By Rabbi Lavey Derby, PJCC Director of Jewish Life
On a recent brisk but sunny Sunday afternoon, 300 people gathered at a local synagogue to talk about the future. They shared their hopes and dreams, fears and concerns, values learned as children, and stories about their families. As time passed, participants found themselves connecting while covering common ground, delighting in shared experiences, ethics, traits, and beliefs. The scenario could have typified any joyous community gathering, but what made this event especially meaningful were the attendees: they were members of the Jewish and Muslim communities.
The afternoon of dialogue, conversation, and relationship-building was the result of the Jewish-Muslim Partnership of the Peninsula, a new grass-roots organization comprised of every synagogue, Jewish day school, and JCC on the Peninsula. It also includes the Jewish Community Federation, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), and is partnered with the Islamic Networks Group (ING), the Pacifica Institute, the Yaseen Foundation, and a number of local mosques. Originally, the Partnership planned a program in support of the Muslim community, but after JCCs nationwide started experiencing an onslaught of bomb threats, our Muslim partners urged that it be a program of mutual support. They wanted to demonstrate their concern for us, just as we wanted to demonstrate ours for them.
Our partnership was born out of the sense that now, more than ever, it is important to recognize our mutual humanity, learn about each other, and build bridges of understanding. Judaism and Islam, two of the largest religious minorities in America, are two branches growing from the same religious trunk. There are significant commonalities between our two faiths, in theology and practice. And with an increase
in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, both communities share a common cause in fighting hatred, no matter who the target.
There are, of course, important issues that divide us — all the more reason to come together and form relationships that allow us to build trust in and support of one other.
The Sunday program of solidarity was the first of many educational, social, and celebratory events planned, which will serve to solidify the burgeoning relationship between our two communities. We held a joint Passover Seder, with readings from both the Torah and the Qur’an telling the story of the Exodus. And during Ramadan this year, we are planning joint celebrations of Iftar, the nightly break-the-fast meal.
There have already been educational programs at the PJCC and throughout the Jewish community to teach about the beliefs and principles
of Islam and its relationship to Judaism. Opportunities for Muslims to learn about Judaism are also in the works.
One of the PJCC’s guiding principles is the Jewish value of hachnasat or’chim—welcoming everyone. We are a place of openness and safety that cherishes pluralism; a place where people come to celebrate, learn, work, and play together; a place where our unique beliefs unite, not
divide us, and, in our own unique way, allow us to strive toward a life filled with purpose, meaning, community, and understanding.