DOHA – Taking a stand against politics of fear, one of the most influential rabbis in the US has been battling anti-Muslim hate crimes, participating in many initiatives across the country to combat Islamophobia and support Muslim refugees.
“As a rabbi of the Reform Jewish Movement and a faith leader, I see it not only as my job, but also as my religious duty to foster interfaith dialogue and understanding, as well as break down stereotypes about race and religion,” Jonah Dov Pesner, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, told Aljazeera in an interview published on Monday, February 22.
Seeing his position as a “religious duty”, Rabbi Pesner has given many speeches against anti-Muslim hate crimes.
“Prior to my time as the Director of the Religious Action Center, I witnessed attacks on the Islamic Society of Boston from members of the Jewish community,” he said.
“They tried to label members of the Muslim community as terrorists and used every possible method to condemn the mosque, including speaking out against a rabbi who stood with a Muslim leader.
“It was unacceptable for me to witness members of my own community attack our Muslim neighbors, and furthermore criticize a rabbi for showing support to the Muslim community.
“Therefore, I feel it is my duty to stand up against this hateful rhetoric and convey the Reform Jewish response, which is that of understanding and community building,” he added.
In the American community, Pesner’s Reform Jewish community has taken many initiatives against Islamophobia.
“Speaking for the Reform Jewish community, congregations across North America have been working diligently to uphold our moral call to “welcome the stranger” by welcoming Syrian refugees into their houses of worship and their communities,” he said.
“Particularly, Reform congregations in Canada have taken great strides in their response to this crisis.
“I believe there could always be more support behind the efforts to combat religious intolerance, but I have been very impressed with how Reform clergy have been united on this issue and have a clear message that we will not stand for Islamophobia in any form.”
The renowned Rabbi added that combating negative stigma associated with Muslims was urged by all Abrahamic faiths.
“If we’re going to be the family of Abraham, we must work together to call out Islamophobia,” he said.
“As I said at a mosque in Tennessee last month, we have to beat back the forces of bigotry, whether it’s anti-Jewish bigotry, anti-Muslim bigotry or bigotry in any form in America.”
Pesner added that both Islam and Judaism are closely connected to each other.
“All religions hold a message of tolerance and acceptance of others, of which I believe Judaism and Islam share. Perhaps just as importantly, there is so much brokenness in our society, from our treatment of immigrants to climate change to racial injustice, and we must work together as religious communities to repair the world,” Pesner said.
“We can only do this if we come together as people of different faith toward a common goal.
“We must also work as an interfaith community to stand up against religious bigotry, because an attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths,” he added.
The West has seen a spike in Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims following attacks in Europe and the US that have been blamed on supporters of the so-called Islamic State (ISIL).
Republican presidential candidates, such as Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson have been accused of flaring anti-Muslim sentiments.
Trump’s views on immigration have sparked controversy nationwide, especially his proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the US.
On the other hand, Bernie Sanders, a popular US presidential candidate who is Jewish, launched a campaign known as #AmericaTogether, in which he posted a tweet in Arabic saying: “America becomes a greater nation when we stand together and say no to racism, hatred and bigotry”.