August 5th, 2010
06:46 AM ET
Editor's Note: Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center and co-author of The Tent of Abraham.
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Special to CNN
First, the facts: The Cordoba Institute, led by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan, plans to build an Islamic community center with a prayer space included, in Lower Manhattan, two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center murderously destroyed on 9/11/01.
Some family members of those killed on 9/11 have opposed this siting; others, and a large majority of the local neighborhood community board, have supported it. The national Jewish Council on Public Affairs describes Imam Rauf thus: "The leader behind this initiative is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, author of What's Right with Islam, who has spoken at JCPA programs in the past, and, along with his wife Daisy Kahn, has developed close relationships with members of the New York Jewish community."
The Anti-Defamation League late last week announced its opposition to the Cordoba plans, citing as its main reason that it would bring emotional pain to 9/11 families.
How might we think and act on this question?
Suppose we were to apply what the great Rabbi Hillel told us two thousand years ago is the very heart of Torah:
"Don't do to your neighbor what you would hate if your neighbor did it to you."
The following six paragraphs are not fact; they are fiction. But they have a nonfiction point. Please note your own reactions to this fictional story.
"Two major organizations of Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans today urged the city of Detroit to prevent the building of a new synagogue in the city.
“The two organizations said that while Jews have a legal "right” to build a synagogue there, it was not ethically " right” to do so in the face of the emotional upset it would cause the Palestinian and Arab residents of Detroit, many of whose families suffered from the Israeli government’s blockade and invasion of Gaza.
"Leaders of the new synagogue pointed out that, while deeply committed to the security and the flourishing of the State of Israel as a country with a special relationship to the Jewish people, they had often condemned specific policies of the Israeli government and had for many years actively supported a peace settlement between Israel and a new state of Palestine.
"They added that they had been active in interfaith work and as a result of coming to understand the deep traumas of many communities in the Middle East, had opposed the Israeli government's invasion of Gaza in 2009. They said the new synagogue would be a venue devoted to multireligious and multicultural dialogue and peacemaking, and prayer to the One God Whom Muslims also worship.
"The Arab-American and Muslim American organizations responded that this did not matter: Arab-Americans in Detroit were so deeply traumatized by the invasion of Gaza, the continuing blockade against crucial economic exports from Gaza, and by the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem that they could not be expected to pay attention to differences of opinion within the Jewish community. So the repeated traumatization of their community by intruding a synagogue in their midst was unacceptable."
The Detroit events described above never happened. Except in reverse.
Applying the Hillel rule, The Shalom Center, in consultation with dozens of rabbis and other Jewish leaders of a very wide spectrum of Jewish life, has issued a statement supporting Cordoba's plans as an affirmation of the deepest commitments of Islam to live in peace and as a direct rebuke to the 9/11 terrorists who justified their murders in the name of Islam.
The statement also suggested that Jews call the Anti-Defamation League to urge that it reverse its position. The Shalom Center also invited Jews to gather at the planned site of Cordoba House, 45 Park Place, at noon today for a vigil affirming the wisdom of peace-committed Muslims in building there a beacon of peace and interfaith dialogue.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Arthur Waskow.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.