Jews, Muslims volunteer together despite Middle East violence

By Lauren Markoe/Religion News Service

WASHINGTON – It’s an idea that feels particularly poignant this Thanksgiving: American Jews and Muslims banding together to help the homeless and other needy people.
The interfaith collaboration has been going on for five years, but the recent exchange of rockets between Gaza and Israel is weighing especially hard on both communities. That’s why a joint session of sandwich making or a group visit to a nursing home has taken on added significance.
“In this time of warfare it was a beautiful experience to see the two come together,” said Haider Dost, a Muslim student at Virginia’s George Mason University who worked with Jewish students to feed the homeless in Franklin Park recently.
The Franklin Park event is one of more than 17 Jewish-Muslim “twinning” volunteer projects across the nation in the days surrounding Thanksgiving fostered by the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.
One of those projects forged a new partnership in Northern Virginia between the McLean Islamic Center and Temple Rodef Shalom that saw, children from both the mosque and synagogue together cleaning up a Maryland park. That night, members of the two congregations dined together, with the Muslim host and the temple’s rabbi both offering up prayers for peace in the Middle East.
Both the Muslims and Jews in the room tacitly understood that the dinner conversation should not veer into the violence between Jews and Muslims now dominating the news from the Middle East.
“If we were fast friends who had known each other for years already, maybe we could get together in the midst of the conflict and share our feelings,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Saxe of Rodef Shalom. “While there are bombs falling, maybe it’s not the time to start that discussion. But the political situation made it all the more crucial that we get together.”