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White Plains Kol Ami Holds Jewish-Muslim Dialogue

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – After attending a four-series forum on Jewish-Muslim relations in post-Sept. 11 America, Barbara Schwarz stood in the White Plains synagogue she’s attended since she was 8 and asked for clarification about what was dragging the two faiths apart.

“I’m getting from this that Christians and Jews and Muslims are praying for peace and harmony and that we want to be friends. So where is this faction bringing us apart or what is the faction?” she asked.

Many attendees acknowledged that conflicts in Israel and Palestine trigger emotional responses in Jews and Muslims across the world but suggested the best foundation for peace in the Middle East may rest in interfaith efforts abroad. More than 30 attendees traveled across Westchester to swap stories on Jews’ and Muslims’ shared customs, tenants and American experiences in Congregation Kol Ami.

Mahjabeen Hassan of Pleasantville said when viewing the Muslim-Jewish world at large, fighting in Israel and Palestine is really a small squabble.

“As a child growing up, I was looking at conflict between Ireland and England and I could not understand how Christians could fight each other until I realized it was about differences in interpretation however small. I think that is the same thing that has happened in Israel and Palestine. It’s a fight between two groups who are looking at the land as their own,” said Hassan. “When something happens in Palestine, it hurts the entire ummah – as we call it – the body of Islam. Anything that happens in Israel, anybody that gets hurt, it hurts American Jews.”

American Jews and Muslims “cannot allow” the “different geographical centers” of their faiths to “drag” them apart, according to Irwin Winsten of Greenburgh. He asked attendees to support American Muslims because they live in a more open environment than other members of their faith and can act as ambassadors of tolerance.

Rabbi Shira Milgrom emphasized that American Jews and Muslims should band together because “the greatest ‘correlate’ with ‘Islamophobia’ is anti-Semitism” and the two faiths have “very close stories.” She urged attendees to continue to share stories, such as the legend that Moroccan King Muhammad V refused the French government’s request to register and turn over its Jews during World War II, saying, “Okay, but give me $50 more for the members of my own family.”

“We commemorate the Holocaust in the Jewish community every year and that story needs to be told,” she said. “We just need to continue to tell stories.”

The interfaith message also resonated with Buddhists and Christians, like Kathleen Cotter, who attends the Memorial United Methodist Church.

“The thing is people in public are sometimes ignorant or they don’t care. Going to interfaith things like this is important because they help us learn about each other and see that everyone is just a person,” said Cotter.

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