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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

 

Dentistry in Africa

Local father-daughter duo fix teeth in Jewish Ugandan village

Kayla Grunstein’s parents, Shira and Dr. Robert Grunstein, didn’t want her to “be a brat,” Kayla said.

They wanted her to learn something about the world and her place in it, about the importance of work and the satisfaction of a job well done, about gratitude and generosity and giving.

They also were not adverse to allowing the 14-year-old some excitement and adventure at the same time.

In fact, a lot of excitement and adventure. With the Abayudaya in Uganda.

This is how it happened.

Her father, Dr. Robert Grunstein, is a dentist. He lives in Teaneck but has spent his career working mainly with lower-income children in Passaic and Paterson. He had the brilliant idea (yes, this is journalism, but some things are so clear that they just must be said, so brilliant idea it is) of buying an old fire truck and turning it into a mobile dental office. “Kids love fire trucks, and they are ambivalent at best about going to the dentist,” he said. “If you mix the two, it becomes more palatable.

 

A very Jewish, deeply American life

The Jewish Standard talks to the ZOA’s longtime head, Morton Klein

Of course, in some senses it is not at all a true statement, nor a fair one. The organization is growing, it is establishing regional branches, and here in northern New Jersey its regional director, Laura Fein, is working actively and visibly to establish the ZOA in what is likely to be fertile ground for it.

But Mr. Klein, who will speak in Englewood on Sunday night, has been the face, the will, and the driving force behind the ZOA for so long that to learn more about the organization, it is necessary to learn more about him.

Mr. Klein’s story is in some senses a quintessentially American one, about immigrating to this country, overcoming adversity, following dreams, juggling outsider- and insider-ness, fighting, winning, losing, winning, and continuing to fight.

 

Born to lead

The head of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey tells his story — and federation’s

Learning to cull less-than-perfect goldfish as they hurtle by you on a slimy assembly line, using your bare hands, disposing of them in garbage bags, is not a skill most nice Jewish boys acquire.

Nor is standing in the middle of an ice-cold pond in a torn wetsuit and hand-selecting the most decorative available koi, at the orders of overseas hoteliers, again with your bare hands.

Jason Shames of Haworth did both those things, during a stay on an Israeli kibbutz. Those and similar skills, oddly enough, were part of a logical progression that took Mr. Shames from the Bronx to the helm of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, a job he accepted four years ago this week.

 

RECENTLYADDED

Brains, luck, nerve, and true Grit

Local man details his extraordinary life, from pre-war Germany through Asia to an honor from Holy Name Medical Center

Sometimes you just listen to a story with your mouth hanging open.

Walter Krug’s story is like that.

Mr. Krug, who is 92 but doesn’t look it, is a warm, genial man; his posture is as upright as his German birth might dictate, and although he credits himself with a bad temper, his outlook is formidably positive. His life story is a journey of reversals, unlikely situations encountered, analyzed, and overcome, horror endured and surmounted, and eventually joy achieved.

It is a very long story. Here is a condensed version.

 

Dentistry in Africa

Local father-daughter duo fix teeth in Jewish Ugandan village

Kayla Grunstein’s parents, Shira and Dr. Robert Grunstein, didn’t want her to “be a brat,” Kayla said.

They wanted her to learn something about the world and her place in it, about the importance of work and the satisfaction of a job well done, about gratitude and generosity and giving.

They also were not adverse to allowing the 14-year-old some excitement and adventure at the same time.

In fact, a lot of excitement and adventure. With the Abayudaya in Uganda.

This is how it happened.

Her father, Dr. Robert Grunstein, is a dentist. He lives in Teaneck but has spent his career working mainly with lower-income children in Passaic and Paterson. He had the brilliant idea (yes, this is journalism, but some things are so clear that they just must be said, so brilliant idea it is) of buying an old fire truck and turning it into a mobile dental office. “Kids love fire trucks, and they are ambivalent at best about going to the dentist,” he said. “If you mix the two, it becomes more palatable.

 

Terrible journeys

Irene and Manny Buchman talk about their Holocaust experiences

There are many paths into hell.

There is the short, direct one that Irena Berkowitz, as she was called then, was herded onto. It led straight to Auschwitz.

Manny Buchman took a much longer, circuitous route; it allowed him some interesting vistas, and he was able to pause occasionally, toward the beginning. Eventually, though, he too ended up in a death camp.

Manny and Irena — now Irene — Buchman have been married since 1958. They live in a neat, sunlit townhouse in a cozy, prewar Englewood court off a street of grand houses. They rebuilt their lives, had two daughters and now six grandchildren and so far one great-grandchild. They talk to and about each other with the love and ease that comes from decades together.

 
 
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