From Rabbi Jerome K. Davidson
Our Temple, the Congressman and the Mosque
A number of articles and letters have appeared in the press, secular and Jewish, criticizing Temple Beth-El and its rabbis for engaging in joint activities with the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury. The source of the criticism clearly is a Long Island congressman, who, in interviews on television and with newspaper journalists, has charged that 85% of America’s mosques are controlled by extremists and that the Westbury Mosque is a prime example. Substantial evidence for these charges is never presented.
To exacerbate the situation, this congressman sent a letter, along with an inflammatory article from the New York Post, to his Jewish constituents in which he accuses of extremism, Dr. Faroque Khan, Chair of the ICLI Board and leader of the dialogue activities with us and other Christian and Jewish organizations.
Assertions are made that these interfaith activities are a mask to obscure the “Islamic threat” Dr. Khan and others represent to our country. Faroque Khan is one of the most respected moderate Islamic voices in America today. Worthy of note is the interreligious visit to Israel he led last spring with two rabbis, two Catholic priests and a group of young people. If the charges against him were not so absurd and defamatory, they would be laughable. I also regard them as utterly irresponsible.
As you know, fifteen years ago Temple Beth-El initiated a dialogue program with the Islamic Center that continues to this day. The members of the dialogue began to teach each other about their respective religions, preparing presentations on customs, beliefs, holidays, the Bible and the Koran, the role of women, the Muslim and Jewish family, with new themes emerging all the time.
Open sessions were held in the Mosque and the Temple for the two communities. They came to us in large numbers to discuss Islam in America. We brought members of our congregation to speak to their community on the challenges of being a minority; on another occasion we spoke on civil rights issues, especially the church-state concerns that both communities face.
Our religious school children meet with Muslim youngsters a couple of times a year in both our Temple and the Mosque. Two weeks ago we celebrated Sukkot and Islam’s Ramadan at the Mosque and built a Sukkah there, perhaps the first in a Mosque ever.
As for discussions regarding the Middle East, differing points of view are, of course, expressed within both communities and when we come together. All share, however, the hope for peace and security among Jews and Muslims everywhere.
These are not, as the congressman charges, “benign interfaith programs” that mask extremism. They represent the best of America: tolerance, respect and the freedom that allows different peoples to sit down together in peace.
Clearly, Islamic militants are a grave concern both here and abroad. Nonetheless, I am most distressed by fear-inducing demagogic appeals employed at election time. And I am also angered by McCarthy-like tactics of character assassination and guilt by association. They not only victimize decent Americans but, as well, frighten people away from outreach to others. I hope Temple Beth-El will never withdraw from dialogue with other Americans who came here for the same reasons as did our families, for freedom from fear, for acceptance and equality.