Jews and Muslims in dialogue
"Jews are being used to create anti-Muslim feeling"

Through their "Dialogue Perspectives" programme, the Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich and Avicenna academic foundations promote discourse between Jewish and Muslim scholarship holders. In an interview with Ursula Russmann, Rachel de Boor and Hani Mohseni talk about new alliances between their communities – and why the majority of society wants to see devout Jews, but liberal Muslims

Frau De Boor, Herr Mohseni, what changes for a young Jew and a young Muslim when, like the two of you, they enter into dialogue with the other’s community?

Mohseni: A lot of things. First and foremost, I became aware that as minorities, Jews and Muslims are in a similar position in society here. Personally, I had never had any contact with Jews before this. It hadn’t even occurred to me that secular Jews existed.

De Boor: For me, it’s sharpened my vision. I live in Neukolln, in Berlin, where I hear Arabic spoken every day, and have always been aware of Ramadan, for example. But I had never dared to ask a lot of questions. The dialogue project between the funding bodies has made it easier to ask questions.

And it’s easier to give honest feedback, too – like: “You can’t ask that question, it’s racist. Why do you think I am that way just because I’m Jewish?” Although I have to say, I haven’t had many tactless questions from Muslims, it’s been more from other people.

The exchange in the “Dialogue Perspectives” programme is generally more social and political than theological. And that’s really important, because when we’re talking about things like the circumcision debate, or the precarious housing market, Jews and Muslims often have the same problems.

Rachel de Boor, 31, grew up in a Christian family in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (photo: Stephanie Haerdle)
Rachel de Boor, 31, grew up in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania in a Christian family before she converted to Judaism at the age of 25. She studied in Potsdam, Jerusalem and New York and graduated with a Master's degree in Jewish Studies. Today she feels close to the progressive Jewish communities and her religiousness is "pleasantly secular". De Boor is a former scholarship holder of the Jewish Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich academic foundation. She now works for the new Karov- Qareeb think tank

Your last seminar took you to Israel. Where do you experience disagreements between your communities when it comes to the Middle East conflict?

Mohseni: It actually wasn’t the case that Jews and Muslims argued most fiercely over that. It was more that there were real conflicts between the Jewish participants. Some of them identified very strongly with the State of Israel, and felt very hurt when people started talking about human rights abuses and strongly criticising Israeli policies. Others were the loudest critics of Israeli policies.

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