Hanukkah is the Jewish holiday of miracles, commemorating how one day’s worth of oil left in a Jerusalem candelabra more than 2,000 years ago somehow lasted for eight days. Imam Souleimane Konate, the head of Masjid Aqsa, a mosque in Harlem, is hoping that bodes well for his cause.
The imam was one of eight Islamic leaders from the New York area to gather in a kosher restaurant in Midtown on Monday for a Hanukkah celebration lunch with Rabbi Yona Metzger, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel.
Rabbi Metzger, a tall man in a black fedora and long white beard, had just landed from Israel, so he swept in a bit late to the restaurant, Solo on Madison Avenue, with his wife and 13-year-old son.
“Salaam aleikum,” he said in Arabic to Imam Shamsi Ali, the head of the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens. “Shalom aleichem,” Imam Ali replied, repeating the same greeting – Peace be with you – in Hebrew, a brother Semitic language.
Rabbi Metzger, in his first meeting with Muslim leaders in New York, remarked that Jews and Muslims have more in common than Jews and Christians, as well as a more peaceful history of coexistence. “As the sons of Abraham,” he said, “we don’t need to use swords, we want to use candles, to use light.”
The event’s host, Rabbi Marc Schneier, who heads a group dedicated to Jewish-Muslim dialogue, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, pointed out that kind words were not enough to heal rifts between the faiths. “Miracles can happen, but people have to work extremely hard for them,” he said.
And to that end, Imam Konate brought up the problem that he has been grappling with.
His congregation is about to be evicted from its building on Frederick Douglass Boulevard because it can no longer afford its rent, which has gone to $10,000 from $4,000 in recent years as the boulevard has rebounded and gentrified. Now the rent is being raised to $18,000.
“The landlord is from the Jewish faith,” he told the rabbis. “We don’t even know what to do; what we are asking him to do is to give us time, so that we can search for another location.”
He asked if maybe the rabbis could intervene.
“So you’re asking for the chief rabbi and this rabbi to try to perform a miracle?” Rabbi Schneier asked, to laughter.
“We will try to help you,” Rabbi Metzger said, after asking how much time the imam needed to move. If the landlord was a religious man who attended synagogue, Rabbi Metzger added, he would be more likely to hear him out.
Source: The NY Times