Why Jews should support mosque near Ground Zero

By Robert Levine and David Ellenson One of the most beautiful stories to emerge from the devastating attacks of 9/11 … Continued

By Robert Levine and David Ellenson

One of the most beautiful stories to emerge from the devastating attacks of 9/11 was told by a Pakistani Muslim, Usman Farman, who was employed at the World Trade Center. Fleeing north as the first tower was collapsing, he was felled by a missile of glass and debris. Stunned, he laid on his back as frightened safety seekers stampeded by him. The pendant he usually wore, inscribed with an Islamic prayer for safety written in Arabic, gleamed through the darkness. Suddenly, a Hasidic Jewish man bent over him, took the pendant in his hand and read the Arabic out loud. With a deep Brooklyn accent he said, “Brother, if you don’t mind, there is a cloud of glass coming at us, grab my hand, and let’s get out of here.”

9/11 is a tragedy that is permanently etched in our nation’s consciousness. Future scholars will pour over the historic record asking not only how we acted in the aftermath of that catastrophe. They will also ask what we have learned from it. We are confident that future historians will want to emphasize that on September 11, 2001 an ultra-orthodox man looked past centuries of religious division, saw a human being in danger, and sought to help even as it was becoming known that extremist Islamic terrorists were wreaking unspeakable horror on the citizens of New York and the United States.

As Jews, we seek any and all such examples of righteousness shown in the face of Nazi horror. The “Garden of the Righteous of All Nations” at the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Museum Yad Vashem recognizes the altruistic and courageous deeds of Gentile rescuers of Jews. We celebrate these men and women for their moral courage even as we wonder why more people could not act in concert with the values they purported to live as these heroes did.

Today we ask whether we will be similarly proud of the fact that large numbers of politicians and others, including Jews, have banded together in an attempt to stop the building of an Islamic Center and Mosque two blocks north of Ground Zero. The reasoning of these critics of this proposed Center is that building such an Islamic Center so close to Ground Zero is an act that desecrates the memory of those who died on 9/11. We also suspect that opposition to the construction of this Center on the part of some is also an act of political opportunism upon which some politicians wish to capitalize in the heat of current and forthcoming political campaigns. While the emotions expressed are understandable, imposing a standard of collective responsibility and guilt upon all Muslims that would block the construction of this center because of the deeds of these terrorists is un-American and should not be tolerated.

As Jews mindful of Jewish history, we are extremely sensitive to incidents in which Jews have been scapegoated for the misdeeds of others and where collective guilt has been projected onto all our people on account of the crimes of a few. A particularly shocking incident from our own American past took place in December 1862 when General Ulysses S. Grant issued his infamous General Order No. 11, an order which expelled all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. The justification for this expulsion was the raging black market in southern cotton on the part of unlicensed traders, including some Jews. In the emotional climate of the war zone, prejudices flourished and Jews became the target of unwarranted and discriminatory regulation. Describing the “Israelites” as “an intolerable nuisance,” Grant issued his order and expelled Jews from these three states.

Weeks later, President Lincoln rescinded Grant’s order, stating his conviction that “to condemn a class is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad.” He drew no distinction between Jew and Gentile, and would allow no American to be wronged because of his religious affiliation. Lincoln deemed such proscription of an entire religious class intolerable.

Lincoln’s words still resonate today and powerfully reflect the sentiments of President Washington who, in a 1790 letter, assured the Jewish citizens of Newport, Rhode Island, regarding the fundamental liberty that Jews would enjoy in this country. Our first President wrote, “For happily the Goverment of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.”

Again, we surely understand the visceral pain expressed by some who lost loved ones in these unspeakable assaults. However, this sentiment does not provide sufficient grounds to prevent the building of this Center. To refuse to allow this project to go forward would suggest that all Muslims are terrorists or covert supporters of terrorism, and that an Islamic House of God cannot preach and practice divinely inspired values of justice, freedom and human dignity for all races and religions. This is patently insulting and unsupportable.

