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Mosque near Ground Zero?

Yes, no, maybe

 
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PHOTO BY BOB SULLIVAN

Jews are in an uncomfortable place in the national debate over a planned Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero. — the Cordoba House at Park51.

A project of the Cordoba Initiative, created by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in 2004, the center will be “dedicated to pluralism, service, arts and culture, education and empowerment, appreciation for our city and a deep respect for our planet,” according to the organization’s website.

Our history and faith incline us to prize religious freedom and empathize with “the stranger”; our awareness of current events — and of the enduring horror of 9/11 — may make us wary of anything to do with Islam.

The Jewish Standard took the pulse of the community on this controversial issue. As you will see, responses vary — though all are impassioned. See articles following and Letters for a sampling of opinions.

 

More on: Mosque near Ground Zero?

 
 
 

Declaration of Beliefs of Muslim Moderates

I (We) are Muslims who want contemporary understandings of Islam to replace currently predominant harsh and radical (Salafi/Wahabbi) interpretations of our religion. We therefore declare that:

1- Redda Law, the Sharia Law that allows the killing of Muslims who convert to other faiths, must be banned in Islamic teachings and in Sharia legal doctrine. Islamic countries that practice Sharia must stop the practice of this law and must admit that Freedom of belief and the right to convert to other faith or believe is a basic right that must be given to all Muslims.

 
 

‘Good people can disagree’

Rabbi Jordan Millstein of Temple Sinai in Tenafly sent his congregants a pre-Shabbat e-mail message in which he discussed the mosque. Excerpts follow.

1. This is an issue on which good people can disagree…. The key to maintaining a civil society and healthy, dynamic Jewish community is not that we should all hug each other and sing “Kumbaya” (though if that’s your thing I am totally fine with it). Rather, it is the recognition that there is a human being inside that opinion he/she is wearing and that this human being was created in the image of God just as we were.

 
 

Cordoba House could ‘encourage more attacks’

Former Islamic terrorist urges moderation

If the Cordoba House is built in the shadow of the Sept. 11 site, radical Muslims will increase their efforts to attack America because of a perceived victory in their war to transform the United States into a Muslim nation.

So says Dr. Tawfik Hamid, senior fellow and chair for the Study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. Hamid is a former member of the terrorist Islamic organization Jamaa Islamiya with Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who later became the second in command of Al-Qaeda. For more than 25 years Hamid has spoken out in favor of reformation in the Muslim world based on peaceful interpretations of Islamic texts.

 
 

ADL plans taskforce to address Muslim concerns

Organization had opposed Cordoba House

The Anti-Defamation League, which has come under fire for its opposition to the planned mosque near the site of the World Trade Center, is launching an interfaith taskforce to help Muslim communities denied permission to build mosques in their neighborhoods.

The taskforce would “receive complaints, requests, [and] pleas from Muslim communities that run into … prejudice,” Abraham Foxman, the organization’s national director, said.

The initiative, Foxman said in a telephone discussion with The Jewish Standard last Friday, “needs a national specific focus and response. It will take a while because we need to find the partners.”

 
 

Questioning character of Cordoba imam ‘just inappropriate’

Tenafly man recalls long relationship with Rauf

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the head of the Cordoba Initiative, should be praised for creating bridges between moderate Muslims and people of good will, according to Tenafly resident Alan Silberstein.

The pair’s relationship goes back decades to their days as engineering students at Columbia University in 1967. Rauf’s father was an Egyptian diplomat and the family had recently relocated from Kuwait. When the Six Day War broke out, the two students were working side by side at summer jobs in the religion department. They often ate lunch together and, rather than drive them apart, the war sparked discussion and mutual respect.

 
 

Teaneck officials call Cordoba House case a reminder to protect freedom of religion

The New York Islamic center is a distraction from the real issues facing America, said Teaneck’s Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin.

“Regardless of whether this goes up, it’s not going to create jobs, it’s not going to get us out of the recession, it’s not going to make America safer,” the mayor told The Jewish Standard earlier this week.

