Support for Islamic center, Pakistan brings sense of Jewish pride


Pride in an individual accomplishment is fairly easy to understand. Pride in being part of a group in which you found yourself by accident of birth, not always so.

But this week, I’m finding myself practically bursting with pride at being a Jewish American, two descriptors for which I can take no credit (other than by lack of repudiation, perhaps). Let me tell you why.

I am proud as punch of being an American in the midst of the debate over the proposed Muslim community center near the Ground Zero site. There are so many decidedly American aspects reflected in this drama playing out on a national stage:

• The municipal processes that operated as they should to clear the way for the center’s development.

• The open dialogue (some of it political and misleading, but much of it sincere) about balancing the emotional sensitivities of the situation against the rights of a minority religious group.

• The willingness of many public figures to speak out in ways that haven’t always been consistent with their political advantage.

• The surprisingly scant number of racist voices that have attempted to lump all Muslims in with radical Islamist terrorists responsible for 9/11 (Sure, there’s been some of that, but many more so that have prefaced their opposition with a recognition of free expression of religion).

As an American Jew, I am particularly proud of those Jewish individuals and groups that have spoken up in favor of the right to worship of a fellow minority. This is certainly both selfless (in supporting others, we risk ourselves) and selfish (in supporting others, we support ourselves). But the parallels to our own history of being on the side of persecution are too striking to stay silent. In fact, as one friend pointed out to me:

It is particularly ironic that Jews would oppose a mosque in lower Manhattan given our history there.  Jews came to New Amsterdam in 1654, but it was not until 1730 that ‘The Little Synagogue’ was permitted to be built on Mill Street (now 26 South William St.), about 1/3 mile south of ‘Ground Zero’.

As a Jew, regardless of national origin, I am particularly proud of recent examples of our willingness to not only speak up, but act out, in support of those different from us who need our help. To wit, as reported in the Jerusalem Post this week, “American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the American Jewish World Service and World Jewish Relief have asked donors to give money to help the estimated 20 million Pakistanis suffering from the effects of the torrential rain and flooding.”

Clearly the vast majority of recipients of such aid will be Muslims. Yet in times of need, we don’t look at how someone worships as a precondition to assistance. Not after Katrina. Not in Haiti. Not in Pakistan. If people suffer through circumstances beyond their control, they are simply people who need help.

This is why charges leveled against Israeli Jews of being anti-Muslim, anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian are so troubling and so hard to believe. Sure, there are Jews with hard hearts, just as there are those of any group with hard hearts. But the history of our people is flush with examples of outreach, support, empathy and assistance. And our current efforts in support of the Pakistani flood victims is no exception.

So while I didn’t get to decide which country and community I was born into, I am indeed grateful that I was fortunate enough to have been born a Jew in America. May we in the St. Louis Jewish community make the time to reflect upon and appreciate this reality, and may we together be proud of the accomplishments of both our nation and our people.

Larry Levin is Publisher/CEO of the Jewish Light.