Rabbi Samuel Spector remembers when, in the summer of 2006, a gunman walked into the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.
Israel was at war with Lebanon, and the man shouted out his anger at Israel. He then shot six people, killing one.
Spector said one of the saddest outgrowths from that deadly encounter was a rise of Islamophobia in his community. Conversely, one of the most powerful occurrences came when a Muslim imam ventured to an area synagogue to condemn the attack.
Spector, who now leads Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City, thought about that imam as he recently weighed how to promote solidarity between Utah’s Jews and Muslims in light of the recent escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza.
The tension hit closer to home when someone scratched a swastika onto the glass door the Chabad Lubavitch of Utah synagogue in Salt Lake City’s Sugar House neighborhood.
After the vandalism, Spector repeatedly heard from his congregants about what a painful, lonely time they were experiencing. His Muslim friends, he thought, must be feeling the same way.
So the rabbi reached out to Luna Banuri, executive director of the Utah Muslim Civic League, about creating a joint statement from Jewish and Muslim communities condemning the violence and expressing their solidarity with one another.
The two then turned to all of their other contacts, Spector said, and were thrilled when “pretty much everybody” wanted to sign the statement.
The result: 23 Utah organizations — 10 Jewish, 13 Muslim — released a joint statement Tuesday expressing “horror and sadness” over the current violence in the Middle East and “resoundingly reject(ing)” any acts of violence or destruction toward Muslims, Jews or their places of gathering and worship.
The statement invites “all children of Abraham/Ibrahim” to join area Jews and Muslims in “praying for peace,” and asks communities to “extend a hand in love and friendship to one another.”
“We recognize our communities don’t agree completely on the conflict in the Middle East,” Spector said. “But, at the same time, we want to let people know that antisemitism and Islamophobia are complete affronts to what we believe in. … The conflict is in the Middle East, but here we are friends and we are neighbors.”
Banuri said she was happy to join in Spector’s efforts because she welcomes anti-hate efforts not just for her community, but for everyone.
There’s an “invisible bond” between Muslim and Jewish kids in how they’re targeted, she said, and the hatred Jews face “almost equals and parallels” the hatred that Muslims encounter.
“It’s a very old thing to say,” Banuri said, “[but] we have more similarities than differences.”
This hatred, she added, often springs from a lack of understanding about Jewish and Muslim communities. That’s why it’s so important that Utahns create safe spaces for dialogue, she said.
Jewish and Muslim communities often bear the brunt of fear and hatred stemming from international affairs, Banuri said, so mutual respect has to be taught.
“Sacred places are sacred places,” she said, “whether they’re Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Christian or anything [else].”
Spector added that one of the best ways Utahns can support their Jewish and Muslim neighbors is to educate their children. For instance, they could visit area mosques and synagogues.
It’s important, he said, to speak out against antisemitism and Islamophobia wherever they surface — whether on social media, at rallies or in conversations.
“Stop and say … ‘There’s a difference between Jewish people and the Israeli government and between Muslims and Hamas [a Palestinian political group],’” Spector said. “I think the silence is what’s killing us. Because that’s what’s alienating, is feeling like people don’t care.”
Correction • May 26, 11:55 a.m. • This story has been updated to correct the final quote from Rabbi Samuel Spector. It should have read: “There’s a difference between Jewish people and the Israeli government and between Muslims and Hamas.”