Rabbis, imams pledge closer relations

Rabbi Nissan Antine
Rabbi Nissan Antine

During February’s United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week, Washington, D.C.-area rabbis and imams will be packaging food for the hungry at Washington Hebrew Congregation.

The combined event sprung from last month’s first Summit of Washington Area Rabbis and Imams, in which more than 70 religious leaders – including 20 rabbis – gathered to see how they could best strengthen ties between mosques and synagogues. The Nov. 23 event included discussions on ways to stress the two religions’ similarities rather than their differences.

The idea, explained co-host Senior Rabbi Bruce Lustig of Washington Hebrew Congregation, was for rabbis and imams to meet each other directly in a nonthreatening atmosphere and hopefully form individual partnerships. Lustig said his hope was for everyone to realize “we are not powerless.”

Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb. Photo by David Stuck
Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb. Photo by David Stuck

By working “heart to heart, soul to soul,” Jews and Muslims can work together, Lustig said.
Attendee Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobbs of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda called the summit “wonderful. What was beautiful about the event was the broadening of that tent.” Dobb said participants pledged “to better educate ourselves about the others’ religion and traditions and to reach out to one other [imam or rabbi] we have never met before.”


Rabbi Nissan Antine of Beth Sholom Congregation in Potomac said it was “a very positive experience for me.” The meeting held soon after the terrorist attack in Israel that killed four rabbis convinced Antine that “I wanted to be there. It was an opportunity to reach out and meet” local imams, he said. “I just wanted to reach out my hand and see if there was a hand out there [to shake],” he said, adding that he was pleased to realize there was.

“The agenda was not at all political,” he said. The murder of the rabbis was mentioned, but “it was condemned very strongly by Jews and imams alike.” Antine intends to meet with an imam “who would just be interested in talking.”

Associate Rabbi Baht Weiss of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville left the event impressed. “I think there was a wonderful energy. I think it was nice to see so many people wanting to work together.” She hopes that her synagogue can form a relationship with a local mosque.

Imam Sayyid Syeed, national director of Islamic Society of North America, co-hosted the event. “We realized that we cannot afford to wait years for the Middle East conflict to be resolved before strengthening ties between Jews and Muslims in Washington and across the U.S. We are two important communities living alongside each other that need to learn about each other’s culture and faith traditions, while building friendships along the way,” Syeed said.

The summit was held during the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding’s International Weekend of Twinning.

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