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American Jews and Muslims Have Begun to Dialogue Again

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March - April 2005

Dialogue between American Jews and Muslims is increasing, reports The Jerusalem Report (March 21, 2005): “Both 9/11 and four years of intifada chilled relations between American Jews and Muslims, which had warmed notably during the Oslo period. Now dialogue is showing new signs of life. ‘And as the situation in the Middle East improves — which I think it will do now, please God,’ says Rabbi David Rosen, director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, ‘there will be a greater willingness on the part of the Jewish community to take more risks.”  

Dialogue has resumed, often sparked by individuals or groups not in leadership positions in either community, according to the Report: “After Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002, his father, Judea Pearl, began a series of unscripted public dialogues with Akbar Ahmed, a professor of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, D.C. Since an initial dialogue in Pittsburgh in Oct. 2003, the two have appeared at gathering around the U.S. and the United Kingdom, with Canada and several U.S. cities on the schedule for this year. Audiences are typically one-third Muslim and most of the rest Jewish, according to Pearl, an Israel-born professor of computer science at UCLA.”  

Pearl says: “My main reason is to convince Muslims that we are not their enemies. We try to stress the commonalities, though we don’t shy away from friction.”  

Another example of dialogue cited by the Report is the Children of Abraham organization, which was co-founded by a Jewish man and a Muslim woman last year in New York and London to offer “internships” to Jewish and Muslim young people around the world. Their task is to photograph Jewish and Muslim life in their communities and then dialogue with each other via the Internet. The first group of 60 interns from 27 countries took about 2,000 photographs last summer and posted 3,000 messages on the organization’s website in discussions that continued after the internships ended.  

Other groups include the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, started by Zhudi Jasser, a Phoenix-area physician, which strongly opposes Islamic extremism and believes in the compatibility of Islamic and American values and supports a secure Israel. The Report notes that, “After speaking at a local synagogue in 2000, Jasser helped found an informal Jewish-Muslim dialogue group. A year and a half of getting-to-know-you meetings that focused on commonalities between the two faiths led to discussion of more difficult topics such as politics, stereotypes, terrorism — a path typical in dialogue.”  

In the Boston area, Judith Obermayer, a retired mathematician, hosted the first meeting of a Jewish-Muslim dialogue group about a year and a half ago. “From a handful of organizers,” writes The Report, “brought together by the head of the local branch of the American Jewish Committee, the group — which includes academics, doctors, businesspeople and ordinary Muslims and Jews — has grown to the point where 75 people attended a recent dinner.  

The American Jewish Committee’s Rabbi Rosen declares: “The Talmud asks, ‘Who is a hero?’ and answers: ‘He who makes his enemy into a friend.’ In other words, our sages recognized that it’s possible to change people’s attitudes and desirable to strive to do so.”  

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.