Gathered in Solidarity

Why a Jewish community in Pittsburgh is rallying for Muslims after the New Zealand attack.

By Samar Warsi
Pittsburgh (USA): On the one-week anniversary of the New Zealand attack at Christchurch Mosque, Jewish members of the Pittsburgh community were at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh during Friday prayer to show their support.
“It’s the first Friday prayer after the attack and we want to be there when the worshippers arrive and make them feel safe and know that we have their backs. This is how the faith communities roll in Pittsburgh,” said Laurie Zittrain Eisenberg, a board member of the Tree of Life Synagogue before Friday prayer. In October, 11 people were killed at Tree of Life during a mass shooting that occurred during Shabbat morning services. It was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States in history. In response, Muslim Americans raised more than $200,000 through an online crowd funding campaign to help families affected by the tragedy.
Now, in response to the massacre in which 51 Muslims were killed at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, members of the Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue are returning the favour and have, to date, raised over $54,000 and hope to reach their goal of $100,000. The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is also raising money for victims of the Christchurch attacks.
“We were touched by the worldwide support we received, but particularly by the Muslim community in Pittsburgh. It was immediate. They told us they were heartbroken and appalled, offered to stand outside our synagogue so we felt safe and started fund raising for us. So when we heard about New Zealand, we had to be front and center,” Zittrain said.
Building Bridges
The national debate frames the relationship between American Muslims and American Jews as fractured, but recent events paint a different picture. In the wake of the New Zealand shootings, Jewish leaders and communities across the country have shown their support to the Muslim community. In North Carolina, a group of Jews and Christians gathered in solidarity outside the Islamic Center of Asheville during the weekly prayer on Friday. Ginna Green, Chief Strategy Officer of Bend the Act, a progressive Jewish advocacy group, condemned the attacks, saying “we are not safe unless we’re together.”
In New York City, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum encouraged members of the Congregation Beit Simchat Torah synagogue to “deepen” their engagement with Muslim neighbors and learn more about Islam since Muslims are the “first targets of institutional and individualized hate.” In Austin, Texas Rabbi Neil Blumhofe led the nearly 400 audience members in song to close out the vigil held at St. James Episcopal Church.
According to Muna Hussaini, the president of the board for Muslim Space and an organizer of the Austin vigil, there is a history of support between the two local communities.
Favourable Views
A new study also confirms that American Jews and American Muslims have favourable views of each other.
The survey from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, or ISPU, reveals that American Jews and American Muslims have similar opinions of each other. In fact, they are far more likely to hold favorable than unfavorable views of the other.
To create the report, ISPU interviewed almost 2,400 American residents from different religious backgrounds. The data shows that 45 percent of the Muslims held a favourable view of Jews and 53 percent of Jews held a favourable opinion of Muslims.
Only 10 percent of Muslims held an unfavourable view of Jews and just 13 percent of Jews held an unfavuorable opinion of Muslims. This may have something to do with the fact that the study also found that while roughly half of the general public knows someone who is Muslim, about 3 in 4 Jews know a Muslim.
A 2018 study by Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, or FFEU, echoes the sentiment that gaps between American Muslims and American Jews are smaller than previously thought. The study found that almost three-quarters of Muslims who interact with Jews frequently say that Judaism and Islam have more similarities than differences and more than two-thirds of Jews who interact with Muslims say the same.
Zittrain says Pittsburgh is a national leader when it comes to interfaith communities. They were able to pull together an event with Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders the day after the New Zealand attack.
“When the attack occurred, the faith leaders were not Googling how to find each other. They have relationships and they have each other’s phone numbers and that’s why they could respond so quickly.” In the days and weeks ahead, religious communities across the county will focus on healing and building strong relationships that will persist, not only in the bad times, but also in the good.
And according to Hussaini, “the thread of empathy that runs through all of our faiths will be the guiding light” in the process.
(Samar Warsi is a Toronto-based lawyer and
journalist). (Extracted from /www.deseretnews.com)

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