Every year Jews emerge from the Passover Seder table with one indelible message — remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt, that you were degraded and humiliated for no reason save that you were Jews. As Jews, we therefore must raise our voices and do all in our power to prevent such bigotry from being directed at any other people or faith. The empathy taught by our tradition demands that Jews neither be silent nor forbearing in the face of such injustice.

Since 9/11, many Muslims have felt similar broad brush rejection just because they practice the faith of Islam. No distinctions among Muslims are made by their critics. Blame and derision are unconscionably hurled upon an entire faith. History has well taught us how indecent and immoral it is when an entire faith group is held culpable for the acts of a few.

An Islamic Center and mosque north of Ground Zero will make the powerful statement that persons of all religious faiths can stand together as children of God. Historic memory requires us to behave with simple decency and affirm the proposed plan of our moderate and law-abiding Muslim sisters and brothers to construct this Center. We look forward to the day when we can join together with our colleagues of all faiths in dedicating this religious center which will represent the triumph of love over hate, humanity over insanity.

Rabbi Robert Levine is Senior Rabbi of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City. Rabbi David Ellenson is President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

  • KaddafiDelendaEst

    Quislings don’t confront real evil; and hate those who do. You can see this on almost any school playground. The kid who confronts the school bully is often resented more than the bully. Whether out of guilt over their own cowardice or out of fear that the one who confronted the bully will provoke the bully to lash out more, those who refuse to confront the bully often resent the one who does. Today, Leftist-Quislings express that cowardly contempt for those of us who take a hard line with the sharia law advocates of Cordoba House. It’s ever our fault (you see) for provoking the bully. Better to remain supine while the terrorism advocates satisfy themselves raising money to recruit terrorists; tormenting American widows and orphans at Ground Zero; erecting their monument to Islamo-triumphalism.The Quisling answer: Just display “understanding”, stay quiet… and hope the crocs eat them last.There’s a word for that: Cowardice.Own it, Quislings.

  • concernedLakota

    Make certain it is an inter-faith cultural resource center representing all faiths and and not a hostile-named mosque near the grave of our people and then maybe more people will agree.An Imam should KNOW better than to use this particular name and select this particular site. Let’s not act as if people are pulling angst out of thin air. We are currently at war in two countries and with terrorism…the very same act which brings us to this discussion today.Dismissing peoples concerns by branding them as fear mongerers or divisive when these concerns are legitimate lends nothing toward a peaceful solution. The historical acts of Muslims in Cordoba Spain, the building upon the Temple Mount and other holy places, the wars, the acts on 9/11, the practice of deception by leaders of al-Taquiyya, the inability by the Imam to speak out against Hamas, the Holyland documents, these things and more present legitimate concerns that need to be addressed, despite the best of intentions.

  • David101

    Very well written and true. There were Muslims victims @ 9/11 and they also have concerned families. Why is there so much generalization when clearly the were is on extremism, not the moderates living amongst us. And how far is the “perfect” location to build a mosque? 2 blocks, 3 blocks, 6? When will we be satisfied and accept there is a Muslim community here? It has been almost a decade and no one has bothered to listen to what the Moderate Muslims (who are American citizen btw) have to say…

  • DAS2


  • KaddafiDelendaEst

    Cluebat to Bloomberg: Imam Rauf and Cordoba House already have a mosque in New York City!This has NOTHING to do with OUR tolerance of Muslims and everything to do with THEIR sharia-inspired intentions to torment infidels by desecrating Ground Zero.Wake up and smell their jihad.

  • kimi1

    I’m not Jewish, not Muslim either. But I am an American. I hurt on 9/11 too, it broke my heart.Blast me all you want. But I think that if one of the tenets of this country’s founding is religious tolerance, that’s all there is to it. We can be a safe and tolerant country, or we can go the way of other countries and wander down THAT path. Nope, don’t even want to contemplate it.There’s room enough for all voices here. We are a generous and loving enough country to allow folks to worship when and how and where they choose.

