In the run up to Thanksgiving, hundreds of Muslims and Jews have joined together in cities across North America to serve nourishing meals to hungry and homeless people. In the process, they are also manifesting that even on occasions like the present moment, when violence erupts in the Middle East, Muslims and Jews living side by side in North America, Europe and around the world are determined to connect with each other to build grass roots ties of understanding and trust.
The Muslim-Jewish Feeding the Hungry events taking place across North America this week are the centerpiece of the Weekend of Twinning, an annual event sponsored every November by The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), a New York-based not-for-profit working to strengthen ties of communication and cooperation between Muslims and Jews. During this year's 5th Annual Weekend of Twinning, 150 synagogues and mosques and 150 Muslim and Jewish organizations representing thousands of Muslims and Jews in more than 20 countries around the world are linking up and holding joint programs dedicated to strengthening ties between our communities and serving the larger societies in which we live side by side.
In cooperation with organizations like Muslims Against Hunger and Masbiah, FFEU is sponsoring Jewish-Muslim feeding the hungry events this month in the following cities; Washington,, D.C., New York City, Long Island, Buffalo, Binghamton, N.Y., New Brunswick and Morristown, New Jersey, Boston, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Pittsburgh Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, Los Angeles and Toronto, as well as Manchester, England. After visiting soup kitchens and homeless shelters to feed hungry people, Jewish and Muslim volunteers in these cities gather for learning/networking events at which they celebrate together the common moral imperative in our two faiths to feed the hungry and help those most in need.
At many of the Weekend of Twinning events in recent days, participants have expressed sorrow over the death and destruction being endured by our brothers and sisters in the conflict zone, and have offered heartfelt prayers for peace. Sami Elmansoury, a New Jersey Muslim activist who took part in Greater New York Muslim-Jewish Feeding the Hungry Day, articulated the feelings of of both Muslim and Jewish participants, when he said, "What drives me to do this work is to show that our two faiths can inspire us to come together to serve humanity, rather than serve as a reason to kill each other. At a time of violence in the Middle East, it is critically important for us to demonstrate that Muslim-Jewish co-existence is possible."Indeed, the latest tragic eruption of violence in the Middle East is fundamentally the result of the near-complete breakdown in understanding and trust between Israelis and Palestinians. The two of us as initiators of the Weekend of Twinning, are determined not to allow that collapse in trust to permeate Muslim-Jewish relations in other parts of the world. We believe that our painstaking ongoing effort to build connections between grass roots Muslims and Jews around the world, will blossom in time into a global movement of Muslims and Jews committed to communication, reconciliation and cooperation.
To paraphrase John Lennon's ballad --
Imagine, the two of us have often been accused of being utopian dreamers, but thankfully we are not the only ones. Thousands of courageous Muslims and Jews have gotten involved in our global movement over the past five years. They have come out in force during myriad twinning encounters in recent days to say that, as saddened as we are by the recent events in Israel and Gaza, we will not be turned around by what is happening there. We are emphatically unwilling to abandon our efforts to build Muslim-Jewish ties and return meekly to our respective bunkers. Instead, we will keep on growing our movement; taking it from strength to strength for the betterment of both faith communities and for the societies in which we live.
We believe that in time our global efforts for Muslim-Jewish understanding and trust will also contribute to the realization of peace between Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land by showing our brothers and sisters there that Jewish/Muslim amity is eminently realizable and therefore they are not fated to fight each other forever. There is every reason for a rebirth of hope. All it takes is for Jews and Muslims anywhere and everywhere in the world to step forward and extend a hand to each other across the barricades. The success of the Weekend of Twinning around the world shows not only is such a movement possible, but it is already happening.
Rabbi Marc Schneier is President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and Founding Rabbi of The Hampton Synagogue. Imam Shamsi Ali is the spiritual leader of Jamaica Muslim Center, one of America's largest mosques. Schneier and Ali have co-authored SONS OF ABRAHAM, a book on Muslim Jewish Relations to be published by Beacon Press, Fall 2013.