Building bridges between Muslim, Jewish communities in Oak Park

OAK PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- Building bridges instead of walls. That's the thought behind two different religious groups, sharing an evening of dinner, discussion and service.

It was an evening full of surprises, when the Jewish community of Oak Park Temple got together with the students and adults from the Muslim Leadership Academy of the Islamic Foundation and realized they had more in common than they thought.

Side by side, Muslims and Jews. An evening of Sadaqah, or Tzedakah, at Oak Park Temple was an opportunity for the two groups to better understand each other.

"Our world today is so divided that it's really important to do projects and bring people together," Rabbi Max Weiss said.

"In our two communities in any context, it's very important for us to learn about each other. In this contemporary political context, it's especially important for us to build bridges with each other," said Omer Mozaffar, Muslim chaplain, Loyola University.

The evening began with a prayer to signify the end of Shabbot, or the Sabbath. The words were printed out so everyone could sing along. During dinner, conversation with someone new was encouraged.

This day of service shared among the Jewish and Muslim communities was started by two moms of different backgrounds with kids in the same school.

"The discussion started with we should actually bring our kids together to get to know each other better and to perhaps do this together," said Nausheen Akhter - Islamic Studies teacher, Muslim Leadership Academy.

After dinner, the young children read books by both Muslim and Jewish authors. The middle school students talked about the greatest principles of their respective religions. The topic for teens and adults was, "What does God want from me?"

Everyone then joined together to make care bags for the homeless.

"It's good to see, because I think that you need to have other viewpoints in the world to become a more well-rounded person, to develop better opinions," said Zamaan Qureshi, a student at Muslim Leadership Academy.

"I definitely learned more about the Muslim culture," said Adam Moncrieff, a student at Oak Park Temple.

"Love your neighbor as you love yourself. That's kind of like the Golden Rule," said Eve Rothbaum, another Oak Park Temple student.

"My social media is filled with examples in an uptick in hate crimes and hate rhetoric. To really feel that there are other people out there, a kinship out there that we can come together and really make this an America that we want to see," Akhter said.

"I have hope that it will eliminate fear, or at least decrease fear, because I think the things we are most afraid of are the things we don't know or understand," Weiss said.

Another similarity is the title of the program. Sadaqah is the Arabic word for charity. Tzedakah is Hebrew for righteousness.

The two groups plan on getting together again in the spring at a mosque in Villa Park.
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