  • DAS2


  • Afzar

    First of all, Thank you Rabbi Robert Levine and Rabbi David Ellenson. Jews and Muslims have lived peacefully together in the past, and still have the opportunity to look beyond politically motivated idealogies that have permeated into our societies. The comments before this one has nothing but misconceptions.While I advocate the use of Google for products and services, I strongly suggest anyone with a sincere desire to seek the truth to always depend on the source for such information. As in the case of a Doctor, a Lawyer or an Engineer depended on Google for his curriculum would end up lost, lonely and homeless. The better method to get an education is to enroll in a class that teaches medicine, law or engineering.Also, lets not try to learn Chinese from the professor who teaches poetry.If you want to learn about Islam and Muslims go to an Islamic Center.

  • KaddafiDelendaEst

    @Afzar: Specious appeals to authority are logically fallacious.There is no Muslim authority to petition in determining whether Cordoba House are teaching authentic Islam?Sufi, Salafi, Hanbali, Wahhabi, Shia, etc., ad nauseum?Afzar can chew the carpet and mutter the Koran until he’s blue in the face, hoping to discern truths from the illiterate, psychotic babblings of his dead false prophet. But don’t expect Westerners to waste our time convincing your co-religionists of Islam’s (alleged) peaceful intentions.Afzar should initiate a campaign to refute his jihadist brethren at Cordoba House— which shouldn’t be difficult in light of his insistence that Islam is fundamentally peaceful.Look. American Muslims may be the very soul of moderation. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable for folks to ask for more from (allegedly) “peaceful” Muslims than disingenuous whitewashing of uncomfortable elements of Islamic sharia tradition, as practiced in Iran, Gaza, Kashmir, Malaysia, the Paris banlieue and Cordoba House in NYC.A genuine tiny minority of anti-jihadist Muslims may be found @Americans remain breathless in anticipation of the vast majority of (allegedly) “peaceful” American Muslims supporting this genuinely tiny minority of their co-religionists… but don’t hold your breath.

  • mikeghouse

    Rabbi Levine and Rabbi Ellenson;The pastors and Rabbis from Texas stood up for the rights of other Americans. Your voice adds strength to the belief that a majority of us are inherently good people.Last week I wrote here at the Washington Post about the issue and raised similar questions. The majority of Americans of all hues are recognizing the value of inclusion to create safer and sustainable societies, the right wingers are loosing it out and have resorted invoking a negative sentiment over the issue. I hope they quickly learn to be in tune with the American public who not like divisive policies and cheap opportunism.I do hope the right wingers recognize that Bin Laden is hated intensely by Muslim Majority more than any other people; he brought misery to the ordinary American Muslim and messed up the name of Islam. Of course, good humans such as you know the distinction. We have stood up for the Holocaust survivors, the refugees and the oppressed people in Bosnia and elsewhere in the world and we need to continue to stand on moral high ground. Let the world look up to our model of co-existence and follow us, rather than stoop down to the level of dictators and fascists. Mike Ghouse

  • KaddafiDelendaEst

    Return Muslim-occupied Cyprus and the Hostage Ghost City of Famagusta (home of the desecrated St. Nicholas Cathedral)— then Islamo-supremacists of Cordoba House (and their Leftist-fascist allies) can howl about their alleged “right” to desecrate Ground Zero.St. Nicholas called— he’d like his cathedral back. VIDEO: Famagusta, The Hostage Ghost City of Europe @Don’t be a sniveling Islamo-supremacism advocate your whole life, Mayor Bloomberg.

  • KaddafiDelendaEst

    Leftist-fascists in NYC agencies don’t hesitate to obstruct construction of houses of worship — at least non-Islamic ones. These Leftist reprobates would sell your Catholic mother’s grave to support a scatologists right to squat and plop a steaming pile of free expression.But when patriotic Americans object to jihadists opening a 9/11 snuff porn vendor emporium (and recruitment center) on the hallowed graves of Ground Zero– and Leftists shriek with indignation!”Ye blind guides, that strain out the gnat, and swallow the camel!”

  • KaddafiDelendaEst

    Examine the authors’ “scapegoat” slander in light of sentiments from Cordoba House sharia advocates.“Muslims are the vilest of animals…”“Show mercy to one another, but be ruthless to Muslims”“How perverse are Muslims!”“Strike off the heads of Muslims, as well as their fingertips”“Fight those Muslims who are near to you”“Muslim mischief makers should be murdered or crucified”Hate speech? Incitement to violence? Sounds like it to me; but a knowledgeable Cordoba House Muslim would have to disagree.Why would Cordoba House Muslims not consider this to be hate speech? How is it that I can post these quotes with full certainty that Cordoba House won’t be contacting WaPo Editors (or Congress) with wild-eyed accusations of Islamophobia?Don’t be apologists for Islamo-supremacist hate mongers your whole lives.

