Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter


entries tagged with: Ground Zero


Selichot at Ground Zero

Lois GoldrichLocal | World
Published: 04 September 2009

Two years ago, some 80 members of Temple Emanu-El in Closter brought their Selichot service to Ground Zero, offering prayers and stories at the site of the devastated World Trade Center.

“The solemn feelings [at the site] made it more potent and powerful,” said the congregation’s Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, noting that this year — with Sept. 11 and Selichot observances falling so close together — congregants will once again travel to lower Manhattan for the service.

The shul will hold “a traditional Conservative Selichot service” on Saturday night, Sept. 12, said Kirshner. A series of penitential prayers, Selichot takes place late on the Saturday evening preceding Rosh HaShanah.

“Selichot invokes the High Holy Days,” said Kirshner, “like a beacon or trumpet.” Using special prayer melodies that offer a foretaste of those used on the High Holy Days, “they are a wake-up call, reminding us of the High Holy Days.” The shul’s chazzan, Cantor Israel Singer, will join in the service, he said.

Joining the members of Emanu-El will be Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, president of the New York Board of Rabbis — of which Kirshner is treasurer — and a chaplain of the New York Fire Department.

Potasnik, a first-responder in 2001, was also with the congregation at its service two years ago, when congregants “told stories in between their prayers,” said Kirshner. Speakers ranged from “people who lost friends, to physicians who worked at the site,” he said.

Kirshner noted that the service was made possible with the help of site developer Larry Silverstein, “who allows access to this area of Ground Zero.”

The rabbi added that members of the congregation will make Havdallah in the synagogue parking lot before leaving for New York. He expects more than 60 people to attend, he said, adding that he is not aware of any other congregation planning to hold a service at the World Trade Center site.

“Selichot is a time that puts a microscope on the month of Elul,” said Kirshner. “We blow the shofar every day…. It’s really a bell-ringing, telling us to prepare ourselves to usher in the new year.”

In addition, he said, “it’s a solemn time to make right what’s wrong between you and God, as well as you and other people, and to recalibrate” those relationships. Selichot, he said, reminds you “not to fall into your usual Saturday night customs but to do some soul-searching.”

The rabbi said it is important as Jews and as members of the wider community to keep alive the memory of those who died in the attacks on Sept. 11.

“We need to memorialize those who died needlessly on that day. It needs to stay in the frontal lobe of our memory so we don’t forget the reason they died,” he said.

Explaining that the holiday is about “asking for forgiveness and the ability to forgive,” he said, “it is our responsibility to do this in a place where it may be the hardest to do.” While those who will attend the service are certainly not ready to forgive the bombers, he said, going to a place of tragedy “brings a sense of solemnity and introspection,” just as people visit Poland to reflect on the Holocaust or go to a cemetery between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

He said he hopes the service at Ground Zero will accomplish two things — ushering in the season of reflection and renewal “and branding the memory of 9/11 in our daily actions. I’m afraid we’re reaching a state where we’re quickly forgetting.”

For further information, call the synagogue at (201) 750-9997.


Ambivalence on Ground Zero mosque

More often than not, Jewish and Muslim groups come down on the same side of battles over religious liberties.

Jewish organizations often file amicus briefs supporting Muslim religious rights in cases where zoning boards try to block the construction of houses of worship or bar the right of a Muslim to grow his beard.

“There are a lot of commonalities of interest,” said Nathan Diament, director of the Washington office of the Orthodox Union.

That made last week’s announcement by the Anti-Defamation League opposing the construction of a planned mosque near the Ground Zero site all the more remarkable. It was a rare instance of a Jewish establishment organization explicitly opposing a Muslim project or distancing itself from the role of upholding liberties for all. The $100 million mosque center was proposed by the Cordoba Initiative, a group that promotes interfaith dialogue.

Despite their common interests, however, Jews and Muslims have forged few formal alliances, mostly due to their deep differences on Middle East policy and Jewish concerns over Muslim organizations’ ties to radical groups. This has made Jewish groups ambivalent, supporting Muslim rights in principle but reluctant in practice to endorse specific Muslim organizations or programs.

This ambivalence was reflected in an American Jewish Committee statement supporting the Ground Zero mosque — with caveats and demands.

The AJC “urged the leaders of the proposed center to fully reveal their sources of funding and to unconditionally condemn terrorism inspired by Islamist ideology. If these concerns can be addressed, we will join in welcoming the Cordoba Center to New York. In doing so, we would wish to reaffirm the noble values for which our country stands — the very values so detested by the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks.”

Defenders of the proposed Ground Zero mosque suggested that such calls are insulting, noting that the Cordoba Initiative and its directors, Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Kahn, have a long history of pressing for a moderate, engaged Islam.

