At JCC, Common Ground for Muslims and Jews

By Josh Richman

Published November 14, 2007, issue of November 16, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Muslim-Jewish understanding can come only through knowledge and respect, the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco believes — and maybe through some old-fashioned head-to-head debate.

AT WORSHIP: The JCC\'s months-long program, Salaam/Shalom: Where Judiasm and Islam converge, includes an exhibit of works by Israeli photographer Harel Stanton
AT WORSHIP: The JCC\'s months-long program, Salaam/Shalom: Where Judiasm and Islam converge, includes an exhibit of works by Israeli photographer Harel Stanton

And so, last month the JCC hosted Judea Pearl — father of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was slain by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in 2002 — and Souleiman Ghali, the Islamic Society of San Francisco’s founder and former president.

Their dialogue, moderated by journalist Peter Waldman, was a keystone of the JCC’s program Salaam/Shalom: Where Judaism and Islam Converge, parts of which began in September and will continue into 2008. The program includes an exhibit of Israeli photographer Harel Stanton’s images of devout Jews, Christians, Muslims and Hindus at worship; classes in basic Arabic and Islamic beliefs; poetry readings and author lectures; musical performances by Israeli-Moroccan singer Smadar Levi and master lute musicians from Azerbaijan, India, China, Israel, Afghanistan and Iran, and much more. The wide-ranging event is the JCC’s first-ever large-scale program to focus on relations between Muslims and Jews.

“In America there’s an overwhelming, systemic fear of Islam. It’s palpable, and it needs to change,” said Lenore Naxon, director of the JCC’s Eugene & Elinor Friend Center for the Arts. “If we get five people to show up for basic Islam or six people to show up for Arabic — I think we need to do this every single year — that’s how we’re going to change the world: one person at a time, one performance at a time.”

For the Pearl-Ghali dialogue, the JCC’s 480-seat hall was almost full.

Pearl, who has done similar dialogues with Pakistani Islamic scholar Akbar Ahmed elsewhere, said that his son’s murderers “schemed to sow fear and division among us” but instead triggered sympathy, good will and energy that must be harnessed to build bridges between the Jewish and Muslim cultures. He feels a “sense of historical responsibility” to listen and to understand, to communicate without trying to win an argument; the dialogue is his son’s victory, he said.

“Truly, from my heart, I think you’re an extremely courageous person, and God bless Daniel for what he did,” Ghali replied. But then he said of Daniel Pearl’s murderers: “I understand where… these people come from. I have been there myself.”

Ghali explained that while he grew up as a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, he and his peers were indoctrinated with hatred of Jews wrapped in the guise of Muslim faith. It was only in coming to the United States to study, in working and socializing with Jewish people, that he came to realize true Islam doesn’t embrace hatred.

The pair tossed around various topics, agreeing that Islamic leaders generally could and should do more to condemn terrorism and antisemitism, disagreeing gently over the purpose and symbolism of the Israeli security barrier, going back and forth on media portrayals of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and so on.

Ghali said he supports a two-state solution, but later he seemed to get under Pearl’s skin by asking whether he would prefer Israel as a theocracy or as a democracy; Pearl replied that it should be a Jewish democracy. As Pearl expounded that Israel is a national Jewish state rather than a religious Jewish state, and Ghali noted the Orthodox influence on Israeli policy, Waldman had to pull the plug: Time had run out.

“You’re going to have to take this outside,” he quipped.

Josh Richman covers politics and legal affairs for California’s Oakland Tribune and Bay Area News Group.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.