The Shalom Center was the first Jewish organization to affirm not only the Constitutional right of the Cordoba Initiative to create a community center, including prayer space, in Lower Manhattan -- but also its wisdom in doing so to lift a beacon of the best of Islam, devoted to peace and interfaith dialogue.
On August 1 -- the first post-Shabbat day after the Anti-Defamation League attacked plans for the cultural center -- we began seeking signatures for a statement supporting the Cordoba plans and rebuking the Anti-Defamation League. We did this to make clear a different and broader Jewish voice. We published the statement August 3, with dozens of signatures from leading rabbis and other Jewish leaders. (See later in this article for information on this statement.)
The Shalom Center organized a "housewarming vigil" on August 5, at the intended site of the cultural center at 51 Park Place, at which we presented its co-founder Daisy Khan with the traditional Jewish house-warming gifts: bread, salt, honey, and a candle.
We have also joined a newly formed coalition of community groups, New York Neighbors for American Values, to support Park 51.Click to its Website here.] We took part in and I spoke on behalf of the Shalom Center at a press conference New York Neighbors organized on August 25. More than 50 print, radio, and TV reporters were present.
As a result of the nationwide debate on the question, I have spoken at a number of such press conferences. At one, called by the Muslim American Society at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Tuesday, August 15, . I was one of a number of spokespersons from Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and interfaith groups. The press conference was attended by many print, radio, and TV journalists -- ranging from CNN to the largest daily newspaper in Tokyo -- who after the prepared statements asked many questions.
I gave three reasons for my support for the Park51 cultural center -- teachings by Rabbi Hillel, George Washington, and -- most important -- my own grandmother. When I was about seven years old (1940), she interrupted other Jewish women in line at the kosher butcher shop who were talking contemptuously about "the shvartzes" -- that is, Black people. She challenged them: "That's the way they talked about us in Europe. This is America, and we must not talk like that!"
My full statement follows, below, and beneath that, our original statement on this issue:
When I look for teachings to guide Jewish thought and action toward the plans for a cultural center in Lower Manhattan that is rooted in Islam and therefore open to the world, as the 92d Street YM-YWHA in New York City is rooted in Judaism and therefore open to the world, there are three teachings that rise up for me:
First, Rabbi Hillel, 2,000 years ago, interpreted the teaching of Torah -- "Love your neighbor as your self" to mean: "Do not do to your neighbor what would be hateful to you if your neighbor acted in that way toward you. This is the whole Torah; all else is explanation. Go and study!"
Secondly, the very first President of the United States wrote, in a letter to the synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790, during his very first year in office:
"For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.
"May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."
Today, happily, the people of the United States count among the "Children of the Stock of Abraham" the Muslim community -- the children of Abraham and Hagar through Ishmael – as well as the Jewish people. It is altogether worthy that our 44th president has echoed the first one: To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.
Third, I recall the wisdom of my own grandmother, taught me when I was about seven years old – and never forgotten. She interrupted other Jewish women in line at the kosher butcher shop who were talking contemptuously in 1940 about "the shvartzes" -- that is, Black people. She challenged them: "That's the way they talked about us in Europe. This is America, and we must not talk like that!"
My Polish-born grandmother was a lot better American than those who –-- not only in Manhattan, but in many other towns and cities across our country – have opposed the placing of a mosque in one or another neighborhood. This is America, and we must not act like that!
As for the planned Park51 cultural center in Lower Manhattan and whether it is "wise" to create a cultural center there with Muslim roots:
The real-estate developer who bought this land, a member of Imam Rauf's existing Sufi-oriented mosque in Lower Manhattan, fell in love with the patterns of Jewish Community Centers and Y's in Manhattan, He sought land for such a center where Muslims in Lower Manhattan could reach it – and was ready to buy space on 23d Street, till the financing fell through. He was not focused on the tip of Manhattan.
But then space did become available –-- not, as falsely claimed by some anti-Muslim bigots, on "hallowed ground" -- but two long New York City blocks from Ground Zero, and hidden from the WTC site by tall buildings in the way.
Given that it did become available, was it wise to use it?
I have known Imam Rauf and Daisy Khan for years as Muslims committed to peace and serious interfaith dialogue.
Given the piece of luck -- or Providence! -- in where the space was found, I have no hesitation in saying it is not only their constitutional right to build the community center there, but they are ethically right and profoundly wise to lift there a beacon:
A beacon of the Islam that celebrates the God Who is Compassion. A beacon of truth, of hope, of peace, to vanquish the hatred and despair and violence that murdered 3,000 people of many different nations and many different faiths in the World Trade Center.
