In the wake of anti-Semitic incidents in Queens and Brooklyn, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik sat in a Queens mosque on Sunday, flanked by two imams and a reverend. Potasnik grew animated.
“When a mosque is torched, how much more important is it for Jewish or Christian leaders to come forward and say, ‘Now you have attacked one of us?’” said Potasnik, the vice president of New York’s board of rabbis. “When it’s anti-anything, we have to all stand together in speaking out against hate of any kind.”
In the multiple incidents that happened in November, vandals spray painted swastikas and the acronym “KKK” on buildings. In the Brooklyn incident, one or more anti-Semites also set three cars ablaze.
Potasnik’s remarks came during a meeting between several religious leaders at the Bait uz Zafar Mosque in Hollis. Potasnik, along with the Rev. N.J. L’Heureux Jr., and Imams Daud Haneef and Azhar Hanif, gathered to discuss the importance of religion in modern society but also touched on topics like religious persecution and the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“There are many in this society who have allowed the economy and the political system to become idols to be worshipped,” said L’Heureux, executive director of the Queens Federation of Churches. “For anyone to usurp the whole from the few is immoral. This worship of our economy is absolutely blasphemous.”
The speakers all argued that many of the problems in modern society — like the economic downturn and others — are primarily caused by people’s lack of religious belief. But the speakers were careful to clarify that no one religion is better suited to fixing those problems, because of the commonalities between them all.
“When we look into the eyes of someone else, we become aware that we are all one family and Queens gives us the chance to do that,” L’Heureux said. “Hatred and bigotry breed on the notion that we don’t know each other.”
The Bait uz Zafar Mosque, which sponsored the interfaith event, ascribes to the Ahmadiyya branch of Islam. The century-old sect views all religions as one community that is distinguished by taste.
“You are praying differently, but you are praying to the same God,” said Mohemmad Afzel, a volunteer at the mosque, before the event. “All the prophets were right.”
The Ahmadi use interfaith communications like the Sunday meeting to find commonalities and resolve the differences that lead to religious discrimination.
“As we get closer to God, we must learn to get closer to one another,” said Imam Hanif, vice president of the Amhadiyya Muslim Community in the United States.
Toward the end of the event, Potasnik told a brief story about a basketball game in the 1990s in which Michael Jordon scored 50 points in one game. It was a testament to Jordan’s superior skill in the sport. Jack Haley, a teammate of Jordan’s, scored only one point. When a reporter asked Haley how he would remember that night, Haley replied, “One day I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren that Michael Jordan and I scored 51 points together.”
Potasnik said he and many other spiritual leaders believe that “and” is the most important word in religious scripture because it is one that brings two parties together.
“I hope that when we leave here today,” Potasnik said, “that we will all use the word ‘and’ more than we ever have before.”