“One of the ways to prevent future Ground Zeroes is to encourage moderation within Islam, and to treat Muslim moderates differently than we treat Muslim extremists,” The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg wrote on his blog. “The campaign against this mosque treats all Muslims as perpetrators.”

On Tuesday, the mosque project at Ground Zero cleared what may have been its final hurdle before construction could begin. New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Committee declined to landmark a building on the site where the mosque would be built.

In recent years, Jewish organizations have defended Muslim interests in a variety of cases.

In 1999, Jewish groups defended the right of Muslim police officers in Newark to wear beards. This year, Orthodox Jewish groups and conservative Muslim organizations both were on the losing side of a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right of the University of California Hastings Law School, which receives federal funding, to reject official status for a group that discriminates on a religious basis.

In Scottsdale, Ariz., the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix reported last week that Rabbi Charles Herring joined local Muslim groups in protesting against a course called “Islam 101” run by the local Board of Jewish Education. The class, taught by Carl Goldberg, included literature titled “Troubling Passages in the Koran.”

Herring, who leads a Jewish-Muslim interfaith group, noted that the Torah could similarly be misconstrued.

In Jacksonville, Fla., last May, a Jewish men’s club offered to help repair a mosque damaged in a firebomb attack. “We have a group of guys who like to do carpentry, painting, or whatever we can to help out,” Ken Organes of the Jacksonville Jewish Center’s Men’s Club told the local ABC affiliate.

“That’s a commonality that comes up again and again between Orthodox Jews and religious Muslims,” Diament said, “whether it’s scheduling issues for holidays for prayer time or wearing religious clothing or grooming.”

When the issues touch on the Middle East, however, the differences emerge clearly.

In 2007, when Debbie Almontaser, the principal of the Kahlil Gibran Arabic-language school in New York, came under fire for allegedly radical views, the ADL strongly defended Almontaser until she told a New York Post interviewer that the word “intifada” meant “shaking off.”

The newspaper cast the quote as defending T-shirts that read “Intifada NYC,” and the ADL subsequently fell silent. Almontaser eventually was forced to resign after critics said she should have explained the word in the context of the Palestinian uprising against Israel. Earlier this year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission vindicated Almontaser, saying that her views were mischaracterized and that she had no connection with the offending T-shirts.

The Jewish hesitancy to ally formally with Muslim groups is grounded in alarms raised in the past about the supposedly radical origins and alliances of groups claiming to speak for moderate Islam.

The Council on American Islamic Relations, often cited in media reports as the Muslim equivalent of Jewish civil rights groups, had relations in the 1990s with groups and individuals subsequently identified as close to Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group.

The council in recent years has issued statements distancing itself from such groups, but mainstream Jewish organizations still keep away in part because of the council’s vigorous criticism of Israeli actions. After Israel’s deadly raid on a Turkish aid flotilla attempting to breach Israel’s embargo on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, the council charged Israel with a “blatant disregard for international law” and called for a reduction in military assistance to Israel.

Jewish groups have differed over associations with another Islamic American group, the Islamic Society of North America. The American Jewish Committee has refused to work with the group, citing government investigations of its alleged associations with radical Muslims, although the society was never charged with any crime. The ADL and the Reform movement have worked with the society, noting its overtures to Jewish groups and the Holocaust education it has promoted for its membership.

Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, said he rejected the bigotry of some of the critics of the Ground Zero mosque but that the sensibilities of the families of the Sept. 11 victims should be paramount. The Philadelphia-based Shalom Center organized a statement from 29 Jewish lay leaders and clerics urging American Jews to press the ADL to reverse its decision.

In an interview with JTA, Foxman likened the sensibilities regarding the mosque project to those that led the Jewish establishment to oppose a Carmelite nunnery at Auschwitz in the 1980s. The nuns had good intentions, but Auschwitz wasn’t the right place for a nunnery. The Vatican ordered the nuns to leave, and they did in 1993.

“We’ve been out there as often as we can, as vociferous as we can, when signs of Islamaphobia are on the rise,” Foxman said. “And we’ll continue to be.”


Plans for a mosque at the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks have generated ambivalence among some Jewish groups. Creative Commons/SpecialKRB

Mosque near Ground Zero?

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. Many truly moderate Muslim leaders have acknowledged this and called for a reform of Islam. The leader of the World Trade Center mosque has not — though he will condemn terror in one breath he will excuse it in another. He actually once claimed that Osama bin Laden was created in the United States (by U.S. foreign policy).

“I don’t think that the government should stop the mosque, but I do believe that we, the Americans, can demand accountability. This is not Islamophobia, it’s common sense.”

