Antisemitism and Islamophobia were the focus of the panel discussion yesterday November 12, at the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester. The panel tackled each topic in its specific historic context, avoiding simplifications or reductionism and demonstrating that there are people in Jewish and Muslim communities who condemn violence. The panelists, Dr. Afridi, Dr. Shafiq, and Rabbi Katz drew on scholarly publications and on personal and professional experiences.
Each panelist offered a coherent perspective and each spoke with honesty, resolution, and enormous empathy for suffering; they all spoke of pain and tragedy inflicted on victims of senseless bigoted hatred. They spoke with great respect, and with what we call in Hebrew k’vod ha’adam, human dignity, invoking God creating humans in God’s image, in the Book of Genesis. Each spoke with clarity and courage about their respective communities and spoke across faith traditions with appreciation and affection. That great respect that the speakers have demonstrated resonated in the room and gave hope to the audience.
I am offering here an overview of the panel since I did not record the session, nor did I take notes, yet it seemed to me that each panelist spoke in a distinct voice. Their brief biography should give a sense of the traditions they drew on:
Dr. Afridi is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College. An observant Muslim who teaches courses both in Islam and the Holocaust at a Catholic college, many of Dr. Afridi’s publications have focused on themes of Muslim identity with an emphasis on the way that Antisemitism has been expressed by her contemporaries.
Dr. Muhammed Shafiq is Executive Director in the Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue, and Professor in Religious Studies, at Nazareth College. He is a member of the Commission for Jewish Muslim Understanding.
Alan Katz is Senior Rabbi at Temple Sinai and a member of the Commission for Jewish Muslim Understanding.
I don’t presume to speak for the audience, yet the dozen or so people that I spoke to following the discussion felt encouraged in these times of turmoil and anguish. The panel was ethically uplifting and pragmatically encouraging; the speakers unified message, as I would list/summarize it, was that we need to attend/listen/ to voices who speak against hatred, bigotry, and violence; we need to know/publicize that there are people in Jewish and Muslim communities who condemn violence, even if the media mostly ignores them. The panel proposed that we should participate in educating our children, paying attention in each community to what we teach the young generation. The panelists urged us to add our voices to counter violent voices, to listen to the other’s pain with compassion, not competition (my pain is greater than yours). To refuse the extremists among us to own public attention by participating in creating spaces for interfaith, inter community dialogues and to pursue greater understanding and empathy.
The event was co-sponsored by the Center for Holocaust Awareness and Information (CHAI) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester and the Commission for Jewish Muslim Understanding, part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester and the Greater Rochester Council of Masajid.
The panelists were introduced by Rabbi Debbi Till, Director, Community Relations, and Bonnie Abrams Director, Center for Holocaust Awareness and Information.