On April 4, six Jewish teens from Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills and three Muslim teens from King Fahad Mosque in Culver City fished through a seemingly endless supply of canned goods at SOVA in the San Fernando Valley, the food distribution and supportive service program that is part of Jewish Family Service. Brought together by the Interfaith Dialogue Project, they placed soups, fruits, vegetables and more into small boxes so that the food could be delivered to other SOVA locations throughout Los Angeles.
It was the second of a two-part community service project intended to show the kids what they have in common. They had first come together on March 28, to work with the ILM Foundation, a Muslim nonprofit committed to ending hunger. That day, the group distributed tuna and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to the homeless on downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row.
The Skid Row work resonated twofold for July Aye, a Muslim member of the project and a junior at Torrance High School. Aye described the experience as “eye-opening,” saying it demonstrated how “Jews and Muslims can work as a team.”
Emanuel and Fahad’s interfaith project was the result of a Weekend of Twinning last November, organized by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to fact-to-face dialogue between ethnic communities. The weekend encouraged congregants from North American and European synagogues and mosques to share goals and values.
Ilana Schachter, 26, and Samia Bano, 28, co-coordinators of the interfaith project, explained that their group aims to build relationships among Jewish and Muslim youth. In addition to convening for community service, the group holds monthly meetings and social events to discuss topics such as faith, identity, assimilation, relationships and dating outside the religion.
Before they began their work at SOVA, they recited together an Islamic prayer from the Quran. They ended their day with a Jewish prayer. Danielle Feuer, 16, a junior in the magnet program at North Hollywood High School, led the group in a prayer in Hebrew that followed the structure of Tefilat HaDerech, the invocation for safe travel. For the occasion, the prayer’s words were changed slightly to express a “journey of justice,” Schachter explained.
Following the Jewish prayer, the group sat together at an outdoor table at a nearby taco stand and talked about the Torah and the Quran. They compared a Leviticus text that emphasizes that you must not wait until somebody becomes destitute before offering assistance with a Quran text that stresses that proper charity is giving away something that you want, not just what you don’t.
In a separate interview, Feuer spoke of her experience visiting the Fahad mosque while still a confirmation student at Temple Emanuel. Observing the Islamic worship and speaking with the imam, she said she gained a stronger insight into “what actually goes on in the faith.” The Interfaith Project continues to deepen her insight, she said.