JAA visit to Islamic Center builds bridges between communities
Several residents of the JAA's Weinberg Terrace spent the morning at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, learning about Islam from Imam Hamza Perez.
Naomi Greenblott has been interested in other religions her whole life, but she had never visited a mosque.
That changed on March 27, when she and seven other residents of the Jewish Association on Aging’s Weinberg Terrace spent the morning at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, learning about Islam from Imam Hamza Perez.
“I grew up as the only Jewish child in my public school on the South Side of Pittsburgh,” Greenblott said. “I find all religions have something in common. If you care enough to be religious, that’s a good thing.”
The excursion to the Oakland mosque was the idea of Tara Bailey, the activities director at Weinberg Terrace, a personal care facility in Squirrel Hill. Bailey also is a member of the Islamic Center.
“The Muslim community was pivotal in supporting members of Tree of Life” following the Oct. 27 massacre, explained Bailey.
Following the massacre, Muslim groups raised significant funds for the victims’ families, and stood side by side with Jewish Pittsburgh at several vigils.
Likewise, the Pittsburgh Jewish community reached out to help the Muslim community in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the March 15 attacks that resulted in the murder of 50 Muslims in prayer, Bailey said. The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh raised more than $230,000 for the victims and their families in just a few days, and Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha raised almost $60,000.
After Christchurch, the residents of Weinberg Terrace — many of whom are members of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha — also “wanted to do something to show their support,” Bailey said.
As they entered the Islamic Center, residents removed their shoes and headed into the prayer hall, or musalla, where they sat in chairs in a semicircle, with Perez seated on the floor before them.
Perez, who is the youth director at the Islamic Center, welcomed his guests and explained that he was sitting on the floor because, in Islam, “the rights of elders and parents are very high. We don’t sit on the same level out of respect for your rank and what you have been through in your life.”
Perez, who was born in Puerto Rico and is a convert to Islam, spent the next 45 minutes discussing the precepts and traditions of his religion, and its commonalities to Judaism and Christianity. He also fielded questions from the residents and the staff accompanying them on such topics as holidays, burial practices and dietary laws.
Having the Jewish seniors visit the Islamic Center “meant a lot to me at a time when elders are often neglected, or forgotten and not respected,” Perez said in an interview following the program. “It was an honor for me.”
The massacres at the Tree of Life synagogue building and at the Christchurch mosques less than five months later both resulted from a “problem that has not been properly addressed — the problem of white supremacy,” he said, suggesting that actions such as the visit of the Weinberg Terrace residents to the Islamic Center, and the mutual support of targeted communities, is part of the solution.
“Standing together against hate and bigotry,” he said. “Coming together and speaking out against injustice — even if it is speaking out against ourselves.”
In addition to visiting the Islamic Center, members of the Weinberg Terrace community also have made donations to the victims of the Christchurch massacre, and have created cards for the victims and families, which will be distributed by the New Zealand Islamic Information Centre. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at