Members of the North Peninsula Jewish and Muslim after Friday afternoon services at Yaseen Foundation, a San Mateo County Muslim community, March 15, 2019 (Photo/Courtesy Stephanie Levine)
Members of the North Peninsula Jewish and Muslim communities after Friday afternoon services at Yaseen Foundation in Belmont, March 15, 2019 (Photo/Courtesy Stephanie Levine)

Bay Area Jews show up for Muslim neighbors — how you can help

Around the world, Jewish communities are denouncing today’s shootings at two mosques in New Zealand, which claimed 49 lives.

In the Bay Area, the Jewish Federations based in San Francisco and the East Bay, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League expressed their horror and urged local Jews to support their Muslim neighbors and attend one of several gatherings at local mosques, including Jummah (Friday afternoon prayers) today.

A large group from the North Peninsula Jewish community attended afternoon prayers in Belmont at Yaseen Foundation, a San Mateo county Muslim community organization. Jewish organizations encouraging their members to attend included Peninsula JCC, Peninsula Temple Beth El, Peninsula Temple Sholom, Peninsula Sinai Congregation and Congregation Beth Jacob.

Fattin Wekselman, who is Muslim and involved in Muslim-Jewish interfaith work, along with Stephanie Levin, chief engagement and innovation officer at PJCC, organized the Jewish visit to services at Yaseen Foundation.

“It was a very tough day, but at the same time it was a warm day, the nicest day I have felt in this community in a long time,” said Wekselman.

“I am a Muslim and my husband is Jewish. It is very important to me to see that both of the communities in my neighborhood are stronger together,” she said.

About 40 Jews attended, joining some 200 Muslims. “It was packed,” said Levin. At one point, with the room filling up, she asked one of the leaders whether some of the Jews should leave to make more room for Muslim worshippers. “But they were adamant that they wanted us in the room with them,” she said.

Levin planned for the Jews to stand outside as symbolic guards. “But when I got there, one of the leaders said he’d rather that we came in to be with them during the service. They set up seats for us and everyone was extremely welcoming, and the spiritual leader who spoke talked a lot about the shared history of Muslims and Jews,” she said.

“So many Muslims came to Shabbat services after the Tree of Life shooting. So I called Fattin last night to make sure I could show up the same way.”

A number of San Francisco Jews, including Rabbi Mychal Copeland of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, attended afternoon prayers at the Islamic Society of San Francisco, another event Jewish leaders urged people to attend.

In an email sent to Sha’ar Zahav members, Copeland said, “After the Pittsburgh shooting last fall, [Cantor Sharon Bernstein] and I received calls and emails from faith communities around San Francisco, and many came to our vigils…. I encourage you to reach out in solidarity to any Muslims you know to express your grief. I can tell you from experience that it really does make a difference.”

She added, “We will be asking our friends at the Mission San Francisco Police Station to be present with us; religious communities of all kinds are encouraged to reach out for extra security for their weekend worship.”

Reach out in solidarity to any Muslims you know to express your grief. I can tell you from experience that it makes a difference.

In the South Bay, a handful of Jewish leaders attended afternoon prayers at the Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara. Diane Fisher, director of the JCRC of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley, organized the group.

Fisher and Sheldon Gilbert, a member of the board of directors of Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos, “held signs, standing at the doorway as people came and left prayers. My sign said, ‘Jews & Muslims stand together against hate, white supremacy and bigotry,’” Fisher told J. in an email. “Fortunately, people feel safe here in Silicon Valley, but the deep appreciation for our solidarity was clear. People spoke about the Pittsburgh shooting with us and how we must stand together.”

The example of Pittsburgh, where 11 Jews were murdered during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life synagogue last October, was on many local Jewish minds. Remembering the outpouring of support Jews received from non-Jews, including Muslims, they felt the need to reciprocate.

“Just as we saw at the Pittsburgh synagogue, this horrific massacre continues the trend of targeting houses of worship, using immigration and fears of the ‘other’ as a pretext for violence,” said a joint statement by the Jewish Federation of the East Bay and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, Jewish Community Relations Council and JCC of San Francisco.

“When Pittsburgh happened, our Muslim community was there to support us, and we are here now to support them,” the statement continued.

There will be an interfaith vigil at 6 p.m. tonight at the Islamic Center of Mill Valley. Rabbi Paul Steinberg of Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon as well as other religious leaders will share messages of peace and hope, according to Khadija Hansia, a volunteer leader at Islamic Center of Mill Valley, who is organizing the vigil. Forty-nine candles will be lit, one for each life taken in the shootings.

“Historically, people think that Muslim and Jewish people don’t get along. To come together in the face of hate is one of the most important things we can do,” Hansia said. “The Jewish community here has always stood with us. The Osher Marin JCC has shown endless support for us over the years, and we’re so grateful. They come for dinner during Ramadan and we’ve come to Shabbat. The Jewish community has been amazing at showing up for us.”

Heidi Sanders, director of the Taube Center for Jewish Peoplehood at the Marin JCC, said, “We have been working with the Muslim community for years now. They’ve showed up for us. In the wake of the bomb threats, they brought flowers and showed up physically. They are our allies. We’ve had many conversations with them about rising anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

“This is a horrible tragedy, but this is what we do for our neighbors, we show up to support them and they show up to support us.”

There will be a vigil at 6 p.m. tonight in San Francisco, with the location still yet to be announced. Follow this Facebook event page for more details.

Pacifica Institute, a national nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation, will hold vigils on Saturday night, March 16, at 8 p.m. at its Albany center.

Bend the Arc: Jewish Action has a national registry of solidarity events that can be searched by ZIP code.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has set up a New Zealand Attack Emergency Relief Fund to support the Muslim community there. The Jewish community of Pittsburgh received an outpouring of financial support from Muslims following the shooting at Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation.

 Donations can also be made directly to the New Zealand Muslim community through the New Zealand Islamic Information Centre.

The San Jose-based Islamic Networks Group has created a list of educational resources and ways to support the Bay Area Muslim community.

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is the online editor of J. and "Jew in the Pew" columnist. He can be reached at david@jweekly.com.