Deploring vandalism, local Muslims tell Jews: “What happens to you happens to us”
By Dann Denny
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But the five Muslims who had come to express their support and solidarity Thursday afternoon to a Jewish community that’s been shaken by a half-dozen anti-Semitic acts of vandalism in recent days — and six members from the Beth Shalom congregation who agreed to meet with them — spoke with palpable passion.
“We are very moved and grateful to all of you for making this visit, but we’re not at all surprised,” said Beth Shalom member Madi Hirschland. “We know the Muslim community is one of great compassion.”
The visit was prompted by recent acts of vandalism targeting the Jewish community — including the tossing of eight Hebrew texts into toilets and several rock-throwing incidents at the Chabad House Jewish Student Center, Helene G. Simon Hillel Center and other Jewish facilities.
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For many Muslims, the acts conjured up memories of similar incidents aimed at Bloomington’s Muslim community. After someone threw a firebomb through a window of the Bloomington Islamic Center and set fire to a copy of the Quran in 2005 — and after local Muslims received death threats following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — Beth Shalom was one of several local faith congregations that reached out with supportive letters, visits, meals and vigils.
“We learned compassion from you,” said Muslim Abdul Sinno. “We think of you as wonderful neighbors. What happens to you happens to us.”
Yusuf Nur, one of the Muslims at the gathering, said it was unfortunate that it took a series of hateful incidents to prompt the meeting between members of the two faith traditions.
“We need to be more proactive and work together as people of faith to educate people,” he said. “These acts of hatred come from ignorance.”
Zaineb Istrabadi concurred, but wondered if some people could ever be enlightened. She said she recently received an e-mail asking her if it was true that a Muslim had to kill a non-Muslim in order to go to heaven.
“We’ve already done a lot of education and some people still don’t get it,” she said. “What’s been happening most recently is one or more persons in Bloomington going bananas.”
Beth Shalom member Deb Allmayer said in addition to education, “We need more opportunities to interact with one another. That helps erase the barriers.”
Hirschland said though she is deeply saddened by the recent incidents, the outpouring of support for the Jewish community from Muslims and Christians has been a refreshing antidote.
At one point in the meeting, Sinno asked the Jewish members in the group how the Muslim community could help Beth Shalom.
“You’ve already helped,” said Perry Metz. “You have touched us with your compassion and your presence here today. When something like this happens, you wonder, ‘Does anyone else care?’ You have given us your answer very clearly, and it means a lot to us.”
Nur said it’s imperative that tolerance be extended to everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs.
“Actually, we need to go beyond tolerance to acceptance and respect,” he said.
Paul Eisenberg, president of the Beth Shalom Congregation, could not attend the meeting because he and his family were on their way out of town to celebrate Hanukkah with relatives. But he heard about it.
“The meeting is very heartening,” he said. “There are many, many Jews and many, many Muslims in the U.S. and abroad who don’t get along, but in Bloomington we have a much different situation.”
Faiz Rahman, president of the Islamic Center, could not attend either, because of teaching commitments at Indiana University. But he was encouraged that the meeting took place.
“There is a view that Jews and Muslims are at each others’ throats, but in Bloomington that is certainly not the case,” he said. “This is our chance to show solidarity with the Jewish community that is being attacked, not because it’s politically correct, but because it’s the right thing to do. The members of the Jewish community are our neighbors and friends and colleagues.”
Rahman said it’s ironic that the recent acts aimed at hurting the Jewish community have in fact triggered an outpouring of support for that community.
“There’s always a silver lining to bad acts,” he said. “When bad things happen, good people show their spirit, and let others know they will not bow down to the forces of evil.”
Bloomington United calls for signs, blue Monday
Bloomington United, a grassroots campus and community partnership dedicated to promoting diversity and responding to incidents of hatred, is encouraging people to download two PDFs at the website iuhillel.org, print them out and display them in windows.
The first states “Bloomington United in Diversity” and the other is a menorah.
The group is also asking everyone to wear blue Monday in solidarity with the Jewish community.
Other acts of kindness: Two clergy offered to have members of their church stand watch during Friday night services at each of the local Jewish communities.
A Christian lit a Hanukkah menorah in her window and asked other non-Jewish friends to do the same.
A Christian couple living in the Beth Shalom neighborhood offered to help with security by driving by the synagogue throughout the day.
A member of the Muslim community asked that a group might light Hanukkah candles with Beth Shalom members.
Radio call-in show about incidents
Today’s WFIU Noon Edition, starting at 12:06 p.m. on 103.7 FM, will be a call-in show that will focus on the recent incidents aimed at the Jewish community.
The station also has other frequencies and streams over the Internet. See http://indianapublicmedia.org/radio.