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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

 

Sending socks to the IDF

Teaneck rabbi to bring much-needed supplies to soldiers in Israel

Rabbi Tomer Ronen, rosh yeshiva of Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus, and his wife, Deganit, are the proud parents of a son in the IDF.

Their son, a 20-year-old who went all the way through SAR in Riverdale and then went to Israel, where he studied at a yeshiva for a year and then joined the IDF exactly a year ago, is in a parachute unit. “For the last three weeks, they were training and training and training,” Rabbi Ronen said. Last Thursday, “he called and said, ‘Abba, Ima, we are out. We are giving away our cell phones.’ So we knew that it was happening that night.”

So now the Ronens are both proud and worried parents; worried enough, in fact, to decide that they could no longer sit at home in Teaneck and worry. “To be the parents of a lone soldier is hard,” Rabbi Ronen said. “To be the parent of a lone soldier and know that he is going in — that is even harder.”

 

From Budapest to Woodcliff Lake

Rabbi Andre Ungar’s career crossed continents, spanned streams

Rabbi Andre Ungar, a courtly man with a spade-shaped beard and impeccable manners, speaks with what seems at first to be pure and crystalline Queen’s English, precise and beautiful.

Listen carefully, though, and you hear something else underneath, something somehow both more and less familiar.

It’s a Hungarian accent, giving depth and context to his speech.

Rabbi Ungar, rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake, is a complicated man, an intellectual with a well-earned passion for social justice and a life that took him to five countries in four continents before allowing him to settle here, in this one.

 

Blue and white moon

Israeli lunar mission makes stop in Paramus

In the May 1944, Itzhak Bash and 299 other Jewish engineers were removed from Auschwitz and taken to work at a Volkswagen factory that was assembling the V-1 flying bomb.

He had been a textile engineer in Hungary before the Nazis invaded and deported the Jews, but the Germans didn’t need his specific technical skills; they wanted slave laborers they could trust with careful work. The first V-1s from occupied France landed on London on June 13, 1944. As the Allies pushed into France, Mr. Bash was switched to work on the V-2, the first rocket to reach the edge of space. By the war’s end, more than 3,000 V-2 rockets had been launched.

Mr. Bash was one of the lucky hundred men who had survived from the original group of 300 engineers. Some were killed by Allied raids; others by the conditions at the work camps.

 

RECENTLYADDED

No light yet

‘Remember – she’s 2’

Although this community does not feel the barrage of rockets, the adrenaline and strain of IDF service, the upside-down-ness of life after a sudden recall to active service, the sleepless worry of parents, the responsibility of hundreds of innocent deaths on the other side, or the uncertainty of the outcome of the situation in Gaza, many of us have deep connections to Israelis, and even more of us want to help in any way we can.

Here are some stories of how this community – and remember that New Jersey is about the size of Israel – is reacting. These stories are just a few of very many, but we think that they are both representative and illustrative.

Please note that we have been careful not to include too much information in these stories. We have not said anything about where IDF members are serving, or what they are doing – or even given their names. We know that the IDF does not think it safe to publicize such information, and we comply with that request willingly.

 

No light yet

‘He meant to live his life’

Ilan Vakhnin, principal of the Shakim High School in Nahariya, is on the steering committee developing policy and programming for th Partnership 2Gether, a sister city relationship between the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and Nahariya, a city in southern Israel.

He was part of a six-person delegation, in town for a few days of meetings, when his cell phone rang.

On the other end, his daughter was crying so hard that he had to tell her to stop it if he was going to be able to understand what she was telling him. Eventually, she was able to get the message out.

 

No light yet

‘Daddy, come home’

Rabbi Avram and Leah Herzog of Fair Lawn are the aunt and uncle of two nephews who live in Israel. They are the sons of Rabbi Herzog’s sister, Zehavah Bigman, who made aliyah with her husband, Joel, more than 30 years ago.

Both of the nephews have completed their IDF service. Both are married; the older one at 32, has four children, and the younger one, 26, has a baby.

Both, like most Israeli men their age, are in the reserves.

 
 
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