Leaders of Jewish and Muslim communities in Germany met in Cologne on Tuesday in
an effort by the New Yorkbased Foundation for Ethnic Understanding to “create
long-term strategies to promote interfaith unity.”
According to the
foundation, both Jews and Muslims have suffered from efforts to restrict their
religious freedom and the meeting was convened to bring the two faith
communities together to find a way to collaborate on activism.
is to make interactions between Jews and Muslims the norm here in Germany,” said
Rabbi Avichai Apel, an organizer of the event. “We see that there are many
things which unite us, like the battle over our right to circumcision, and we
recognized that our values and outlook are more in common than the world
realizes, so we need to push those commonalities rather than focus on the
Rabbis Moshe Baumel of Osnabrück and Yaron Engelmayer of
Cologne also attended, as did Moussa al-Hassan Diaw, a leading instructor for
imams in Germany.
“There is no disputing that hatred exists on the
streets of Europe and all too often the protagonists are young Muslims,” said
Rabbi Marc Schneier, the founder of the Foundation for Ethnic
“But the solution cannot be to castigate an entire
community and religion, but rather to promote these types of interactions so
that both Jews and Muslims can be educated that there is a much that unites our
communities and we can achieve a great deal if we agree to talk.”
meeting was part of a twinning program run by Schneier, who convened a summit of
Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish and Buddhist clerics in Ukraine last year. The
program is intended to allow rabbis and imams to switch pulpits and deliver
addresses to each others’ congregations.
“Germany is almost always
associated with its history of genocide in the name of hatred, which makes it a
particularly relevant place to be holding a forum such as this,” Schneier
Meanwhile, dozens of imams commemorated the Holocaust at a monument
near Paris on Monday.
The event took place at Drancy, a suburb of the
French capital where tens of thousands of Jews were confined in 1942 before
being transported to extermination camps during the German Nazi occupation. The
French paper Le Figaro called the event unprecedented.
Minister Manuel Valls, who also attended the ceremony, said the imams’ presence
there made for “a very strong image that speaks better than words and speeches,”
according to the website of the French television station TF1. “The world needs
peace and harmony, people who engage in dialogue and listen,” he
Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam of Drancy and a veteran activist for
dialogue between Muslims and Jews in France and against anti-Semitism, hosted
Le Figaro reported at least 100 imams were expected to arrive
to Drancy. The event, according to the report, was the initiative of Chalghoumi
and the French Jewish novelist Marek Halter.
In explaining the goal of
the event, Halter recalled a landmark visit in November by 19 French Muslim
leaders, many of them imams, to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
“This had a huge
impact in Israel and the Arab World,” Halter told Le Figaro. “The objective is
to recreate this at Drancy.”
Since the second intifada that began in
2000, France’s Jewish population of approximately 550,000 has experienced an
increase in anti- Semitic violence, mostly by Muslim extremists. Last March,
Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old French-Algerian Islamist terrorist, killed four
Jews at a Jewish day school in Toulouse.
“We are in a period of crisis,
and tensions take the form of violence,” Halter said. “We need to soothe the
tensions. It’s a time bomb.”
JTA contributed to this report.