Two Young Chicagoans on Why Iftar in the Synagogue Matters

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July 24, 2013

A Jewish Response to Anti-Muslim Bigotry


Back in late 2012, anti-Muslim ads were posted in public transit systems in Chicago, New York, and other major US cities. “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man,” the ads said. “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” Though some cities did not want these controversial ads on their buses, trains and stations, the courts decided that the ads were protected under the First Amendment. Many Jews joined Muslims in responding to the ads in protest.

These ads are part of a larger trend. Since 9/11, anti-Muslim sentiments spanning from hate speech-infused bus ads to violent acts of Islamophobia have become all too common. As residents of Chicago, we felt these ads hit close to home, especially when paired with anti-Muslim comments made in August that year by former Rep. Joe Walsh (IL-R). Since then, we’ve seen a shooting at a suburban Islamic cultural center, a homemade bomb thrown at an Islamic day school during prayers, and a desecration of a Muslim cemetery. And that’s just here in Chicago.

That’s why for us, building bridges between the Jewish and Muslim communities is a top priority, and we’re proud to stand with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs alongside others committed to a Jewish voice for social justice. As a people who have experienced discrimination throughout history, combating bigotry should be a priority for us all.

It’s resonated with us deeply to have a Jewish way to engage and collaborate with Muslims in our community, and to know we’re part of a larger effort to build strong bridges on the grassroots and leadership levels. With JCUA, the Chicago Board of Rabbis and the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, for example, has been co-hosting a series of rabbi-imam dialogues on issues of mutual concern, like “Challenges and Opportunities in Transmitting Religious and Communal Identity to the Next Generation in America.”

This week, we’re particularly excited to be part of the ninth annual Iftar in the Synagogue, which will bring hundreds of Jews and Muslims together to stand in solidarity, join in interfaith prayer in a synagogue, celebrate our interconnection, and then break the Ramadan daily fast with an “Iftar” kosher/halal meal

For us, this year’s theme — “Neighbors Against Bigotry” — feels particularly relevant, especially in the aftermath of recent acts of hate that illustrate the need for action and greater collaboration and understanding. As long as ignorance and intolerance exist — as Islamophobia, anti-Semitism or in other forms — building bridges between communities is an important step forward. __

Iftar in the Synagogue: Neighbors Against Bigotry is July 25 at Anshe Emet Synagogue. Rabbi Michael Siegel of Anshe Emet Synagogue and Tahera Ahmad, chaplain at Northwestern University, are keynote speakers.

Jessica Cohen serves as a communications intern at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs in Chicago. She is a student at Johns Hopkins University, majoring in English and sociology.

Margaret Port serves as a Jewish-Muslim outreach intern at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs in Chicago. She is a student at Vassar College, majoring in psychology and political science.

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