Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa celebrated the launch of NewGround, a joint undertaking of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), at City Hall on March 8. The group will bring together Jews and Muslims in a community-building dialogue on issues ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to immigration to homelessness.
"This is the city where we come together from every corner of the earth," Villaraigosa said. "If there is one place in the world where Muslims and Jews should be able to forge common ground, it is here."
City Council President Eric Garcetti hailed the group as leaders of the future.
"The stakes are high because the face of Los Angeles is the face of the world. The world is watching us," said Garcetti, who hosted the gathering in the Tom Bradley Tower Room.
"We're going from old ground in the Middle East, where we're shackled by fear and bloodshed, to new ground in Los Angeles, where we can develop mutual respect and mutual trust and hopefully this project will blossom forth with the rays of hope from the people in this room," said Salam Al-Mayarati, MPAC's executive director.
Preparation for NewGround included a six-month study conducted by two scholars -- one Muslim, one Jewish -- who examined the failures and successes of interfaith dialogues throughout the country. Interfaith program co-ordinators Malka Fenyvesi and Aziza Hasan, who work for PJA and MPAC respectively, will serve as NewGround staffers.
Hasan said that the group has already selected 18 participants -- nine Jews and nine Muslims, ranging in age from 27 to 37 -- with such diverse backgrounds as attorneys, doctors, teachers, filmmakers, artists and doctoral students.
"It's not enough to sit and have coffee together. It's not enough to visit each other's mosques and synagogues. We actually need to confront the prejudices and stereotypes that we hold about each other, agree to disagree, and then fulfill our traditions' obligations to build a better community," PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch said.
Imam Jihad Turk of the Islamic Center of Southern California and Rabbi Reuven Firestone of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion led the event's opening and closing prayers.
-- Naomi Glauberman, Contributing Writer