Building Friendships Between Jews and Muslims

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Young Muslims and Jews in Los Angeles, California, are making friends with each other in an unusual way. They gather together at meetings set up by a group called NewGround. And they share personal stories to help build new relationships.

A speaker at a NewGround event

On this particular evening, a Muslim neurosurgeon explains to the group that he was orphaned as a child. He says he was raised by a Jewish family who insisted that he follow the Islamic faith. A Jewish woman shares childhood memories of her grandparents. They were Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe. This is all taking place during a storytelling event organized by a group called NewGround.

Tanzila Ahmed is a Muslim from Bangladesh. She says the storytelling event helps celebrate the differences in cultures.

“It is such a kaleidoscope of stories and colors and different perspectives that when you are able to get narratives from the different communities, you can actually move the community together for a cause a lot easier.”

Edina Lekovic works for a Muslim support group. She says conflict in the Middle East reaches into Los Angeles and can build a wall between the Jewish and Muslim communities. She co-founded NewGround as a way to bring the two communities together.

“They know how to engage one another. They have authentic relationships, and at the same time, they are not trapped by what is going on overseas, but instead they are invested more so in what is happening here in Los Angeles.”

Each year, 20 young Muslim and Jewish professionals are selected to take part in an interfaith program. The program is aimed at helping them gain the skills, relationships and contacts necessary to affect how Muslims and Jews relate to each other in the United States. The participants attend two weekend gatherings and meet twice a month from November to June to learn from each other and from community leaders.

Rabbi Sarah Bassin is the executive director of NewGround. She says many organizations bring Jews and Christians together, but few exist to connect Jews and Muslims.

“That conversation largely has not begun. We do not have the vocabulary to sit down at the same table in the same way that the Jewish-Christian communities have worked out over the last 50 or 60 years, especially in a post-Holocaust era.”

New Jewish member Abbie Barash says has made some good friends through the group.

“And we have already become so close and I have just known them for like a month now. So it has become extremely valuable for me.”

Actor Amir Abdullah, a Muslim, says differences between the two groups will remain.

“No, Muslims and Jews are not going to agree on everything. Heck, most Muslims are not even going to agree with each other on everything. But if we are able to share those experiences and share how we feel, we can at least get to understand one another.”

NewGround members hope these efforts to build relations between Muslims and Jews will spread far beyond Los Angeles.