Sheldon Sandler, left, host for the evening, and Herb Horowitz welcome Yehudit Barsky, who does not permit her face to be photographed by the press.
Photo by Marilyn Silverstein
April 03, 2008
Those who keep their fingers on the pulse of terrorism were finding much to worry about during the month of March, according to Yehudit Barsky, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Division on Middle East and International Terrorism.
“There was an attack on a Jewish Agency representative over the weekend in Rhode Island — a Molotov cocktail incident,” Barsky said as she addressed a meeting of AJC’s Central New Jersey Chapter at a private home in Hopewell on March 16.
“There’s never been an attack on a Jewish Agency representative in two decades, and we’re very concerned,” she said. “We’re also very concerned about the completion of the 40-day mourning period for Imad Mughaniya.”
Mughaniya, leader of Hizbullah’s military wing, was killed in a car bombing in Damascus on Feb. 13, Barsky recalled, and the mourning period for him was over on March 23 — a day that many feared would be an appropriate day for Hizbullah to carry out an attack.
“The chorus of blame is being set at the door of Israel,” she said.
Close to 50 AJC members were on hand to hear Barsky sound her note of alarm. During her hour-long briefing, she also announced AJC’s planned launch, within a few weeks, of a new Arabic-language Web site to familiarize the Muslim world with Jews and Judaism.
“Through this lens, we are going to be able to tell the story of the Middle East traditions of Judaism and to show that we Jews are really part of the Middle East,” she said. “We’re also going to have slide shows of Jewish practices and the faces of Jewish people from all over the world, an explanation of all the different holidays, and a timeline from the time of Abraham to the present to show the continuity of the Jewish people.’
“It is really a huge project, and we’re very excited about it,” she said. “We need to be reaching out, and we need to be the organization that does it. It really is something that’s very unique.”
At the heart of Barsky’s presentation was a report on her six-day trip to Israel in January as leader of a group of six moderate Muslim Americans under the auspices of AJC’s Project Interchange and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
She described the mission as “a really exceptional experience” — one that took participants to the Al-Aksa Mosque, the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem; to Israel’s southern city of Sderot, which has been under siege from Kassam rockets launched by Hamas; to Maxim’s, an Arab-Jewish restaurant in Haifa; and to a college for Muslim women in nearby Baka al-Gharbiya.
“This is not done very often,” Barsky told the gathering. “We wanted to craft a trip to Israel that would give the participants an idea of what life is like, not only for Israelis, but for Muslim Israelis. It was also an opportunity for them to see Israel as it is — to see and meet people, to ask questions, and to be able to network with people in Israel.”
Her Muslim companions on the trip were from all over America — New Jersey, New York, Washington, Tennessee, and Indiana, Barsky said in a separate interview.
“It was a very intense experience,” she said. “The idea was that we should bring people who are Muslim reformists to Israel so they should be able to see it for themselves and to bring about change. The concept of the trip was to show them a different perspective on what’s going on in Israel — to see things people don’t normally get to see, and to have a feeling of what people are going through.
“What we also did was try to give them a taste of Muslim life in Israel,” Barsky added. One such taste, she said, was the visit to Baka al-Gharbiya, where the dean of the college spoke with the group about her efforts to bring young Muslim women into the 21st century by preparing them to have a career.
“This doesn’t really exist in the Muslim world,” she said. “The participants were really impressed with this program.”
As one who more often finds herself dealing with terror and the victims of terror, Barsky said, she came away from the trip with a sense of hope.
“It gave me hope that there will be more people who are open-minded and who want to learn what’s going on,” she said. “The level of curiosity was just insatiable.”
One woman who shares Barsky’s hope is Somerset ophthalmologist Tasneem Shamim, a participant in the January mission who was a guest at the AJC meeting. A Muslim from Bangalore, India, Shamim serves as president of the Somerset-based Muslim Women’s Coalition and is active with the Stamp Out Hate Coalition of AJC’s Metropolitan New Jersey Chapter.
“It was a learning experience and a very loving feeling to be together in a group,” Shamim told NJJN. “This was a unique opportunity to be with a group — a Muslim group — and to see Israel with a Jewish hostess,” she said. “The whole journey was a lot of personal growth.”
One must remember that the Muslim people and the Jewish people are cousins, Shamim said.
“It just made me feel, God willing, there should be peace,” she said. “This is what we human beings should do to please God.”
- Comment: email@example.com