With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace in the sacred month of Ramadan and Elul --
Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Our original statement follows. It was initiated on August 1 -- the first post-Shabbat day after the Anti-Defamation League's attack on plans for a Lower Manhattan Muslim-initiated cultural center -- and published August 3.
The Shalom Center, after consultations with a remarkable array of rabbis and other Jewish leaders from a broad spectrum of Jewish life, supports the building of the mosque and strongly disagrees with the ADL's position.
The statement of these leaders is below. We ask you to add your name to this statement ">by clicking here; to join in calling the ADL to ask them to reverse their position (call 212/885-7700; to reach the office of Abraham Foxman, its director, press "1" and then enter "Fox").
This call was initiated by 31 Jewish leaders, including Rabbis from a very broad spectrum of Jewish life -- Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Renewal. For the list of signers and the statement itself, read further. The initiating signers are:
Rabbis Rebecca Alpert (Temple University); Dennis Beck-Berman ; Leila Gal Berner; Amy Eilberg (Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, St. Paul, MN); Michael Feinberg; Laura Geller (Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills); Everett Gendler (Emeritus, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA ; Emeritus, Temple Emanuel, Lowell, MA); Roberto D. Graetz (Temple Isaiah, Lafayette,CA); Margaret Holub; Nancy Fuchs Kreimer; Joyce Galaski; Marc Gopin; Peter Knobel; Mordechai Liebling; Ellen Lippmann (Kolot Chayeinu); Brant Rosen; Jeff Roth; Zalman Schachter-Shalomi; Gerald Serotta; David Shneyer; Burton L. Visotzky (Jewish Theological Seminary); Brian Walt (Taanit Tzedek-Jewish Fast for Gaza); Arthur Waskow (The Shalom Center); Sheila Peltz Weinberg (Institute for Jewish Spirituality); Simkha Weintraub
and Cherie Brown (National Coalition-Building Inst) Jeffrey Dekro; Arlene Goldbard (Shalom Center president); Cindy Greenberg (Shalom Center board and Kolot Chayeinu president); Judith Plaskow; Russell G. Pearce (Fordham University School of Law); Jane Ramsey.
(All affiliations are noted for identification only.)
The statement follows:
As Jews committed to religious freedom, to honest dialogue, to peacemaking, and to the celebration of the One God, we strongly support the plans of the Cordoba Initiative to build a cultural center (rooted in Islam and open to the world, as Jewish Community Centers are rooted in Jewish peoplehood and open to the world) in Lower Manhattan.
The Cordoba Initiative took that name precisely to celebrate the history of that city and neighboring areas of Andalusia in what is now Spain, where for centuries Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived together not only in mutual tolerance but in mutual harmony.
The leaders of the Córdoba Initiative, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan, have written and spoken innumerable times about the importance of interfaith dialogue and shared work for peace among the Abrahamic communities.
They have planned the mosque not simply because they have a "right” to build there, but because they want it to be a beacon of Muslim peacemaking in direct critique of the terrorist violence that destroyed the Twin Towers on 9/11/01.
[After adoption of this statement, to affirm that we support the building of the Cordoba Initiative cultural center and mosque, The Shalom Center organized a "housewarming vigil" on August 5, at its intended site at 51 Park Place, at which we presented Daisy Khan with the traditional Jewish house-warming gifts: bread, salt, honey, and a candle. We have also joined a coalition of community groups, New York Neighbors for American Values, to support Park 51.Click to its Website here.]
At the same time, we think it necessary to make clear our deep distress at the decision of the Anti-Defamation League to oppose these plans.
Though the ADL has often done good work, in this specific case -- whatever its intention -- it has undermined those very adherents of Islam who uphold the Quran's teachings of peace, who condemn terrorism, and who share with some Jews, some Christians, and some others a commitment to peaceful dialogue. The ADL's action disparages Islam's commitment to the Unity of God. And it risks encouraging hatred for all of Islam by Jews and others in American society.
This behavior by the ADL cannot be justified on the basis of the hostile reactions of some New Yorkers – a minority of the nearby neighborhood -- while the neighborhood community council and hundreds of family members of the dead of 9/11 have endorsed the mosque. The ADL's action may indeed help to fire up exactly those unthinking emotions filled with rage and ignorance..
So we also invite Jews to call the Anti-Defamation League to join in briefly, politely, and firmly asking the ADL to change its position. Its phone number is 212/885-7700; to reach the office of Abraham Foxman, its director, press "1" and then enter "Fox.")
And to join in signing this statement, please click here.
With blessings of shalom, salaam, shantih --peace.