Islamic Center’s Interfaith Institute honors Rabbi Jerome Davidson

In the backdrop of the raging Islamophobia, growing anti-Semitism and relentless attack on immigrants, the Islamic Center of Long Island presented its third Interfaith Institute Award to Rabbi Jerome Davidson, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth El, Great Neck, NY.
The event at the Interfaith Institute of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, NY October 7 was attended by more than 100 community leaders. A discussion on ‘Jewish-Muslim Relations over the past 1400 plus years’ was the highlight of the event.
The discussions focused on the common beliefs of Islam and Judaism terming both as children of Abraham.
Accepting the award Rabbi Davidson, in a remarkable speech, noted the many problems faced by Muslims and Jews in America, especially under the Trump Administration.

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‘Now we confront a President and Administration who have created an unholy mix if anti-immigrant policies and the demonization of those from Islamic lands, of indifference, to racism, anti-Semitism, the encouragement of nativism, white power and misogyny,’ he noted.
In his introductory speech, Dr. Unni Mooppan lamented that a small group of extremists in each religion highjack the religion. If the mainstream believers keep quiet they will take over the faith. Dialogue is the head, hand and heart, which is the need of the time.
He noted that throughout the world interfaith activities are on the rise. One day, people will realize that all faiths are one to reach the same goal, he said.
Chaplain Khalid S Latiff, board member of the Interfaith Institute, read from Dr. John Andrew Morrow’s book ‘Islam and the People of the Book’ to point out the close relations between the two faiths. The book noted that both are children of Israel. Both religions worship the same god. Jews and Muslims term God as one and there is no one but Him. We cannot compare anything with God.
Latiff also suggested that both communities should work together to bring peace in the Middle East.
In the written constitution prepared for Medina al-Nabi, the Prophet decreed that Jews and Muslims were both believers. It stipulated that all citizens were equal… Despite periods of problems, Muslims and Jews have co-existed peacefully for the larger part of the past 1400 years. Jews fled Christian persecution in Europe to find safety and security in the Muslim world, the book noted.
Prof. Sharon Koren of Hebrew Union College spoke about the ‘Peaceful co-existence: Judaism and Islam in Andalusia. She narrated the early history of Islam, arts and architecture in Cordoba. In many Christian countries Jews were not allowed to practice their religion or convert to Christianity. They moved to Islamic countries for safety.
Jews never wrote secular poetry till they came in to contact with the Arabs, she noted.
Prof. Farouque A. Khan, chair of the Interfaith Institute spoke about the Jewish-Muslim dialogue and the Long Island experience, which began in the 1980s.
He narrated how the ICLI was established in 1984, and the dialogue between Muslims and Jews of Long Island was initiated in 1992. He said the Muslims looked at the successful Jewish community as a model. Once, they too faced the same problems faced by the Muslims now. The Muslims learned lessons from the experiences of the different generations of Jews to find out how the discrimination gradually went away.
Problems happening in the Middle East affected the relations of the communities here. ‘But somehow we had to live with the other. We are the children of Abraham. Friendships grew over the time. But the second Intifada in 2000 crated lot of tensions. 9/11 was even more terrible. Some people felt that American Muslims have something to do with it. The community was attacked by a powerful Congressman.
‘But both communities stood as one. We are allies in the struggle for justice and peace,’ he noted.
A chat between Stanley Bergman, CEO of Henry Schein and Farooq Kathwari, CEO of Ethan Allen too was enlightening. Kathwari described how his family in Kashmir was divided in the Partition. Once in America, he had Jewish friends and worked in Jewish companies, but never faced an issue.
Rabbi Davidson said the award really belonged to the people of the Islamic Center of Long Island and Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, for their courage, fortitude, and perseverance.
‘The tension and dangers today faced by the Muslim community in America were unimaginable when the seeds of our dialogue were planted in 1992. Nonetheless I believe that because of the over a quarter of a century of this relationship and its influence and offshoots throughout the US, we are in a far better position to challenge effectively the ubiquitous Islamophobia of the present time.
American Muslims and Jews in Dialogue (AMJID) is a pioneering project, a journey with hilltops and valleys.
‘Why did we do this? We began simply by reaching out. We saw Islam becoming a growing faith community in America. The Jewish community had long before initiated interreligious outreach to Protestants and Catholics. Yet, ours was a profound ignorance of Islam and its people.
It was a time of persecution of Muslims in Eastern Europe, India and elsewhere, but also a time when Palestinians and Israelis were working with sincerity on a two state existence.
I knew American Muslims felt isolated. There was an increasing Balkanization of America. The ideal of the melting pot of the 20th century had dissipated. We were aware of our historic relationship as Koran has shared--children of Abraham.
Friendship grew over the years. We enlarged our gatherings to include the congregations of the Mosque and Temple. We worshipped together. We broke the Ramzan fast at the Temple, built a Sukkah in the Mosque. Religious school children made exchange visits.
However, severe challenges emerged –second intifada. Early on we had purposely avoided discussions about Israel/Palestinian conflict, but now we had to put it on the agenda. So we talked, listened, argued, got angry, but with our friendship intact, we would share coffee and refreshments, shake hands and vowed to keep the conversations and activities going. And we did!
9/11 exploded up on us all. At a joint service at Beth El we comforted each other. We held the Torah together. We shared our fears.
But there arose purveyors of hate in America, who began to see Muslims as a fifth column, as terrorists harbored by Mosques, there was ugly stereotyping of an entire community.
We stood together, spoke out even as a powerful Congressman attacked.
And when Islamophobia spread, and the Jewish community was not immune, when hate mongers tarred the entire Muslim community with virulent views with demagogic threats of Islamization of America, we stood as one, and especially when voices from the Jewish community sought to divide Jews and Muslims.
We always shall do so. We are natural allies in the struggle for religious freedom, for civil liberties. When the American tradition of separation of church and state is under siege, as is presently the case, the integrity of minority faiths especially is in jeopardy, as is democratic pluralism which this country recognizes as our most sacred principle.
Michelle Alexander, author of the New Jim Crow, recently wrote in the New York Times, a new nation is struggling o be born, a multiracial, multi ethnic multi faith nation, Rabbi Davidson noted.