Alex Grobman, a historian who lives in Englewood and is the author, most recently, of the ironically titled “The Palestinian Right to Israel” (Balfour Books), was similarly negative about the mosque site.

He wrote in an e-mail to the Standard that “If those building the imposing 13-story $100 million mosque were truly interested in portraying Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance, this is clearly the wrong place to do so. Allowing a mosque to be built so close to the destruction of the Twin Towers will be seen as an act of triumphalism. What else are we to assume when the projected name is Cordoba House, a term obviously identified with conquest? As one analyst noted, the first Cordoba mosque was erected in Cordoba, Spain, following the Muslim conquest of Christian Spain in the eighth century.

Rabbi Benjamin Shull, left, Alex Grobman, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach File Photos

“A very transparent and unmistakable message will be conveyed to the faithful,” Grobma added, “that they have been given a premier platform from which to preach their form of Islam under Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. He is a prominent member of Perdana, which is ‘the single biggest donor’ to the Free Gaza Movement, according to David Horowitz, and refuses to say if Hamas is a terrorist organization.”

Grobman wrote that in “Abdul Rauf’s book, published in Malaysia, ‘A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post-9/11,’ the word ‘dawa’ refers to spreading sharia [Islamic law] by any way except through violence, according to Islam expert Robert Spencer.

“Is this mosque not then a Trojan horse?”

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an Englewood resident and a columnist for this newspaper, has written frequently of his qualified opposition to the mosque. The author, most recently, of “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life,” he wrote on the Huffington Post website on Tuesday that he is, in fact, “a supporter of the mosque being built, but only under two conditions. First, that its builders consult the families of the Ground Zero dead, who are the people whose opinion matters most. Second, that the 13-story complex include a museum detailing the events of 9/11 with exhibits explaining the modern abuse of Islamic teachings by extremists and their repudiation by Islam itself.”

Responding to accusations of bigotry against opponents of the mosque, Boteach wrote, “There are bigots in America but Americans are not bigots. There are a hundred mosques in New York alone and nobody objects. But the average American is souring on Islam not based on any intrinsic prejudice but based on the violence they constantly read in the newspapers….

“[T]his is where the builders of the Ground Zero mosque squandered a unique opportunity to portray Islam in a favorable light,” he continued. “They could have said that while they are firm about their intentions of creating an Islamic presence at this hallowed site, their intention in so doing is not to offend the families’ sensibilities but to repudiate the fanatics who have tarnished the name of Islam and hence, the builders wish to proceed with the greatest sensitivity and understanding.

“Sadly, … none of this happened. Rather, it was announced that a mosque is being built adjacent to a giant American cemetery irrespective of the families wishes, that it’s a First Amendment right, and that all those who oppose it are bigots.”


Of mosques and Muslims


Don’t listen, don’t learn


The words behind the man behind the mosque

Published: 26 August 2010

Couple behind Ground Zero mosque model of tolerance


Of fear and courage: Cordoba House and us

Published: 26 August 2010

Will the real Imam Rauf please stand up?

Who is Feisel Abdul Rauf?

Initially the controversy over building a $100-million Muslim community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero was about location, location, location. Increasingly, however, attention has turned to the 61-year-old Sufi imam behind the project.

Depending on whom you ask, Rauf — currently in the Middle East as part of a U.S.-funded outreach program to the Muslim world — is a dedicated interfaith activist, a stealth apologist for Islamist terrorism, or something else.

Those looking to defend Rauf in Jewish circles have a new card to play: It turns out that the imam delivered a moving speech at the 2003 memorial service held in a Manhattan synagogue for Daniel Pearl, the journalist murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan.

Invoking Pearl’s final words before his beheading, Rauf declared: “If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind and soul, ‘Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad — hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,’ not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one.”

Supporters and detractors are debating whether Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf is a dedicated interfaith activist, a stealth apologist for Islamist terrorism, or something else.

The speech was cited last week by Jeffrey Goldberg on his influential blog, and then mentioned on one of journalism’s biggest stages: Frank Rich’s lengthy Sunday column in the Week in Review section of The New York Times.

On his blog, Goldberg called Rauf “a moderate, forward-leaning Muslim,” and said the imam’s words showed courage because “any Muslim imam who stands before a Jewish congregation and says ‘I am a Jew’ is placing his life in danger.”

Rauf’s other supporters note that he is a frequent participant in interfaith dialogues, who condemns terrorism and fanaticism.

His critics, however, paint a different picture, accusing Rauf of paying lip service to such sentiments, while either failing to offer strong criticism — by name — of foreign governments and organizations engaged in terrorism, or making common cause with anti-American Islamists.

