Jewish, Muslim religious leaders meet in Germany

Dozens of imams hold Holocaust commemoration in Drancy, where Jews in 1942 were confined before being transported to extermination camps.

Drancy Holocaust Memorial (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Drancy Holocaust Memorial
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
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.
“Our goal 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 differences.”
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 Understanding.
“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.”
The 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 said.
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.
French Interior 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 added.
Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam of Drancy and a veteran activist for dialogue between Muslims and Jews in France and against anti-Semitism, hosted the imams.
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.