbi Jonathan Infeld of Vancouver’s Congregation Beth Israel, Mahmood Jaffer of the Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre and the centre’s imam, Sheik Murtaza Bachoo. But the relationship began earlier with a spirit of compassion and co-operation.

READ: IT’S TIME TO RESURRECT INTERFAITH DIALOGUE

“When I moved here two years ago, the sheik invited me to meet him, and when they had their memorial service for the New Zealand mosque shooting, they invited me to speak,” said Rabbi Rubin. “After the Pittsburgh shooting, the response of members of Az-Zahraa was amazing and we had many in their community attending our Shabbat solidarity event.”

Rabbi Infeld said the evening’s discussion represented a process of taking “that (metaphorical) hug we received one step further and using it as the beginning of a relationship to learn from one another. This evening is not about international politics, but about teaching how to attain a higher spiritual level in this world and learning from one another.”

Both Rabbi Rubin and Jaffer agreed there was a deliberate decision to set aside the differences between the communities and focus on similarities. “Any time you do ecumenical programming, you look for commonalities and acknowledge you have differences,” Rabbi Rubin said. “We intentionally bracket certain things – but we really do have a lot in common.”

Jaffer said there is a strong desire among the members of the Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre to put on more events like this. “There was some sensitivity around things going on in the international realm and we don’t deny that or try to brush it aside. But we set the framework when we entered into this collaboration to keep the conversation about the faith and the local congregation here, so that we can share, learn and get to know each other,” he said.

After the Pittsburgh shooting, the response of members of Az-Zahraa was amazing.
– Rabbi Adam Rubin

The evening began with the recitation of a passage from the Koran and the singing of the Jewish psalm Hine Ma Tov. Sukaina Jaffer, the vice-principal of the Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy, opened her speech by expressing condolences for the San Diego shul shooting.

“Please note that we are saddened to learn of yet another senseless act of terror and our hearts and prayers are with the victims, families and communities affected,” she said. She also extended an open invitation to members of the Jewish community to join in the celebration following the end of the Ramadan fast on June 1.

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