January 20, 2011


Jews and Muslims co-exist peacefully on the streets of Brooklyn: Religious and civic leaders work hard to maintain mutual respect and equal rights in this New York borough (Sylvain Cypel, 1/18/11, Guardian Weekly)

The man at the till is wearing phylacteries (amulets) under his shirt. Abundant payot – the sidelocks worn by Orthodox Jews from eastern Europe – spill out from under his black kippa. Some of the waiters are also Jewish, but others are Latinos. But the cooks are all Orthodox Jews. The food, a mixture of central European and Middle Eastern dishes, is strictly kosher. What is more surprising is the clientele: Jews rub shoulders with Muslims who choose to eat here because the food is good value and kosher, and thus close to halal standards set by Islam.

The Famous Pita restaurant, on Coney Island Avenue, is in one of the few neighbourhoods in New York's Brooklyn borough where Jews and Muslims live side by side. On several blocks the co-existence of the two communities is even more apparent, with a succession of synagogues, mosques and social centres. Usually, however, the two communities live apart, with ultra-Orthodox Jews sticking to their own neighbourhoods, and Muslims, who are relative newcomers, more dispersed. In keeping with tradition, they tend to gather in specific districts. [...]

Marty Markowitz, the borough president since 2002, has taken the same line as his predecessor Howard Golden. Both are Jewish and have allocated substantial funds to fostering Jewish-Muslim dialogue and Muslim empowerment. "Dialogue between Jews and Muslims is often non-existent because of Israel," Markowitz admits. "What's more, the two communities live side by side here, with their respective traditions but without mixing. But you can make a lot of progress by upholding principles such as mutual respect and equal rights.

"I see more and more Muslims taking part in social life. The future is looking good." He highlights one surprising point, particularly for a non-practising Jew: "Mutual respect is easier to achieve between believers than with the others." He reckons that among those who believe in a single deity, "no one will be shocked by a woman wearing a burka or a man in a Schtreimel hat and a frock coat".

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 20, 2011 5:50 AM
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