On Thanksgiving, Jews and Muslims volunteer together despite Middle East violence

(RNS) Muslims and Jews are together feeding the hungry this Thanksgiving season in an effort to improve Muslim-Jewish relations and answer both faiths' call to nourish the needy. By Lauren Markoe.

courtesy Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

WASHINGTON (RNS) It’s an idea that feels particularly poignant this Thanksgiving: American Jews and Muslims banding together to help the homeless and other needy people.

The interfaith collaboration has been going on for five years, but the recent exchange of rockets between Gaza and Israel is weighing especially hard on both communities this week. That's why a joint session of sandwich making or a group visit to a nursing home has taken on added significance.

Muslim and Jewish volunteers feed the homeless at the Greater New York Muslim-Jewish Feeding the Hungry event at St. Mary's Eipsocopal Church in New York City as part of the Muslim-Jewish “twinning” program.  For use with RNS-MUSLIM-JEWISH, transmitted Nov. 21, 2012. RNS photo courtesy Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

“In this time of warfare it was a beautiful experience to see the two come together,” said Haider Dost, a Muslim student at Virginia’s George Mason University who worked with Jewish students to feed the homeless Sunday (Nov. 18) in Franklin Park, just blocks from the White House.

The Franklin Park event is one of more than 17 Jewish-Muslim “twinning” volunteer projects across the nation in the days surrounding Thanksgiving fostered by the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

One of those projects forged a new partnership in Northern Virginia between the McLean Islamic Center and Temple Rodef Shalom that saw, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, children from both the mosque and synagogue together cleaning up a Maryland park. That night, members of the two congregations dined together, with the Muslim host and the temple’s rabbi both offering up prayers for peace in the Middle East.

Both the Muslims and Jews in the room tacitly understood that the dinner conversation should not veer into the violence between Jews and Muslims now dominating the news from the Middle East.

“If we were fast friends who had known each other for years already, maybe we could get together in the midst of the conflict and share our feelings,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Saxe of Rodef Shalom. “While there are bombs falling, maybe it’s not the time to start that discussion. But the political situation made it all the more crucial that we get together.”

Other upcoming “twinning” projects include:

— On Nov. 28-29, FFEU founder Rabbi Marc Schneier will preside over the first ever Muslim-Jewish twinning event in Baku, Azerbaijan, a majority-Muslim nation that, the foundation notes, has maintained good relations with both Muslim nations and Israel.

— On Dec. 1, in New Orleans, members of Temple Sinai and Masjid Rahim will together visit people in local nursing homes and hospitals.

— On Christmas Day in St. Louis, Muslim and Jewish volunteers will hold an International Muslim-Christian Day of Service, to deliver meals and other essential services so that Christian caregivers can spend the holiday with their families.

Five years ago, the fighting between Palestinians and Israelis might have forced the cancellation of the twinning projects, Schneier said. But trust has built up over the years, he said, so there was no question that the collaborations would go forward this year.

“That's a testament to both Jews and Muslims,” Schneier said. “As the children of Abraham, not only do we share a common faith, we share a common fate.”


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