Interfaith Understanding Wins Out, And a Plot Loses

May 21, 2009

Author: Clyde Haberman

Source: The New York Times

For sure, no one believed that the world would cure itself of religious mistrust simply because Khulood Saleh brought along a copy of the Koran that once belonged to her Yemeni grandmother, or because Ben Davar came with a wine cup for Jewish rituals that his great-grandmother had bought in Russia long ago. Nor would universal healing arrive with the Sabbath candlesticks from Poland that had been in Rina Lubit’s family for five generations or with the khimar, a scarf to cover a Muslim woman’s face, that was handed down from Tayssir Abdullah’s great-grandmother in Yemen.

But just as surely, there was every reason to feel that the world stood a chance of becoming a better place if more people were like these schoolchildren who gathered Wednesday evening at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, in Battery Park City.

For the last few years, the museum has sponsored a program to bring together Jewish and Muslim children, most of them on the cusp of becoming teenagers. The idea is as simple in theory as it is difficult to put into practice: breed understanding and tolerance at an early age. Make “the other” not seem so other.

Roughly a dozen students each from the fairly small Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan and the even smaller Islamic Leadership School in the Bronx joined throughout the academic year for a series of field trips and other events. Together, they went to a synagogue and a mosque. They studied customs and artifacts important to each other’s religion.

As it turned out, the museum event took place a couple of hours before four men described as Muslim would-be jihadists were arrested in the Bronx and charged with conspiring to bomb synagogues and attack military targets. On Thursday, Shireena Drammeh — who, with her husband, Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, founded the Islamic Leadership School — saw a lesson in the hatred said to underlie the plot.

“It shows why the need for a program like this is that much more important,” said Ms. Drammeh, who was born in Guyana.