  • KaddafiDelendaEst

    These rabbis have apparently been in a coma (both before and after 9/11) since they appear to think 9/11 was the only incident of Muslims attacking non-Muslims. If they weren’t in a coma, there’s no excuse for such gross stupidity.Muslims must take some responsibility for their global jihad when thousands of their co-religionists over the past two decades kill thousands of innocents of every religion around the world; and when they deprive non-Muslims of their human rights in 57 of 57 Muslim governed countries.Look. American Muslims may be the very soul of moderation. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable for folks to ask for more from (allegedly) “peaceful” Muslims than disingenuous whitewashing of uncomfortable elements of Islamic sharia tradition, as practiced in Iran, Gaza, Kashmir, Malaysia, the Paris banlieue… and (pointedly) Cordoba House in NYC.A genuine tiny minority of anti-jihadist Muslims may be found @Americans remain breathless in anticipation of the vast majority of (allegedly) “peaceful” American Muslims supporting this genuinely tiny minority of their co-religionists… but don’t hold your breath. +15K deadly Islamo-supremacist attacks since 9/11 don’t lie.

  • DaveM62

    The lack of logic in opposition to the Islamic Center is baffling. It is compared to putting a large cross near Auchwitz. The situation of Ground Zero and the situation of Auchwitz is very different. With the area within a mile of Ground Zero, we are talking about a large part of lower NYC including the Battery Park apartment complex, City Hall and Wall Street.We don’t talk about what the Nazis did as if Germans did it. We talk about Nazi atrocities not German atrocities. I am sure that Sarah Palin and her supporters would not refer to them as Christian atrocities. Yet we do that kind of thing with 9/11. It was done by Wahhabis who are a particular group of Sunni Muslims. They persecute Sufis yet people are holding a Sufi Imam responsible for what happened on 9/11. We don’t talk about Wahhabi terrorists doing it or Saudi terrorists doing it, we talk about Muslim terrorists doing it or Islamic terrorists doing it. Given where that has led, we should choose our words more carefully.At most Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan are responsible for this. So why talk about an Imam from Kuwait as if Kuwaitis did it because they resented what we did in the first Gulf War? Do people like Sarah Palin remember that War? Do they understand the difference between Sufis, whose ideas arise out of Platonism and Jewish mysticism, and Wahhabis? Should people who do understand those things and hence support the Islamic Center be sneered at in the WSJ as the Enlightened Class?

  • mikeghouse

    DAVE,Good to read you make powerful sense.We have to respect and honor the sentiments of every one who was a victim of terrorism and their friends and relatives who have suffered through this….The Ground Zero Mosque is engaging the American Public and bringing out emotions and intellectualism to the forefront to tackle the issue of co-existence. The questions abound…..In behalf of the men and women who have lost their loved ones, a few are genuinely opposing the building of the communtiy Center, a few are Altruistic and want the center to stand out as a beaocon of hope and peace and yet a few are falling prey to the political opportunists. At the end, if we envision an America that is good for all, we have to consider dropping the “me, me, and me” and yeild to what is good for America, the land of the free.If Saudi is a bad country, why do we want to emulate them? Should some one point their fingers and say the same things about us, what we say to the tin pot dictators and fascist regimes? Mike Ghouse

  • rush_n_crush

    If you don’t live in the City, you don’t even have a say. PERIOD.And the closer that you live to be able to smell the ashes, the more say you have.

  • diagasi

    As a Jew, I fully support the Mosque at Ground Zero.After all, the Koran says (98:7) that Jews and Christians “are the vilest of all creatures.”And I definitely want a place where more people can come to treat this text as holy and pass along this belief to others! What could possibly go wrong!

