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Muslim mystique explored

Wednesday, November 01, 2006 - Malibu Times
Sajida Jalazai and Aaron Hahn Tapper from Abraham's Vision
Sajida Jalazai and Aaron Hahn Tapper from Abraham's Vision, an educational organization with Jewish and Muslim trainers that teaches high school and university students, and adults, facilitated the Muslim Mystique conference on Sunday at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue. Maile Mason / TMT

A conference at the local synagogue brings participants together to discuss thoughts on Israel and Palestine, and Muslim and Jewish relations.

By Sara Bakhshian / Special to The Malibu Times

"We are here this morning to open our eyes [a little more]," said Rabbi Judith HaLevy of the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue on Sunday during the opening invocation of a conference titled "The Muslim Mystique: Facing Fears and Stereotypes."

More than 50 people attended the conference presented by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics. Participants spent about five hours asking questions and discussing thoughts on Israel and Palestine, and Muslim and Jewish relations. Matters of reconciliation were discussed and religious texts and those of contemporary scholars, theologians and politicians were read. A clip from the controversial documentary "Encounter Point," was screened as well.

While the institute, whose mission is to promote peace and its values, has had interfaith events with members of the Muslim community, this conference was targeted to synagogues. Director Stephen Sideroff, Ph.D., said he wanted to take a step back and build a foundation in the Jewish community, and added later that a similar event set for early January would invite Muslims and Christians.

Sideroff said he hoped the conference would broaden the participants' ideas and be introspective. For example, Jews have always shown compassion for others but he questioned what was happening in their survival mode in Israel.

"One question is, can we have compassion for Palestinians?" Sideroff asked.

To consider this and various other issues, participants were led by two facilitators from Abraham's Vision, an educational organization with Jewish and Muslim trainers that teaches high school and university students, and more recently adults.

Sajida Jalazai, who has also worked with the Muslim-Jewish Dialogue of Montreal, started by asking attendees what their hopes for the day where and what concerns they have.

One person said, "I would like to be able to find some hope there [in the Middle East]."

Some attendees wanted to learn more about Islam from a Muslim person and to dispel myths and errors from both sides. The concerns included extremism on both sides, facts or fiction, politics and corporation distrust, media, reaching out to the youth and sustaining from the progress hoped to be made that day. Later in the conference, after reading from the sacred Islamic book, the Quran, and from the Jewish Bible, participants noted the similarities with the Torah, and that the Quran is not necessarily hateful. Some didn't realize they were reading the Quran until Allah was mentioned later in the piece.

One person was surprised at her reaction to Quran. "I did not have any judgment, and I'm a very judgmental person."

Facilitator Aaron Hahn Tapper, whose has studied at numerous Orthodox Jewish seminaries and spent a year living in Jerusalem's Muslim quarter while attending Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, asked attendees to line up according to whether they agreed, were in the middle or disagreed to statements about Judaism and Islam, the followers, and Israel and Palestine. Afterward, Tapper said part of the challenge was to look at one's inner conflict and orienting with the group.

People in the group appeared to become more comfortable with each other as each learned what others around them thought. One participant said she did not feel comfortable participating because she felt she did not have enough knowledge about some of the statements made and would base her answers on hearsay. Her friends said it a good experience at learning her own biases.

For the next session, personal conflicts, such as a bad divorce, and resolutions were talked about in groups of three or four, and then ideas of reconciliation and recognition were shared with the whole room. Suggestions of recognition included talking things over, having the ability to say sorry, taking responsibility and shifting emotional orientation.

Tapper pointed out, "Not all conflicts can necessarily be resolved," and that timing and space was an important factor in recognition."

During lunch Jalazai was available to discuss her personal and academic beliefs about Islam. She said later that a concern for some was getting a "legitimate" voice in the Muslim community that talks about Judaism and Jews.

"The moderate Muslim voice is definitely out there, it is just not getting a lot of airtime," and people needed to seek them, she said.

After excerpts from a theologian, rabbi, imam and politician were analyzed and discussed the participants were asked their impressions of the Muslim Mystique. HaLevy said that while she had relations with some Muslims, she would have to talk with individuals about their beliefs rather than seeking or using a general voice.

The clip from "Encounter Point," which features those who seek a nonviolent resolution to the Middle East conflict, was shown. Sideroff said later that by seeing Palestinians against Israel and those who want peace in the film, it clarified that Jews and Muslims were also similar in that they aren't monolithic populations.

Sherman Oaks resident Orly Pittock heard about the event through co-sponsor Salaam Shalom Educational Foundation, which supports a multicultural Jewish Israeli, Arab Israeli and Palestinian residential high school and peace academy in Northern Israel. She hoped to see more events like this.

"I'd love for this kind of [conference] to be all over ... people talking, exchanging," Pittock said.

2006-02-03 Jewish Journal
Harmony on the Table at Interfaith Events
by Reina V. Slutske, Contributing Writer

At the Islamic Center of Southern California, each table had a word. There was "family," "social action," "prayer," "rituals" and "holidays." Participants were asked to move to the table that reflected how they viewed their faith.

The exercise was part of the second annual Jewish/Muslim Dialogue organized by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics. About 120 people participated in the program, which included a screening of three clips from a new documentary that emphasizes ongoing cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Last month's event was one of several recent interfaith programs across the city, including one through the Sholem Foundation, where progressive Jews and progressive Muslims met to commemorate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. There also was an interfaith Shabbat service last week at Temple Kol Tikvah.

