As the end of the year rapidly approaches, there will be many moments when I step back from what I'm doing, reflect on the people who I have been fortunate to surround myself with, and take time to reflect on our accomplishments together. I recently had one of those moments with my friend and colleague at The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), Rabbi Marc Schneier.
FFEU and Rabbi Schneier were in Brussels, Belgium yesterday bringing together more than 50 Muslim and Jewish leaders from across the European continent for a round of interfaith talks.
Coordinated in conjunction with the World Jewish Congress and the European Jewish Congress, yesterday's gathering included a personal audience with the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy. President Van Rompuy endorsed the efforts of the Muslim and Jewish leaders to build new bridges of friendship between the two communities.
It is no secret that relations between Jews and Muslims in many European nations are terse at best. Among the imams and rabbis present, there were representatives from Austria, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States in attendance. Some would argue that simply bringing these leaders to the same table is an accomplishment in itself. But having them pledge to jointly work together to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and to find ways to ensure that all religious minorities are able to practice freely, is a feat some would claim to be impossible. But, that is exactly what took place yesterday, and I couldn't be prouder of Rabbi Schneier and his fellow rabbis and imams who not only took on this challenge but embraced it.
For years now, I've been intimately involved in cross-cultural and interfaith advocacy with Rabbi Schneier. I've watched rabbis and imams join together to combat anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. This year alone, more than 100 mosques and 100 synagogues in 22 countries on four continents performed community service, conducted interfaith services, held a virtual conference and shook hands, all committing to work together toward a more positive future.
Rabbi Schneier and I agree. All these events are promising beginnings. From Brussels, Rabbi Schneier noted: "We continue to spread the right message across Europe and around the world. The Muslim and Jewish communities must focus more on what unites us than what separates us, and not allow any extremist to gain the upper hand."
At the opening session yesterday, Iman Dr. Abduljalil Sajid from Britain offered prayers mentioning the victims of the recent forest fire in Israel and flooding in Pakistan.
No matter what continent we live on, disasters like these provide constant reminders that our lives are fragile and our differences are small.
I too join the Muslim and Jewish leaders in this prayer, which I believe reminds us of our God-given humanity. It is with this sentiment in our hearts that we begin the New Year.