The critics come armed with their own set of quotes: Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the imam told “60 Minutes” that “I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened; but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a radio interview in June with WABC’s Aaron Klein, Rauf described himself as a “supporter of Israel,” but declined to label Hamas as a terrorist group, saying, “I do not want to be placed nor will I accept a position where I am the target of one side or another.” And, this week, his detractors are trumpeting a 2005 speech in Adelaide, Australia, in which he cited the impact of U.S.-led sanctions on Iraq and asserted that “we tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than Al Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims.”

The stakes are high in the battle to define Rauf as an interfaith leader or terrorist sympathizer, as the controversy over the proposed Islamic center has quickly turned him into the most famous imam in America. How he is perceived by the wider public could play a key role not only in how Americans feel about the project — polls continue to show large majorities opposed — but also in influencing U.S. attitudes toward Islam in the years to come.

So far on his State Department-funded trip to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, Rauf reportedly has avoided answering questions about the controversial project, stressing instead his efforts to “Americanize” Islam and find a formula for Muslims to stay to true to their faith while assimilating into Western societies. The Bush administration sent him on a similar trip.

In an interview Sunday with ABC, Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, connected these efforts to the drive to build the Islamic center. She also said that her husband’s comment in 2001 about the United States being an “accessory” to the World Trade Center attacks was a reference to support that the United States provided to Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in the 1980s. Regarding Hamas, the website of Rauf’s Cordoba Initiative states: “Hamas is both a political movement and a terrorist organization. When Hamas commits atrocious acts of terror, those actions should be condemned. Imam Feisal has forcefully and consistently condemned all forms of terrorism, including those committed by Hamas, as un-Islamic.”

Khan appeared on “This Week With Christiane Amanpour” with Rabbi Joy Levitt, the executive director of the JCC in Manhattan. Both women said that Levitt and the JCC have been advising the effort to build the Islamic center. Levitt said that the JCC had invited Khan and her husband to speak at the JCC in September, and called on other Jewish and Christian community centers to do likewise “because clearly what this whole controversy has unleashed is a tremendous amount of misinformation, lack of knowledge about Islam that we need to address.”

Such appearances seem unlikely to sway at least one opponent of building an Islamic center so close to Ground Zero at this time — Judea Pearl, Daniel’s father and a computer science professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Pearl told JTA that while he was “touched” by Rauf’s appearance and speech at his son’s memorial, “many Muslim leaders offered their condolences at the time.” More to the point, Pearl said he is discouraged that the Muslim leadership has not followed through on what he hoped would come from his son’s death.

“At the time, I truly believed Danny’s murder would be a turning point in the reaction of the civilized world toward terrorism,” said Pearl, who engages in public conversations with Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic studies professor at American University, on behalf of the Daniel Pearl Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish Understanding. The established Muslim leadership in the United States, Pearl said, “has had nine years to build up trust by proactively resisting anti-American ideologies of victimhood, anger, and entitlement. Reactions to the mosque project indicate that they were not too successful in this endeavor.”

He views the controversy to be a vote of no confidence in the organized Muslim leadership, not specifically against Rauf.

“If I were [New York] Mayor Bloomberg I would reassert their right to build the mosque, but I would expend the same energy trying to convince them to put it somewhere else,” he said. “Public reaction tells us that it is not the right time, and that it will create further animosity and division in this country.”

Israeli scholar Yossi Klein Halevi is another journalist throwing his hat in the imam’s bio ring.

He met Rauf in September 2001 at Drew University in Madison at a symposium for “At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden,” Halevi’s chronicle of the year he spent learning about the three Abrahamic faiths.

Rauf was, Halevi told JTA, “one of the very few Muslim leaders who responded positively to my book and was willing to endorse it publicly even though it was written by an Israeli and from a Zionist perspective.”

Halevi called the stance “generous and kind,” and added “if he is not a dialogue partner for us then there is virtually no one with whom we can speak in the Muslim world.”

That said, Halevi, too, is opposed to the Ground Zero mosque, saying it is “not an effective way of bringing Islam into the mainstream, and mainstreaming Islam in America is Rauf’s goal.”

A better idea, he said, would be an interfaith center that would include a church, a mosque, and a synagogue as well as a common space for people of all faiths and none.

Like Pearl, Halevi believes focusing on the imam’s personality is misplaced.

“The question of building a mosque at Ground Zero is traumatic enough,” Halevi said. “We don’t need to create an artificial issue around the man behind it.”



Memory through universalism at Ground Zero

Published: 02 September 2010
Page 1 of 2 pages  1 2 >
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31