Rabbi wants to bring U.S. Muslim-Jewish teamwork to Europe
Rabbi Marc Schneier, a New York Jewish leader who has helped to build bridges with American Muslims, is planning to bring his campaign to Europe to help ease the anger fed by bloodshed in Gaza. “In the light of the recent conflict in Gaza, Jewish-Muslim tensions have been exacerbated,” Schneier, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, told Reuters during a recent visit to London. “We have seen a rise, I would say an exponential growth in anti-Semitic attacks, rhetoric coming from the Muslim world. We cannot allow for Islamic fundamentalism to grow.”
(Photo: Rabbi Marc Schneier/FFEU)
Schneier helped to bring together thousands of Jews and Muslims across America last November in an initiative in which 50 mosques were twinned with 50 synagogues over a weekend. Jews and Muslims worked together in community projects, formed study groups and got a better understanding of each other’s faith. They publicised this in the short video below and a full-page ad in the New York Times available here in PDF.
An eloquent and persuasive speaker, Schneier has advocated closer links between Jewish and Afro-American communities through the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, where he has worked with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.
Schneier feels there is a need for action at the grass-roots level to help heal the rift between Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe. He is planning to repeat his ”Weekend of Twinning” this November and wants to extend it to Britain from North America. “Jewish-Muslim relations are a great concern here in Europe, so we wanted to bring this programme across the Atlantic,” he said.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews told me they were very interested in the project and wanted to develop it here, building on their own linking programme. However, the climate is not easy. Israel’s invasion of Gaza in which more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed has sparked fresh tensions between the two groups in Europe.
An umbrella group of French Jewish groups last week asked French President Nicolas Sarkozy to ensure that authorities do more to stem a rise in anti-Jewish crime. Britain has also seen protests over Israel’s campaign.
(Photo: Pro-Palestinian protesters in Paris, 24 Jan 2009/Gonzalo Fuentes)
Schneier dismissed concerns that members of close-knit Muslim communities in European countries such as Britain and France would be harder to reach than their counterparts in the United States, who tend to be better integrated into U.S. life.
“The challenge here is more of a language barrier than a social or cultural barrier. What we did in North America wasn’t an easy task either. There was much hesitation on both sides,” he said. “I see around the world there are pockets of moderation emerging within Islam. We cannot spurn the hands of the moderates in the Muslim world.”
Schneier’s initiative seems to be working in the United States, but can it be transplanted to Europe? We’d like to hear your comments here.