It's a Hebrew School. It's an Islamic School. It's a Mosque. It's...an Interfaith Cultural Center!
Muslims and Jews come together under one roof — and they really need to fix the roof.
But first, this week in awkward backtracking.
Right around the time last week’s piece on the AJS-Steven-Cohen-Noam-Pianko fiasco went out, AJS published a letter signed by 11 former AJS presidents expressing “sorrow and pain” over Pianko’s resignation. Then, of course, AJS got flak, took the letter down, and published a five-part thread in an intellectual journal called Twitter walking that back. The Forward follows the drama.
But here’s what I’m thinking about: the decision we have to make as a society about accountability. Lately, it’s become common to see a competent leader resign due to public pressure, usually in the form of an open letter. There’s no investigation. There’s hardly even any balanced reporting, because the accused doesn’t think going on the record is worth it. The prosecution decides the verdict. To some, this is accountability. To others, it’s a hostage situation. I’d love to invite our Jewish leaders to address this from a history- and Torah-based perspective. Any takers?
Here’s the second thing I’m thinking about: the hypothesis that Cohen is being pushed out of Jewish studies as much for his sexual impropriety as for his belief that Jewish continuity is a good thing. If that’s the case, is it fair — regardless of how bad Cohen’s actions were — to keep him permabanned from his field of scholarship? Second, is it just a matter of time before our own institutions have to reckon with the idea of continuity altogether? Is this something organizations are already wrestling with?
I invite our community members and leaders to weigh in on topics covered here in special op-ed editions of The Cholent.
Any takers? Reach me at email@example.com.
“The only thing holding us back is our imaginations.”
Progressive Jewish and Muslim groups come together to repurpose a historic building.
In a 1928 edition of the Jewish Transcript, Seattle Talmud Torah president Fred Bergman implores readers to invest in Jewish education. “United we shall build a new Talmud Torah, dedicated to God and Israel. Out of these portals there will emerge healthy, upright and loyal Jews, proud of their heritage, Jews with a Conscience.” By 1929, money had been raised — $1,000 for a plot of land at Columbia and 25th in Seattle’s Central District — and esteemed Scottish Jewish architect B. Marcus Priteca was on board to build an institution for Jewish learning. The Seattle Talmud Torah was born.
Over time, the Jewish community’s educational needs changed, and the Talmud Torah disbanded in 1962. In 1980, the building was sold to the Islamic School of Seattle; that school disbanded in 2012, and the space was refashioned as the Cherry Street Mosque. Almost 100 years later, the building that the Jewish community rallied for now sits in disrepair. Its roof leaks, rooms flood, and black mold plagues the interior. The mosque community could have walked away. They could probably have sold the entire plot to an eager developer.
Instead, they decided to save it.
But repairing the roof and just getting rid of the mold proved too big a project for the small group. So in November of last year, a coalition called Cherry Street Village launched a fundraiser to repair the building and repurpose the space as a multifaith collective. “It started as a group of friends, and now it’s expanding,” says Cherry Street Village project manager Koloud “Kay” Tarapolsi. That group now includes the Salaam Cultural Museum, Dunya Theater Productions, Kadima Reconstructionist Community, and Middle East Peace Camp.
Jonathan Rosenblum has been involved with Kadima for 20 years and is the Kadima liaison to the village. Aware that the Jewish group is outgrowing its space (a church they rent in Madrona), Rosenblum turned to Cherry Street leaders, with whom Kadima already had a relationship. “We realized there was this beautiful architecture, a cavernous hall…one could imagine what it would be like to be together in community,” he says. “We committed to work together to get the roof repaired. There’s been an outpouring of support, which has been amazing.”
Tarapolsi has big dreams for Cherry Street Village — as a space for b’nai mitzvah, Ramadan nights, artists in residence, social services, and food trucks. She imagines an apartment for visiting artists, rooms for rent, a place for social services. A sculpture garden. A P-Patch. “We’ve got lots of plans,” she says. “The only thing holding us back is our imaginations.”
Jews and Muslims under one roof? A little context. Both Kadima and Cherry Street Mosque are on the progressive end of their respective religious traditions. Kadima prides itself on a social justice agenda and solidarity with the plight of Palestinians, which sometimes puts it “outside the tent” of the mainstream Jewish community.
Cherry Street is unique among Muslims, too. The Islamic School of Seattle was started by five American women who wanted a progressive, Montessori-style Muslim school. “We had children come from all different families,” says Laila Kabani, a disciple of the school’s founder Ann El-Moslimany. “It was really an interfaith school.” El-Moslimany passed away in January, but she is revered as an educational pioneer. (Read Kabani’s heartfelt memorial to her mentor here.) The mosque is a rarity in that it has a female imam. “Around 99.99 percent of the other mosques wouldn’t have a female on the board,” says Tarapolsi. “It’s very, very progressive. We’re very unique and we’re open to everyone, no matter the sexual orientation, skin color, etc.”
“That aspect of the progressive stance is an important connector,” says Doug Brown of Kadima. “I think most of us share the perspective that we grow and understand our traditions better when we’re in conversation with folks from other traditions…. The issues we want to address require broad coalitions.”
Brown’s wife, Sandy Silberstein, has been heavily involved with building bridges to Muslim communities and the Middle East Peace Camp, which is allied with Kadima. The camp brings together children from Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Israeli, and Christian backgrounds every summer with the intention of building relationships and understanding. “We know that when Islamophobia and anti-Semitism hit, we have each others’ backs,” she says.
The collective has held one event, a virtual cooking demo with a Palestinian chef. Baking date cookies is pretty low stakes, but what if conflict does arise in the future among the partners?
“In any relationship there’s going to be conflict; it’s how you manage it,” says Rosenblum. “We wrestle with that stuff. We are wrestlers with God. We work with people through this conflict. When you look at all the conflict going on, not just in Seattle but throughout the world, the most important thing we can do for the younger generation is model how we should behave toward each other.”
But first things first. And that’s the roof. “The first step is to get the rain to stop coming in,” says Rosenblum. Tarapolsi invites interested groups to get in touch to join the venture, and she hopes people who have had a relationship with the building will donate to the cause of saving it. “There are a lot of people who have walked in and out of those doors,” she says.
For Kabani, Cherry Street Village is a continuation of the legacy of El-Moslimany. “She passed away, but her spirit lives on,” she says. “Cherry Street Village intends to continue the joy and diverse faiths under one roof.”
Check out the Seattle Jewish community calendar.
This week’s parasha is Emor. Lots of purity talk, sacrifices, holidays, and the cryptic episode with a half-Israelite blasphemer that does not end well.
Candlelighting is at 8:03 p.m.
Mazal tov to cousin Max Needle of Atlanta, GA on his bar mitzvah this Shabbat. Mazal tov to his parents Ben and Michelle Needle and grandparents Karen and Hank Needle and Mindy Elkan. Wish we were there to celebrate! —Sonya Basseri
Refuah shelamah to Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg.
Yasher Koach to Alberta Weinberg on the publication of her memoir, Limina. She’ll be featured on Endless Opportunities May 6th at 10:30 am. The title of her talk is “How a road trip became a book.” —Mindy Stern