SHAFAQNA-Viewed by passersby, the scene is at once a reminder of the difficult relationship between Jews and Muslims, and — at least in suburban Canada — how religious leaders can take the initiative to overcome some of those difficulties.
Temple Har Zion was built on Bayview Avenue in the 1970s. Around the same time, a mosque was built right next door. For years, the head rabbi at the synagogue and the African-born imam from the mosque got along just fine.
About five years ago, the imam and the Muslim congregation from the mosque on Bayview moved to a bigger building. And a new group of Muslims announced they would be moving in beside the Har Zion. Their spiritual leader is a grand ayatollah from the Islamic Republic of Iran. And that brought up some questions at the synagogue.
“It wasn’t anxiety,” says Rabbi Cory Weiss of Temple Har Zion. “We wondered, will the politics be different?”
Leaders from the two religious centers met. Things were cordial. And they agreed to start working together on a shared issue: a lack of parking.
Standing in the parking lot between the synagogue and mosque buildings, Weiss explains that cooperation began by sharing calendars.
“We know when the Muslim holidays are and when the events are. They know when our holidays are and when we’re busy. And when possible, we use each other’s lots and it works very well,” Weiss says.
“It’s a way to see each other also, to just wave or wish each other a happy holiday or things like that.”
Weiss and his counterpart at the Imam Mahdi Islamic Center, the Grand Ayatollah Reza Hosseini Nassab, are getting more ambitious. They have teamed up to raise money for Syrian refugees planning to resettle in Canada, where private organizations were invited by the federal government to provide financial support to refugee families.
Sounding confident, Nassab says that members of the two congregations are on their way to raising more than $100,000. That’s enough to support four Syrian refugee families for a year.
Nassab was born in Iran and came to Canada about 25 years ago. Framing the issue in terms of his Muslim faith, he says Muslims have a religious duty to work for harmony in the country where they live.
“We have to cooperate with other religions, and followers of other religions, to make unity between the people in Canada, because we want the nation of Canada to be united and not to have the same problems that you can see in the Middle East,” Nassab says.
Nonetheless, Nassab says he has faith in the Canadian government to keep dangerous people from entering Canada. At the same time, he says he tells people to recognize that there is a human catastrophe unfolding in that part of the world and that Muslims in Toronto and elsewhere need to do their part to help out.
“The glorious Quran says, a person who kills one person, it is like killing all the nations and all the nations in the world. And if you save a person, it is like saving all the people in the world,” Nassab says.
That very same teaching is found in Jewish scripture. And it’s part of the theological basis for Nassab and Rabbi Weiss teaming up to help Syrian refugees.