Hameeduddin is the only Muslim mayor in New Jersey. The Teaneck Township Council appointed him and Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen, an Orthodox Jew, in July, but the two have known each other since their days at Teaneck High School. They have not seen the mosque issue drive a wedge between them or Teaneck’s fragile unity.

“We don’t agree on everything,” Gussen said. “The goodwill we’ve put in the bank over a decades-long friendship carries us through any differences we may have.”

 
 

Locals call Cordoba House ‘the wrong place’

All of Islam bears some responsibilty for 9-11 and the epidemic of terror carried out in its name and by its adherents,” wrote Rabbi Benjamin Shull of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake in an e-mail to The Jewish Standard.

Asked to elaborate, he added, “I realize that there are many Muslims who practice a moderate form of their religion and who do not condone terror or violent jihad, but it is obvious to anyone who has studied the history of Islam that the violence we see today is not a mere aberration. There is endemic to Islam an aggressive and imperialistic strain that, many times in the past, has reared its head and brought much religiously fueled violence to the world.

 
 

Jewish-Muslim dialogue team speaks out on Cordoba House controversy

On behalf of this newspaper, Rabbi Steven Sirbu asked members of the Temple Emeth-Dar-Ul-Islah Mosque dialogue team how they felt about the Cordoba House controversy and what effect, if any, the controversy might have on relations within the two communities. Below are some of the replies.

Stephen Friedman, a board member of Temple Emeth, said that while initially (before joining the dialogue team), “I had to overcome some trepidation and irrational fear, due to the frequent media association of Islam with terrorism that had filtered into my consciousness … after a year of dialogue I count my Muslim colleagues as my friends.” This does not mean, he said, that there are not differences needing to be addressed, “but the fact that as a group we were able engage in meaningful dialogue on challenging issues like the Middle East conflict was very encouraging.”

 
 

‘This could have been us’

Cordoba House supporters cite religious freedom as crux of debate

Some local groups strongly support the mosque.

While their reasons range from First Amendment freedoms to trust that rank-and-file Muslims are well-intentioned, they speak with passion about the right of their fellow citizens to build houses of worship.

Rabbi Steven Sirbu, whose Teaneck synagogue has partnered with the town’s mosque, Dar-Ul-Islah, to create an ongoing Jewish-Muslim dialogue group, wrote to his congregants, “I have long believed that Muslims occupy a similar place in American society today that Jews occupied about a century ago.”

 
 
 
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Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

Jersey City Boy

Mayor Steven Fulop tells his story — and his immigrant parents schep naches

The story of the new mayor of Jersey City is a goulash — a rich, highly seasoned, aromatic stew, full of disparate ingredients that somehow blend together.

This variant is kosher.

And for added authenticity, it’s Hungarian.

Steven Fulop’s story is both as deeply American and as fully Jewish as one person’s story could be — it is our own 21st-century version of the great American dream.

Cooking alongside it is the story of Jersey City, the state’s second largest, with a century-long history of corruption and bossism that Mr. Fulop is well positioned to turn around.

Mr. Fulop’s story starts with his grandparents. All four were born in Transylvania, the heavily wooded, mountainous, lushly beautiful region that has changed hands between Hungary and Romania. As this story begins, it still was part of Hungary. World War II came late there; his mother’s parents, the Kohns, were taken from the ghetto toward its end. His grandfather, Alexander, went to a transit camp, and his grandmother, Rosa, was on one of the last transports to Auschwitz in April 1944.

Her story is so painful that when her son-in-law, Arthur Fulop, tells it, his eyes fill, even though it is a story he has been telling for decades.

 

Take my kidney. Please…

Local cantor is living donor for beloved congregant

It’s fairly easy to say “I hope you feel better” to a sick friend.

It’s much harder to put your kidney where your mouth is, but Cantor Eric Wasser of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center did.

On February 19, he donated a kidney to his friend, Harvey Jaffee of Garfield.

