September 14, 2006
Left Coast peacemakers mourn 9/11 in many languages
Five years and 3,000 miles from the site of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the mournful strains of calls to prayer in Hebrew and Arabic open the Islamic Center of Southern California's fourth annual commemoration of the attacks of Sept. 11.
The audience, dressed in saris, suits, skirts or slacks, bareheaded, or wearing head scarves, kippahs, kufis or turbans, gathered to pray together and to honor three religious leaders, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, who were to receive Peace Awards for their continuing work toward interfaith understanding.
One of the recipients, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom in Santa Monica, told the group how terror had come close to his life.
Last July, he and his wife were awakened by a call from their teenage daughter to assure them that she was all right. She was in London and had gotten off a bus moments before it turned the corner and exploded.
Now a year later, the rabbi urged a recommitment to truly care for one another's children, by walking together toward healing and understanding.
"If we can truly change the way we are with one another, we will create a world in which no one would consider dying for Judaism, Islam or any other religion and killing others in the process," he said.
Comess-Daniels urged ongoing dialogue, a cause at the heart of the organizations that sponsored the Peace Award, the Wilshire Center Interfaith Council and the Interreligious Council of Southern California.
Jihad Turk, the director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center, also presented Peace Awards to the Rev. Dr. Gwynne Guilbord of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and Dr. Hassan Hathout of the Islamic Center of Southern California.
In the keynote address, Dr. Maher Hathout, chairman of the Islamic Center, denounced extremists' twisted theology of death and destruction, while urging vigilance in the preservation of democracy -- the protection of civil liberties and the Constitution.
"It would be sad if we save the buildings and lose the soul," he said. Rabbi Steven Jacobs, rabbi emeritus of Temple Kol Tikvah, offered the first prayer. "To stand in the ruins of New York or Beirut, or the desolated areas of Palestine is to know that what doesn't happen in the Middle East is happening here. We are talking to each other."
The service continued with prayers from a Buddhist, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim, a Sikh and a Baha'i, and concluded with a musical offering from representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As the group adjourned for cheese, crackers, fruit and baklava, Turk explained that this memorial service is part of the Islamic Center's mission.
"Muslim Americans are on the front line in the war against terror in that we are charged with making sure that our institutions do not become dens of hate speech and extremist rhetoric nor recruiting grounds for extremists, terrorists or anyone who would want to do this country harm," he said.
As Turk was about to enter the prayer room, he was approached by Suzanne Rubin, a member of Wilshire Boulevard Temple; they had traveled together in March on an Abrahamic pilgrimage, visiting sacred sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
She invited him and his family to a break fast after Yom Kippur.
"That's during Ramadan, so we'll be breaking fast as well," he replied. "That should work."