“Muslim-Jewish relations are thought to be in conflict but this study shows that they are in a state of cooperation. This is the first definitive study of its kind to quantify that, with cooperation and dialogue between the two groups, we are stronger together.”
— Rabbi Marc Schneier, President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding
The more that American Jews and Muslims interact with each other, the more likely they are to see the two faiths as more similar than different, a comprehensive study of Muslim-Jewish relations in America has found.
Fifty-four percent of Jews and 65 percent of Muslims surveyed in a poll for the Foundation of Ethnic Understanding responded that “Judaism and Islam are more similar to each other than they are different.” Jews who had frequent exposure to Muslims said Islam is more inclusive, more evolving and more modern than those who were exposed more infrequently.
No one within the Conservative movement ever discussed the rabbinic texts that oppose the Jewish people’s return to the Land of Israel. Questioning Zionism was verboten. And no one knew, and still, to this day no one knows what the occupation looks like.
It was the summer before eighth grade at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, a Jewish summer camp affiliated with the Conservative Movement. I was 12 years old. Each camper was handed a copy of Mitchell Bard’s Myths and Facts, long considered a foundational hasbara textbook, and we were told that the author would be coming to speak to us.
Most campers ignored the book and didn’t pay much attention to Bard’s presentation. One particularly precocious camper, who actually read through the book, took the time to highlight misleading arguments and logical inconsistencies, and challenged the author during his lecture. Bard made light of the critiques and brushed them aside, insisting that every accusation against Israel was rooted in anti-Semitism, and that there was no way human rights violations had anything to do with Palestinian discontent.
I remember sitting in [Rabbi Rosen’s] office at [Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue], feeling nauseous, scared that what I was learning about — indeed, that Israel is in fact Palestine and was taken from Palestinians — would cause me to question everything else about my life. So much of my identity had been formed around my love for Israel. I couldn’t talk to my family about this. I worried that students from the school where I taught Hebrew, and their parents, were in the building and could somehow hear our conversation, even though the door to his office was closed.
This summer, I’ve been going through crates of old albums in my parent’s basement. Some of the records have triggered more memories than others. A few remind me of college, like Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. I remember making out with a guy in my dorm room, in 1988, to the song, “You Took the Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night).” I also found Joan Armatrading’s Show Some Emotion, which I also remember playing after the Meat Loaf guy dumped me. Others, like Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, remind me of the summers I spent at Habonim Dror, the Zionist summer camp modeled after a kibbutz that I attended in the 1980’s. Often we’d listen to “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” or “America,” or “The Boxer,” while cleaning bathrooms or making breakfast or building a bonfire.
I had forgotten about an obscure record that I found next to my Simon and Garfunkel albums, The Parvarim sing Simon and Garfunkel in Hebrew. The Parvarim were an Israeli duo, Yossi Hurie and Nisim Menachem. They started their career in the 1950’s, primarily singing Ladino ballads and Shabbat songs, but were most famous for their Simon and Garfunkel covers from the 1970’s. The music sounds remarkably like Simon and Garfunkel, only in Hebrew. The album was helpful to me when I was studying Hebrew, and, later, when I taught Hebrew at a public high school. I played the album the other day, and was startled by the memories it stirred in me of when I was a Zionist — mostly feelings of loss — particularly when I played “Sounds of Silence,” and “America.”
Later that evening, August 10, I attended Rabbi Brant Rosen’s book launch for the second edition of his 2012 book, Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity, released this year. Rosen used to be a Zionist, too, and we’ve often talked about the process we’ve both gone through to undo the Zionist upbringing we both had. Rosen, who was the Rabbi at the Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue (JRC) in Evanston, Illinois, from 1998–2014, was one of the first Jews I approached when I began to question what I had learned and believed growing up about Zionism and Israel.