BY TEQUILA MINSKY | During the presidential inauguration, while some politicians and clergy rallied and performed civil disobedience at Trump Tower in Midtown, Beit Simchat Torah’s Jewish-Muslim outreach initiative, House of Peace, gathered to greet worshippers at the N.Y.U. Islamic Center, at 268 Thompson St., just south of Washington Square Park.
Harold Levine, co-chairperson of House of Peace explained, “This is a response to the alarming rise of anti-Muslim sentiment seemingly provoked by statements during the campaigns.”
On Friday afternoons, Muslims gather for Junnah, a big prayer service — the most heavily attended during the week — that includes the weekly sermon. This is why Beith Simchat Torah, an L.G.B.T. congregation located on W. 30th St., chose Fridays for these vigils of positivity.
The Islamic Center serves hundreds of Muslims — N.Y.U. students, faculty and employees, as well as visiting Muslims or those living in the neighborhood.
The House of Peace action — welcoming worshippers as they arrive and staying to greet them they as they leave — has taken place several times starting the Friday after the election.
“Going forward, we will continue this weekly,” Levin said. “The reaction has been overwhelming. We get hugs, handshakes and thank yous. The worshippers photograph us and want to be photographed with us.”
Personal stories are shared between the congregants of the two religious institutions and it’s been a chance for members of the Jewish congregants to learn more about the Muslim community in New York City.
“Most importantly, it’s made everyone who participated feel they’re doing something positive in a difficult time,” the Beit Simchat Torah Web site notes.
Levine elaborated that educational activities for members about Islam are in the works, as well as developing other ideas for outreach.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum writes on the shul’s Web site: “We need to deepen our engagement with, and knowledge of, our Muslim neighbors here in NYC. We know that one of the first targets of institutional and individualized hate already in NYC and elsewhere is the Muslim community. We must study Islam and become better educated so we can engage in sophisticated discussions.”
Last month, the congregation also joined in a larger prayer service at Foley Square to protest Donald Trump’s travel ban. As nearly 80 Muslims prayed, other religious groups and friends encircled them in solidarity.