  • MichaelPeterson

    Robert Levine amd David Ellinson write the they Yet the authors could not look past the inter-Jewish religious divisions when the used the pejorative term “ultra-orthodox” for the Haredi individual who helped the Muslim. In using the equivalent of the N word to describe the Hasid they did not see his humanity but an enemy to be vilified.

  • DaveM62

    I see nothing wrong with the word Ultra-Orthodox. It is used by all kinds of people in all kinds of contexts.This is what the Koran actually says:”[98.6] Surely those who disbelieve from among the followers of the Book and the polytheists shall be in the fire of hell, abiding therein; they are the worst of men.The people complaining mightily about it and Islam do so out of aggressive ignorance which pretends it is knowledge.Many Muslims, Jews, and Christians believe in God and do good.

  • heathergreeneyes

    I think the issue may be in how particular muslims practice Islam.Islam brings more then just a “religion”. This religion is unique in that it is considered not just worship, but law and also goverment.How do you allow freedom of religion if the religion is also a legal system and a form of goverment? It seems that freedom of religion only applies to Islam if these other two aspects of it are left out.The question is, can Muslims leave out the legal system of Islamic law and the goverance of others under such laws?In America we paractice seperatation of church and state, but Islam is a religion that is also church and state!

  • DaveM62

    This is from the page cited:”Park 51 will be a home for all people who are yearning for understanding and healing, peace, collaboration, and interdependence. We are more determined than ever to take this opportunity, which we also see as a responsibility to our community and to our neighbors in Lower Manhattan. We are creating a new space where fresh stories of cooperation and service will reflect the living vibrancy of inter-connected communities.”The Sharia Index is for Muslim countries only. There are 44 of them. NYC is a world city. It is the capital of the financial world and the location of UN HQ. These 44 countries are an important part of our world.

  • mmurray2

    Thank you, gentlemen, for this fine essay. It is a wonderful thing to see such a thoughtful expression of religious tolerance at a time when others have been using this issue to promote intolerance.

  • chimom

    Once Islam gets a foothold and starts to become the dominant system, it tolerates ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AND NOBODY outside of Islam. You’ll be sorry, because YOU won’t be tolerated. ISLAM DOES NOT RECIPROCATE TOLERANCE!!!!

  • diagasi

    Hey DaveM62:That’s a pretty ignorant way of reading the Koran. Here, “believe” doesn’t just mean “believe in God,” but instead “believe in the God’s apostle and the Last Day.”In other words, believe in Islam.In other words, those who don’t believe in Islam — non-Muslims — are the “vilest of creatures.”Standard in-group morality, out-group hostility.

  • Adrian_Wainer

    ‎1977 Enoch Powell defends Rivers Of Blood SpeechThis is terrifying, it is a WARNING from history. Powell understood exactly how politicians were betraying ordinary decent people in Britain of all races, creeds and colors and this is, exactly what is happening in Britain and America at an accelerated pace, today. The kissing has to stop. The political class has to draw a line in the sand in confronting Islamofascism and Islamonazism or the United States and Britain will end up in Civil War.

  • rrlieberma1

    My POV: If religious freedom and tolerance were the real agenda, the group would gladly accept Governor Paterson’s sensible compromise of another site, in the name of tolerance and community harmony/responsibility. It did not, saying that it had to serve the needs of lower Manhattan.Religious groups generally build where there is a local constituency – think parishes or synagogues or Jewish community centers. Is there a significant Muslim community living in downtown New York?There is also the question of the sources of the $100m+ that will be raised. The unwillingness of the development group to make provisions to reveal the sources of funds, suggests they have something to hide. If they are so eager to emulate the 92nd St YMHA or the JCC of Manhattan, they should adopt the same transparent fundraising procedures that these and other groups use for capital campaigns.New York is basically a Muslim-friendly town, with mosques everywhere. I reject those who have seized on this issue to question the right or ability of Muslims to grow in New York. Freedom of religion is alive and well in New York, and I also question those who insist that this is a core issue of religious freedom and would make those of us who disagree into bigots. This is not an issue for government to decide. The only issues should be appropriateness and sensitivity in the context of respect for the broader community. At this point, only the mosque/community center group is able to make that decision.