Mosque-synagogue twinning drive crosses the Atlantic

December 9, 2009
Schneier & Imams

Rabbi Marc Schneier with French imams, 8 Dec 2009/Rafi Fischer

An innovative campaign to build grass-roots dialogue between Jews and Muslims in North America has crossed the Atlantic and taken off in Europe. The “Weekend of Twinning of Mosques and Synagogues,” which began last year with about 100 houses of worship in North America, expanded this year to include events in eight European countries. The weekend meetings, which have been taking place in November and December, bring together mosque and synagogue congregations to discuss ways of overcoming anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in their own communities.

To get an idea of how these meetings go, here are reports on twinning events in … New YorkNew OrleansBuffaloTorontoMinneapolisParis

Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding who initiated this outreach to Muslims, met with his European partners at a dinner in Paris on Tuesday evening. The twinning drive took off most successfully in France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish minorities. The Jewish-Muslim Friendship Society of France (AJMF), whose leader Rabbi Michel Serfaty had already created a Muslim-Jewish  network with a “Friendship Bus” that tours France promoting dialogue, brought together 30 synagogues and 30 mosques. There isn’t any comparable network elsewhere in Europe, but several congregations organised similar twinnings this year  in Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Switzerland.

Schneier & Serfaty 1

Rabbis Michel Serfaty and Marc Schneier, 8 Dec 2009/Rafi Fischer

“At a time when the conventional wisdom says that our two peoples must live in perpetual conflict, Rabbi Serfaty and the AJMF are showing that there is another, much better way,” Schneier said at the dinner hosted by the AMJF. “We are gratified that this is happening not only in France, where conflict between Muslims and Jews has been especially intense, but across North America and Europe as well. In the spirit of Chanukah, let us keep aglow the light of caring and understanding and allow that light to guide the reconciliation and cooperation of Muslims and Jews worldwide, including the Middle East.”

One way that Schneier spread the word about twinning was by inviting 28 European imams and rabbis to visit New York and Washington last summer to see U.S. dialogues in action. That led to their participation in the twinning weekends this year.

Not one to think small, Schneier told me he now wants to expand the program to Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Brazil. “Fourteen million Jews and 1.4 billion Muslims can’t remain in a continuous state of conflict,” he said. Among the grass-roots breakthroughs the twinning drive has brought was the first visit by an imam to a synagogue in Moscow, to attend an event marking the 20th anniversary of Pinchas Goldschmidt as the city’s chief rabbi.

The twinning campaign doesn’t have a set program or style of meeting, Schneier said. “It’s not a cookie-cutter. Each community has its own traditions. But the objective always remains the same — to establish communication.”

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