It's certainly no more than a coincidence that within a two-week period, the Anti-Defamation League is slated to elect its first Muslim board member and the local affiliate of the Presbyterian Church USA voted to reject an effort by its parent organization to divest from companies doing business with Israel.
These two developments, reported first in this week's Jewish Exponent (see cover stories), are all-too-rare examples these days of the power of interfaith efforts to find common ground and ameliorate the forces of hate and rejectionism.
When S.A. Ibrahim, a local businessman originally from India, is elected to the Philadelphia region's ADL board next week, he will be making history with the organization that has long been synonymous with fighting hate and bigotry.
The realm of Jewish-Muslim relations is a complicated one in this country, often cast against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the radicalism of some segments of the Muslim community. But programs like those funded by Ibrahim, and by groups such as the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, illustrate the capacity to erase ignorance and humanize the other. They can go a long way in breaking down the stereotypes, the fear and the enmity that are often generated by existing barriers.
Ibrahim appears genuinely committed to helping bridge the considerable gap between Muslims and Jews over many issues. He has also helped open channels of communication between Muslim Americans and the Israeli Embassy.
Christian-Jewish relations also have long been fraught with acrimony, sometimes based on church teachings and, especially in the Main Line Christian communities, on issues related to Israel. Efforts to blame the Jewish state for all the ills in the Israeli-Palestinians conflict have soured relations in recent years.
The local Presbytery's willingness to go against the grain to submit its own resolution rejecting divestment to its national organization is an act of courage and moral rectitude.
And there's no question that interfaith outreach by the Jewish community has helped pave the way for such an action. Trips to Israel, like the annual clergy mission sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Jewish Community Relations Council or similar trips by the American Jewish Committee help foster a better understanding of the complexities of the problems and engender more thoughtful response.
No one should be naive to think these interfaith markers are going to make a huge difference right away. But individuals working side by side on volunteer community projects and genuine dialogue lay the foundation for communication and understanding.
It is an important moment when Muslim and Christian individuals are willing to stand up to their own communities and fight for what is right. We applaud these examples of courage and heartily welcome such efforts.