Back in 1989, armed with census information forecasting that the United States would become a minority-majority country in the 21st century, I founded the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) to strengthen relations between American Jews and other minority communities – African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans. In the early 2000s, I considered the sobering demographic reality that there were only 16 million Jews in the world compared to 1.6 billion Muslims and resolved to take on the mission of building ties of communication and cooperation between Jews and Muslims globally.
What I didn’t expect at the outset of this mission some 13 years ago, was that over time, thanks to personal friendships I formed with Muslim leaders, I would come to care for the safety and well-being of Muslims as well as for Jews. I have stepped forward to defend my Muslim friends on many occasions when they have been scapegoated or demonized – including by the President of the United States. On two occasions, I have organized mass rallies in Times Square in New York City to declare, “When my Muslim brothers and sisters are wrongly attacked, I will stand up as a Jew and person of conscience and declare: ‘Today I am a Muslim too!’”
Over the years, I have learned how much Judaism and Islam have in common: the same forefather, Abraham/Ibrahim, and a multiplicity of similar prayers, rituals, customs and traditions. I learned that the Quran, like the Talmud, contains the concept that saving one life is like saving the world, and that Islam, like Judaism, teaches that each of us has a personal responsibility to feed the hungry, visit the sick and reach out a helping hand to those in need. I have come to understand that in a profound way, Jews and Muslims share a common faith and a common fate.
Canada has been at the forefront of building Muslim-Jewish relations. Perhaps, it is the reasonableness of the Canadian character, with its reflexive mistrust of extremism and search for mutually agreeable solutions that has improved relations between our two faith communities.
At times when bigotry toward minority communities and hostility toward immigrants bubbles to the surface, as is happening today in the U.S. and many European countries, we see a rise in hate crimes and incitement toward diverse minorities, Jews and Muslims in particular. Fortunately, by what has been accomplished in Canada, American and European Jews and Muslims can take pride and inspiration by the example set by communities in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Winnipeg.
Since November 2008, the FFEU has partnered with the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (CAJM) and then with the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR), and the Muslim-Jewish Council of Calgary to encourage Canadian synagogues and mosques to hold joint learning, social service and celebratory events during our global Season of Twinning of Mosques and Synagogues. Many of the friendships formed – both between houses of worship and on a person to person basis – continue to this day.
I am proud that FFEU is planning to support a series of events in Canada this fall as part of the 2018 Season of Twinning under the banner “Common Faith, Common Fate”.
As the Islamic New Year and Jewish New Year coincide this season, it is a time for reflection and introspection with the common goal to further understanding and cooperation between Jews and Muslims in the month ahead.