‘People of the book’ stand together for unity

Local rabbis speak at Valley Stream mosque against discrimination


Leaders and parishioners from several area synagogues visited Masjid Hamza Islamic Center of South Shore in Valley Stream on Feb. 3, to condemn religious discrimination in all its forms, and to disavow President Trump’s immigration order — which has been halted by a temporary restraining order.

“We are here because we are Jewish Americans,” said Rabbi Andrew Warmflash, of the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Center. “Our families came to America as immigrants and refugees. We have experienced hatred and persecution for who we are and what we believe, and we are resolved to stand up against hate and intolerance when it is directed at us, or anyone else.”

People came from Rockville Centre, Hewlett, East Rockaway, Lynbrook, Malverne, West Hempstead, Oceanside, Valley Stream and Baldwin.

The two religions share many tenets and key figures. For example, Moses — the most important prophet of Judaism — is mentioned more in the Quran than any other individual. Even though they differ over the precise text and its interpretations, the Hebrew Torah and the Muslim Quran share a lot of narrative. Jews and Muslims share many fundamental religious concepts such as the belief in a day of divine judgment. Muslims commonly refer to Jews (and Christians) as fellow “people of the book,” or people who follow the same general teachings in relation to the worship of God.

Despite their religious similarities, the two ideologies have clashed in the Middle East for decades. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, twelve more wars were fought between the Arab States and Israel over sacred territory, and although more of a nationalistic strife, these conflicts weakened Islamic-Jewish relations. None of the tumultuous history was evident at the mosque on Friday.

About 50 people packed the basement of the mosque ahead of its afternoon prayer services, as Jews and Muslims mingled over coffee and donuts.

“Our government’s recent actions banning citizens from several Muslim countries and Syrian refugees from entering our country is inhumane and discriminatory,” said Warmflash. “It violates the Constitution of this country. We believe it does not represent who we are as Americans and the principles in which this country was founded.”

President Trump’s order barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from entering the U.S. for 90 days, and suspended the U.S.’s refugee system for 120 days.

Federal district Judge James Robart in Washington State, originally named to the court by George W. Bush, issued a nationwide temporary restraining order that lifts the travel ban late Friday evening. Robart followed that up with a seven-page ruling on the merits of the state’s case in which he said the executive order “adversely affects the state’s residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations and freedom to travel.”

Rabbi Art Vernon, of Shaaray Shalom in West Hempstead, said that as America becomes more and more diverse, all Americans need to think of themselves more broadly.

“It’s time to expand the religious definition of America to include Muslims,” Vernon said. His congregation is creating a project called “Children of Abraham,” which would promote understanding at churches, synagogues and mosques to teach about the shared history between Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

Rabbi Sandra Bellush, of Temple Am Echad in Lynbrook, said that the immigrated to the U.S. from South America to pursue opportunities that the country afforded.

“It is really an honor to be here to support our Muslim neighbors,” Bellush said. “To show that bigotry and hatred based on religious faith is something we will not tolerate in our community.”

Canter Nancy Dubin, also of Temple Am Echad, approached the podium and asked if it was OK if she sang, before performing “Salam” by ben-Ari Mosh. Parishioners who knew the song joined in.

Rabbi Elliot Skiddel, President of the Long Island Board of Rabbis and a leader at Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth in Rockville Centre, said that the Jewish community would continue to support Long Island Muslims in the face of discrimination.

“We are all here today together, but it’s not just today,” he said. “As long as this takes, or as long as we need to, we will always be standing together.”