08/09/2010 04:03 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Jewish Vigil for Cordoba House

On August 5, the Shalom Center brought Jewish leaders from around New York in a vigil at the site of the proposed Muslim cultural center and prayer space in Lower Manhattan, supporting the plan for Cordoba House there.

In a moment, I will report on our extraordinary gathering in Lower Manhattan.

But I cannot bear to begin without noting that the day after, August 6, was the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and that Monday, August 9, was the anniversary of the atomic destruction of Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands died at once, hundreds of thousands later.

In 1946, on the first anniversary of Hiroshima, I was a 12½-year-old camper at the YM-YWHA Day Camp in Baltimore. I was editor of our mimeographed newsletter, The Y's Owl. August 6 that year fell on Tisha B'Av, the traditional day for mourning the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. I wrote my editorial that day about the bomb and about the necessity of abolishing war. That moment was for me the first bare inkling that a sacred Jewish day might speak to all humanity.

I think of that editorial as my real bar mitzvah speech -- much more real than the one I gave in synagogue that fall.

The Shalom Center's vigil supporting the plan for Cordoba House was an extraordinary success, both in the moment and in media coverage. Prayer, song, and chants were interspersed with speeches for a gathering of about 50 people, well-covered by print and TV media. More than 180 newspapers have carried reports of the vigil, including full-page coverage in New York Metro and Newsday.

After a number of speakers from the Jewish community, Daisy Khan, co-founder of the Cordoba Initiative, expressed heartfelt thanks to those of us in the Jewish community who had been working in favor of Córdoba House and who had gathered on Park Place to welcome them.

Rabbi Ellen Lippman of Congregation Kolot Chayeinu in Brooklyn, co-chair of Rabbis for Human Rights North America and one of the key organizers of the vigil, gave Daisy Kahn the traditional Jewish symbols of a housewarming: bread, salt, honey, and a candle.

We began with the chant, in Hebrew and English, that teaches: "Hareini m'kabeyl alai et mitzvat Ha-Borei: 'V'ahavta l'rayecha kamocha, l'rayecha kamocha.' Here I stand, and I take upon myself the commitment of the Creator: 'Love your neighbor as yourself, your neighbor as yourself."

When I rose to speak, I explained that when I rise to read from the Torah, my name is "Abraham Isaac Ishmael Ocean." With that as my name, I find my own self torn apart and bloodied when there is bloodshed between the children of Sarah through Isaac and the children of Hagar through Ishmael -- between the different families of Abraham. And when the families of Hagar and Sarah come together in peace, only then can I feel my own self united and whole.

I was wearing a tallit on which are embroidered the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall. And between them is embroidered a rock, the rock upon which in the Jewish tradition Abraham bound Isaac, the same rock upon which in Muslim tradition Mohammed -- peace be upon him -- began his mystical ascent to Heaven. This tallit of mine symbolizes the sacred companionship between Judaism and Islam, as does my name.

For years, I explained, I have worked with and alongside Imam Rauf and Daisy Khan for peace in the world and dialogue between our traditions. I am not alone in knowing who they are: the New York Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs have publicly affirmed that these leaders of the Córdoba initiative have for years worked with the Jewish community in fruitful ways.

For the rest of my detailed report, see my website at