December 5, 2019 — New York
Yeshiva University, the most prestigious Modern Orthodox institution of higher education in the U.S., hosted a high-level delegation of American Muslim religious leaders on Monday. American Jewish Committee (AJC), a longstanding pioneer in interreligious relations, organized this groundbreaking encounter, the first of its kind bringing together mainstream American Muslim religious leaders and American Modern Orthodox Jewish institutions.
The theme of the conversations was “Tradition and Modernity: Religious Identity and Civic Engagement in the United States.” The delegation met with faculty, students, rabbinic leadership, and top administration officials to discuss the ways in which Jewish and Muslim communities navigate traditional and modern values to build spiritually resilient, intellectually open, and civically minded religious identities.
“These meetings took courage on both sides, but there is really no replacement for first-hand encounters,” said Dr. Ari Gordon, U.S. Director of Muslim-Jewish Relations at AJC, and a YU alumnus. “American Muslim communities are very engaged in interfaith activities, but exposure to the Orthodox Jewish community is still rare. Likewise, many Orthodox Jews only know Islam through the lenses of Jewish history or the news.”
The 12-member Muslim delegation was led by Imam Mohamed Magid, Executive Imam of ADAMS Center – a mosque community based in Sterling, VA with four branches – serving over 25,000 Muslims in the Washington, DC area. Other members of the delegation included imams and university chaplains from Chicago, Detroit, Long Island, New Jersey and New York.
“Many conservative voices in our communities perceive irreconcilable differences between us, but when religious Muslims and Orthodox Jews came together, we easily saw how much we have in common,” said Imam Magid. “We share the challenge of preserving religious identity while promoting engagement with American society and culture, and we have a lot to learn from one another in how we respond to the challenge.”
Welcoming the Muslim delegation to the YU campus in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, Rabbi Ari Berman, YU President, said: “One of the core values of Yeshiva University is the role faith can and should play in contributing positively to the broader society. Our conversation with Imam Magid and his fellow Islamic American leaders on the opportunities our respective traditions can and should play in the betterment of mankind was inspiring for all involved, and we look forward to building a brighter future together.”
The visit included a tour of the Glueck Beit Midrash (main Jewish study hall), where they both viewed the studying and engaged in discussions with students as well as meetings with Roshei Yeshiva, the school’s rabbinical leadership that guides the religious culture and traditional study of undergraduates and rabbinical students. Several members of the Muslim delegation observed that the method of studying Talmud is very similar to the setting where they had studied the Koran and Islamic law. The delegation also met with the university Provost and Deans of Yeshiva College, Stern College for Women, Sy Syms School of Business, the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, and faculty members of Jewish studies.
Following the YU visit, the delegation visited the Salanter Akiba Riverdale (SAR) High School, where they met with Rabbi Naftali Harcsztark, the school’s founding principal, several other administrators, select teachers and a group of students. Discussion focused on the common goal of fostering spiritual growth among youth while embracing the best of American culture, and featured SAR’s unique and open approach to navigating the challenge.
The evening before the visits to YU and SAR, Stanley and Marion Bergman hosted a reception for the Muslim delegation. Mr. Bergman, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Henry Schein, Inc. and an honorary AJC president, is co-chair of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council (MJAC). Farooq Kathwari, Chairman, President and CEO of Ethan Allen, the other MJAC co-chair, and Bergman welcomed the delegation. The evening also featured voices of Muslim campus chaplains in conversation with leaders from prominent Reform and Conservative Jewish institutions.
“This innovative program created a forum for dialogue between two groups that rarely have exposure to one another,” said Gordon. “The warmth of the encounter was palpable and the commitment, repeated throughout the day, to future collaborations between the participants is the enduring breakthrough.”