Combatting Hate and Fear Together

As our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrated a joyous Passover this past weekend, we were able to send them best wishes from our ISB family by writing an article in The Jewish Advocate:

Combatting Hate and Fear Together in the Jewish Advocate
By Yusufi Vali and Imam Ismail Fenni

As you,our brothers and sisters of the Jewish faith, head into Passover, it is hard to ignore the evil of hatred and the spread of fear re-appearing on the world stage today.
As noted by David Brooks in his recent New York Times column – “Zero-Sum Politics” – “According to the Pew Research Center, acts of hostility toward Jews are now rampant in 39 percent of countries, up from 26 percent of countries in 2007. The U.K. Community Security Trust registered 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents in Britain in 2014, more than double the number from the previous year.” Acts such as the five teenagers in France who in February overturned 250 graves in a Jewish cemetery while making Nazi salutes, spitting on the Jewish symbols and shouting slogans including “dirty Jews” and “Heil Hitler – these acts send shivers of horror down our collective spines. And for Muslims – ISIS has not only waged a holy war against other Muslims, but it has portrayed Islam to the greater world as a religion of war, hatred, terror and senseless destruction. In America, these stereotypes of Islam promulgated by ISIS and other repressive regimes have taken a toll: According to the Pew Research Center, the public rates Muslims on a “feeling thermometer” ranging from 0 to 100 at the coldest rating for all religions – 40. Islamophobes locally have pounced on this “cool” environment, publishing misleading ads and op-eds, seeking to tie our moderate American- Muslim institutions to extremism.This environment opens the door to hate crimes such as the racist fliers that were circulated against Muslims in Revere this winter. Ghandi had a singular insight into hate and fear: “The enemy,” he said, “is fear – We think it is hate; but it is fear.” Why? We would argue it is because while the evil of hatred will always exist, it only thrives in a climate of pervasive fear.

In many repressive Muslim majority countries, there is no doubt that anti-Semitism has thrived. Many Muslims who have immigrated to America bring their stereotypes of Jews here. In the face of this reality, both the ISB and ISBCC have taken the courageous step to engage in meaningful and honest interfaith dialogue and action through the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and other vehicles. We have opened our doors to our Jewish brothers and sisters and given opportunities to Jewish leaders to speak in front of our congregations.

Simultaneously, Jewish leaders like Rabbi Ronne Friedman, Mr. Jeremy Burton, Rabbi Eric Gurvis, and Mr. Michael Felsen have taken similar courageous steps in engaging in open dialogues and building relationships with our community’s leadership. Likewise, institutions like Temple Israel and the Workman’s Circle have opened their doors to our community and invited our leadership to speak in front of their people.

What all of us have collectively found is also borne out by the Pew Center research: Knowing someone from a religious group is linked with having relatively more positive views of that group. In other words, these interfaith visits went very well; and they have whetted our community members’ appetites to get to know other Jews and vice versa.

As you reflect this week on Moses and the Israelites journey to cross the Red Sea, we ask any of you who are interested to take the journey to cross into our institutions as well. We would like to invite all of you to visit us at our respective mosques – to get to know us and to learn about our communities and our cultures – to be our brothers and sisters in humanity. Please email Ms. Kehiria Maruf at or Ms. Reem at if you would like to visit our respective centers.

Please have a wonderful Passover celebration.

Yusufi Vali is Executive Director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. Ismail Fenni, Imam, is the leader of the Islamic Society of Boston.


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