"The majority of Jews I have met in Los Angeles over the past eight years ... have been extremely open and receptive about understanding Islam," said Mehnaz Afridi, who helped organize the event with the Wallenberg Institute.

She added that, by contrast, Muslims were not as willing initially to participate in interfaith exchanges. Then came Sept. 11, 2001.

"The only positive fringe benefit I can see out of Sept. 11 is that the Muslim community suddenly realized that they had to become open and visible and transparent," said Ruth Broyde-Sharone, a Jewish producer and director who has been active in interfaith work for 20 years. She stressed the importance of people learning not to fear "that every mosque in the city was a breeding group for terrorists."

While the people who took part expressed disagreements over Israel and Middle East policy, the prevailing sentiment was a desire for peaceful co-existence.

About the Middle East conflict, Bangladeshi Muslim Omar Huda said, "In my prayers, I keep saying, 'God, please make it go away,' because it covers the whole screen [of interfaith relations]."

Huda, who has known Broyde-Sharone for more than two years, said that although they have had disagreements when they talk about politics, there also is trust between them that solidifies their friendship.

"We have something established now that no political discussion could rent asunder, because we have created something as human beings," she said.

These interfaith dialogues remain works in progress. Huda said he does not feel comfortable, for example, talking about theology in the course of an online interfaith discussion with people he doesn't know. And at gatherings, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb said that many dialogues suffer from "speaker syndrome," bringing in speakers and not letting communities actually talk to one another.

Despite the differences, however, "we have a common heart," said Abdul-Wahab Omeira, a Muslim chaplain for the L.A. County Department of Corrections. "We have a common goal. Help us further our cause, for it is your cause."

Both Muslims and Jews understand what it is like to be the outsider, said Muslim minister Tasnim Hermila Fernandez: "We have all had the concept of being 'the other.' We have worn the other shoe."

The Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics
Co-sponsors two recent programs
What is the path to peace? By Stephen Sideroff

Our Institute's Mission Statement begins with a commitment to the promotion of a culture of peace and its foundational values of equality, justice, love, compassion, and mutual respect.  These are ethical principles that we strive to teach.  We now know from research that what the human mind focuses on, what its intention is, usually becomes reality.  If we truly want peace, then we must place our focus and our energies on peace as well as these foundations of peace.

Last week the Wallenberg Institute cosponsored "Combatants For Peace" at the Skirball Center. Combatants is a group of Israelis and Palestinians who previously were engaged in the cycle of violence between the two peoples. The Israelis are comprised exclusively of combat soldiers--including pilots, tank commanders, and members of elite commando units. The Palestinians have each participated in violent activities against Israeli targets, and have nearly all served time in Israeli prisons.

After brandishing weapons for many years, these former combatants have realized the futility of the violence they have perpetrated on each other. In a unified voice, they have renounced violence and are calling for a peaceful resolution to the seemingly intractable conflict between their peoples. They hope to serve as an inspiration and example to those who continue to engage in violence, and they ultimately intend to influence their political leaders to meaningfully pursue peace.

The Wallenberg Institute also cosponsored, with the Islamic Center of Southern California, the play, "By the Well of Sarah and Hagar".  This moving experience was performed by Dorit Bat Shalom and Ibtisam Mahamed, a Jewish Israeli and a Palestinian.

These two women have been traveling throughout the U.S. bringing a performance portraying the ancient story of pain, hatred, violence and despair of their people to those who have the eyes to see, the heart to feel, in hopes of instilling the will for change. They also portray their personal and emotional journey to healing and union between Muslim and Jew.

Through a photographic slide show they show the truth of violence and despair, having experienced these nightmares first hand. They portray the terror and horror of the reality of this habitual acting out of hatred, ignorance and fear (we call war) that infects their countries. In a powerful part of the play, they take the roles of their respective people who are reacting with anger. They blame one another and each other's people for these violent crimes that take the lives of their loved ones creating a frightening world of chaos.

In surrender to sorrow, with eyes full of tears, they look into one another's eyes and see the mirror of the self. They realize then, they are the 'Daughters of Abraham', who are looked over and blessed by the one God, the one Creator of all things, including the family of humanity. As they wash one another's feet under the tent of one people, they seek forgiveness, reconciliation and peace of heart.

It is not always easy to pursue peace.  It takes great strength.  It is easier to follow old familiar patterns, even if they are self-destructive.  But if each of us takes part of this responsibility, then the path of peace can become easy as well.

Malibu Jewish Center holds Holocaust remembrance
By Jon Steely / Special to The Malibu Times
Published: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 2:28 PM PDT

On Friday, 75 people searching for a deeper understanding of one of history's darkest periods, attended a Yom HaShoah commemoration (Holocaust remembrance) at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue. The event honored those Jews whose lives were saved by the efforts of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, with two of those survivors speaking Friday night.

"The purpose of this evening was to honor the Holocaust survivors and to make an emotional connection between them and everyone in the room," said Rebecca Tobias, program director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics, an outreach arm of the MJC&S, in an interview after the event. "By expressing themselves and telling their stories, the speakers also gave the people an opportunity to learn more about Raoul Wallenberg and the Holocaust."

For more of this story, click here.

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