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Religious neighbors: Jewish and Muslim leaders seek common ground

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 5:56 PM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The roots of today’s tensions between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East may go back centuries, but two neighboring religious groups in Vermont are working to find common ground.

It’s common to see places of worship interact in one community. In South Burlington, The Islamic Society of Vermont is only separated by a short walk from the Temple Sinai.

Rabbi David Edelson leads the congregation at the temple and Imam Islam Hassan heads the Islamic Society. While religious and geopolitical crises like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dominate the news on a regular basis, those tensions seem a world away when these two religious leaders sit down to talk.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: Rabbi, is it weird being here in the mosque for you?

Rabbi David Edelson: No, it’s great to be here.

The Islamic Society moved from Colchester to their South Burlington home two years ago and these meetings, either in the mosque or at the temple have become common.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: You both --in different buildings -- are praying towards the same direction?

Rabbi David Edelson: Yeah, we are praying to Dorset Street!

Imam Islam Hassan: If you look at the map -- Mecca and Jerusalem -- you would have to face east anyway.

The two say it’s been welcoming to have each other as a neighbor. “I was excited. We are both two religious minorities that deal with what that means in America,” Hassan said. “Religious minorities here are special. They have gone through things that we have not gone through, so I think they will be more understandable and compassionate towards us.”

Reporter Ike Bendavid: Are there any tensions between congregations, between both of you right here in Vermont?

Imam Islam Hassan: Not at all.

Rabbi David Edelson: Not a hint of it.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: How does that feel?

Imam Islam Hassan: It feels great. I mean, that’s how we should feel as neighbors. The person you want to have a problem with is your neighbor, right?

After the move from Colchester, the two religious leaders say they had plans to integrate their communities through events and meals, but that the pandemic has delayed some of those hopes. Despite that, the two have still have found ways to help each other with small things, like sharing parking lots when one congregation is busy. “There’s no conflict of interest here,” Hassan said.

“We have been able to pool our resources for the good of both communities,” added Edelson.

But as hostilities recently flared again in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they say they looked to each other for how to talk to their congregations and spread peace they hope will grow globally.

“Of course there is a vision for peace and betterment of this world. Whether or not we are able to do it... But there is a vision,” Hassan said.

“We have to be very mindful of how that starts to affect us in our community, so we as leaders lead in the way of peace,” Edelson said.

And that’s why, even with some differences, the two say they have more in common. “It’s the same God, because there is only one,” Edelson said.

“Yes,” agreed Hassan

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