On August 5, The Shalom Center and other Jewish leaders from New York held a vigil at the site of the proposed Muslim cultural center and prayer space in Lower Manhattan, supporting the plan for Cordoba House/ Park51 there.
It was an extraordinary success, both in the moment and in media coverage. Prayer, song, and chants were interspersed with speeches for a gathering of about 50 people, well-covered by print and TV media. More than 180 newspapers have carried reports of the vigil, including full-page coverage in Metro and Newsday.
In addition, I was interviewed by CNN for "Rick's List," and invited to write an essay for CNN's on-line Op/Ed page. For the interview, see the video here.
For the "My Take" Op/Ed essay, click here.
At the vigil, affter a number of speakers from the Jewish community, Daisy Khan, co-founder of the Cordoba Initiative that is sponsoring and planning the cultural center, spoke with heartfelt thanks to those of us in the Jewish community who had been working in favor of Córdoba House and who had gathered on Park Place to welcome them.
Rabbi Ellen Lippman of Congregation Kolot Chayeinu in Brooklyn, co-chair of Rabbis for Human Rights/North America and one of the key organizers of the vigil, gave Daisy Kahn the traditional Jewish symbols of a housewarming: bread, salt, honey, and a candle.
We began with the chant, in Hebrew and English, that teaches: "Here I stand, and I take upon myself the commitment of the Creator: 'Love your neighbor as yourself, your neighbor as yourself. Hareini m'kabeyl alai et mitzvat Ha-Borei: V'ahavta l'rayecha kamocha, l'rayecha kamocha. ' "
When I rose to speak, I explained that when I rise to read from the Torah my name is "Abraham Isaac Ishmael Ocean." With that as my name, I find my own self torn apart and bloodied when there is bloodshed between the children of Sarah through Isaac and the children of Hagar through Ishmael -- between the different families of Abraham. And when the families of Hagar and Sarah come together in peace, only then can I feel my own self united and whole.
I was wearing a tallit. I explained that in every tallit, the tzitiziot on the four corners -- the fringes -- are a mixture of my cloth ad God's, the Universe's, air. They are threads of connection between my self and the world. It is not good fences make good neighbirs but good fringes make good neighbors. It is these frings that make the tallit sacred. And Cordoba House would be exactly such a fringe, rooted in Islam and reaching out to the rest of the world.
On my own tallit are embroidered the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall. And between them is embroidered a rock--the rock upon which in the Jewish tradition Abraham bound Isaac, the same rock upon which in Muslim tradition Mohammed--peace be upon him--began his mystical ascent to Heaven. This tallit of mine symbolizes the sacred companionship between Judaism and Islam, as does my name.
For years, I explained, I have worked with and alongside Imam Rauf and Daisy Khan for peace in the world and dialogue between our traditions. I am not alone in knowing who they are: the New York Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs have publicly affirmed that these leaders of the Córdoba initiative have for years worked with the Jewish community in fruitful ways.
So all the questions that have been raised about them:--those truly curious and those simply nasty--could have been answered simply by asking leaders of the Jewish community.
I said that it was all the more distressing that the Anti-Defamation League had ignored these close relationships in New York City and made a national tumult about the placement of a Muslim cultural Center in Lower Manhattan.