WASHINGTON – Rabbi Marc Schneier, who was included on Newsweek's list of America's 50 most influential rabbis, is the founder and president of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU). As part of this endeavor Schneier is leading an initiative to develop dialogue between Jews and Muslims in the US and across the world.
Last November Rabbi Schneier twinned between 50 synagogues and 50 mosques across the US and Canada for a day of joint prayers, with rabbis and imams speaking out against hate.
In November 2009 he hopes to expand the initiative to Europe.
Schneier, a prominent author and lecturer on interfaith dialogue, spoke to Ynet of his vision of bringing Jews and Muslims closer: "We have opened up a network of positive inter-religious dialogue over the past 50 years with the Christian community.
Russell Simmons, FFEU chairman; LL COOL J, FFEU Racial Harmony Award honoree; and Rabbi Marc Schneier, FFEU president (Photo by Ray Girard)
"The major challenge of the 21st century is to find ways to reduce the divergent opinions between Muslims and Jews. There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world and 14 million Jews so this is a critical challenge."
The rabbi said he was optimistic regarding the prospects of this challenge. "We are beginning to witness pockets of more moderate voices in Islam and there is a conflict between the moderates and the extremes. This is the work with which we’re involved. We were very successful with the program we arranged in November and in the coming November we plan to bring this to England. We are in touch with the Jewish leadership in South Africa and Australia to see if they are interested in such a program."
Rabbi Schneier had attended meetings with Saudi King Abdullah in Madrid last July and a dinner with President Shimon Peres, the Saudi king and the heads of Muslim states in the UN headquarters in New York in November. Schneier believes that public appearances with the king, who is responsible for Mecca and Medina – the most sacred sites for slam – could have a positive effect on Muslim-Jews relations.
'We need friends in the Muslim world'
He knows that many consider him to be a dreamer. " They’ve described me as an idealist out of touch with reality, in particular 20 years ago when I worked to develop relationship s between the Jews and Blacks after the unrest which rocked Crown Heights. We then worked together to find a way to advance the bonds between the communities.
"We’re now talking about an even more pressing challenge than those that existed between Blacks and Jews. What is encouraging is the fact that the Jewish leadership in the US through the JCPA has decided to confront this issue with urgency and has called upon its members to reach out in dialogue with the Muslim communities around the country," he stated.
Last month Rabbi Schneier approached the UN ambassadors of 20 Muslim countries and invited them to engage in dialogue and join hands in the fight against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. "I have said that the ideal would be that in the upcoming Durban Review Conference, moderate Muslims should be those that will work on behalf of advocating Jewish issues and vice versa.
"We need to have friends in the Muslim world and we are beginning to identify them," he concluded.