Skip to comments.Post-9/11 interfaith movement weathers Middle East conflict
Posted on 09/10/2006 10:46:09 AM PDT by NormsRevenge
Immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Jews and Muslims met and prayed together. Five years later, members of the two faiths are volunteering and teaching together.
In coming months, hundreds of Jews and Muslims will take their respective faiths to Los Angeles area streets, working in teams to conduct college teach-ins and help the homeless, immigrants and the working poor.
The project is a testament to the evolution of the interfaith movement here a fragile work-in-progress that took root after the terrorist attacks and has grown despite the pressures of war in Lebanon, violence in Iraq and Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Members of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities are cooperating on at least a half-dozen different projects statewide aimed at increasing understanding and tolerance among three of the world's major religions.
"This work is the least sexy, least glamorous work you can do. It's a long, hard slog," said Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, which focuses on social justice issues.
"But if you can come up with a relationship that even begins to look like what we have, especially in a city like ours, it's worth it," he said.
One of the biggest organizations in Los Angeles, the Interfaith Communities for Justice & Peace, grew from an impromptu meeting shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Now, its members are working on an interfaith peace initiative featuring speakers one Muslim, one Jewish and one Christian at separate weekend workshops dedicated to creating an "interfaith declaration on peacemaking."
"There's a solid 60 people who have stayed with it through the storm and who understand what it means to try to create a world of peace and justice and get out of the mentality of retaliation and violence," said Rev. George Regas, the group's founder and rector emeritus of All Saints Church in Pasadena. "It takes a lot of loving and a lot of attention."
The goal, Regas said, is a national convention of faith leaders dedicated to stopping violence between religious groups both in the Middle East and at home.
Another interfaith alliance that grew out of the ashes of Sept. 11 is the Peninsula Clergy Network, a professional organization for 400 religious leaders serving 30 cities south of San Francisco.
"There may be times when the conversation is strained," said Rabbi Jay Miller, the group's leader, "but we know it is a strained conversation within the context of a relationship, not pulling people together who have a distant relationship at a time of crisis."
Over the past five years, the group has expanded from building relationships among clergy to public policy discussions with school superintendents and elected and law enforcement leaders. Topics include having schools include religious tolerance in their diversity training and how spirituality can be incorporated into addressing problems such as truancy and gangs, Miller said.
The peninsula network is hosting a dinner to mark the fifth anniversary of the attacks. Other interfaith networks in Los Angeles and Orange County are planning festivals in early October to mark holidays in all three Abrahamic religions.
Sept. 11 also hastened development of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, an interfaith organization that grew out of San Francisco Bay area Rabbi Michael Lerner's Tikkun magazine. The project's national organizer, Nichola Torbett, said that unlike earlier efforts promoting religious tolerance within the Middle East, this network was focused domestically.
One of the biggest projects is the pact between the Progressive Jewish Alliance and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Those Southern California groups will soon formally announce plans to educate hundreds of Jews and Muslims on religious tolerance in small groups, then send them into the field to do social justice work statewide, said Sokatch, of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. Possibilities include homeless advocacy, providing assistance to immigrants and low-wage workers, helping with union movements and representing the victims of civil rights abuses.
"Wouldn't it be cool if there were Muslims and Jews working together to solve Los Angeles' problem with 90,000 homeless people?" Sokatch said.
Teams of Jews and Muslims could also hold teach-ins at college campuses to address anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia, said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
It's all a step forward from the days immediately following the attacks, when Al-Marayati went on a talk show and suggested that Israel could have been behind the hijacking plot.
The comments proved to be one of the final blows to the Muslim-Jewish Dialogue, an interfaith project established several years prior. A few of the key players say they will not work on inter-religious efforts despite more recent successes.
"I'm hurt and resigned. I don't think there is a real dialogue partner with that group of Muslims," said Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi at Temple Israel in Hollywood.
Al-Marayati, who now is at the helm of the social justice project, defended his remarks as a "hypothetical rejoinder" to the radio host's suggestion that Muslims were behind the attacks. He has since apologized.
These days, those involved with inter-religious projects in California are more careful with their words and more realistic about the limitations of their work.
The recent war between Hezbollah and Israel created a level of tension among members of the movement that they hadn't seen since 2001. But the movement has survived something its members attribute to the strong relationships formed over five long years of regular meetings.
"We have to have the courage to agree to disagree and to be able to criticize freely," said Maher Hathout, chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California. "There is a certain level of trust and mutual respect that was built over the years and this is the real cement that keeps people together."
Agha Saeed, national chairman of the Oakland-based American Muslim Alliance, considers inter-religious communication so important that he persuaded his colleagues at Cal State University East Bay and Cal State San Jose to make it an academic discipline. This year, they plan a pilot class and a study to determine if there is enough material to justify a full-fledged program, said Saeed, who teaches philosophy and communications at the East Bay campus.
The key to success, said Al-Marayati, is realistic expectations about what people can agree on. The Progressive Jewish Alliance and the Muslim Public Affairs Council, for example, agree on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem and reject violence against civilians.
"Too many people in the Muslim community are looking for the 'perfect Jew' and too many people in the Jewish community are looking for the 'perfect Muslim,'" said Sokatch. "They may find those, but those people rarely speak for anyone but themselves."
Associated Press Writer Lisa Leff in San Francisco contributed to this report.
Odd that they would try to bring religion to the working poor.
If more of the secular wealthy class had religion, they might be more charitable with their wealth.
"Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, "
Translate that for me.
Start with the word "progressive"
What a joke. The Religion of Pieces would kill all these infidels in a heartbeat. Do not be friggin fooled. There is no true interfaith anything with the IzlamoMuzziefascists involved.
"Rabbi Michael Lerner's Tikkun magazine."
These are "Jews" who want Israel wiped out.
No wonder they embrace their fellow Israel-haters (the muslim groups).