Mr. Jaffee was in what his doctors “were starting to call end-stage kidney failure,” he reported. He now has a functioning kidney and will be able to resume his life, and Cantor Wasser will be able to return to his. Both, they say, feel enriched and ennobled (if temporarily weakened) by the experience.

Mr. Jaffee’s kidneys had been failing for some time, and he had trekked from doctor to doctor as he tried to get on the registry for a transplant. The screening process is extraordinarily thorough. “It’s one of the most daunting things in the world,” he said. “They send you to doctor after doctor, to check every orifice you have — and some that you don’t. Sometimes I was seeing four or five doctors a week.

 

The essence is to wake us all up

Ikar founder Rabbi Sharon Brous and local leaders talk about building a living Jewish community

Rabbi Sharon Brous radiates intensely concentrated passionate hummingbird energy in almost tactile waves.

It is hard to imagine how anyone could have done what she did — created and maintained a Jewish community that has grown wildly, attracted devoted members, brought disaffected Jews back to Judaism, juggled the tensions between tradition, innovation, accessibility, and fidelity — but once you meet her, you can see that if anyone could have undertaken that impossible-sounding feat, it would have to be her.

Ikar, the Los Angeles synagogue that Rabbi Brous imagined and shaped 10 years ago, is now a 580-plus family shul, with a 150-child preschool, a multigenerational membership, and a growing future. Rabbi Brous has garnered so much recognition and so many awards almost off-handedly — on the Forward’s 50 most influential Jews for years! On Newsweek’s Top 50 rabbis list for years, once as number one! Giving the benediction at Barack Obama’s second inauguration! — that it is hard to realize that she is only 41.

 

RECENTLYADDED

The Jewish people’s 911

Local archivist collects a century of JDC photographs

Twenty-six serious men sit around the table.

Two of the men have long beards; half wear mustaches. Scattered between them are two women, one of whom, of course, is the stenographer, known only as Mrs. F. Friedman. The other is the comptroller.

The year is 1918, and the men are leaders of the Jewish community. Most, like the host of the meeting, banker Felix Warburg, and his father-in-law, banker Jacob Schiff, are Reform Jews of German origin. A couple, including those with beards, are Orthodox and from Eastern Europe. Some are rabbis; one is novelist Sholem Asch. The comptroller is Harriet B. Lowenstein.

Meet the founders of the Joint Distribution Committee of American Funds for the Relief of Jewish War Sufferers, the organization now known as the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and variously as JDC or “the Joint” for short.

 

The case of the family tree

Local rabbi solves genealogical mystery

Move over Sherlock Holmes. There’s some pretty good detective work going on right here in Bergen County.

Putting together clues and puzzle-like pieces of information, Rabbi Benjamin Shull has solved what he jokingly refers to as his “semi-obsession” — the search for more branches on his family tree.

In the process, he has discovered previously unknown relatives, uncovered a direct link to a renowned Lithuanian rabbi and Musar activist, and come into possession of a beautiful, illuminated honest-to-goodness family tree.

Rabbi Shull, the religious leader of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake, has written a memoir, “Uprooted,” detailing his journey.

His story begins in the early 1990s, at the cemetery in Philadelphia where his father’s family is buried.

 

The little house in the big woods

Artist’s family remembers growing up in Fort Lee

The three children grew up in the middle of the woods.

There were acres of land all around the house; waterfalls tumbled from the rocky hills and splashed down in their rush toward the mighty color-shifting river far below. There were trees to climb, trails to blaze, rocks to scale. For half of the year, glorious canopies of trees shaded their view; when the leaves fell, the children could see the river, and the ships that steamed silently upriver to unload and then headed back south again, out to sea.

It was a perfect pastoral scene, the backdrop for a bucolic 19th-century childhood.

Then pull the camera back a bit. You’ll see that the river is the Hudson, the time the second half of the 20th century, and the town is Fort Lee.

 
 
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