Neighbor to Neighbor sponsors screening of 'American
By Lou Fancher
When Christian, Muslim and Jewish believers fall victim to hate crimes, no matter how small, the injury is global. Conversely, when those believers reconcile, forgive, learn and connect, the healing spreads worldwide.
This reconciliation and connection is the purpose of Neighbor to Neighbor, an East Bay partnership formed in 2011 between Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church, San Ramon Valley Islamic Center and Temple Isaiah in Lafayette.
Rejecting extremism, encouraging religious tolerance and promoting the constitutional right to worship freely, the interfaith initiative will screen the award-winning documentary "An American Mosque" on Feb. 7 at LOPC. Following the 27-minute film, the program includes a Q&A session with "American Mosque" producer and filmmaker David Washburn and small-group breakout discussions of ideas introduced by the film and applied to current events.
"Our approach is intergenerational, as well as interfaith, so families are welcome," said Terence Clark, an LOPC member, Neighbor to Neighbor leader/coordinator and the president of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County.
Clark, Rabbi Judy Shanks of Temple Isaiah and members of the San Ramon Valley Islamic Center helm an unusual trifecta with Neighbor to Neighbor, but Clark says panel discussions led by experts from each faith and small-group discussions -- sometimes dinners held in his and other Neighbor to Neighbor members' homes -- have led to unprecedented empathy.
"Forgiveness is the healing anecdote. If the blame continues, we can't respect each other. The natural human reaction is to point fingers or feel victimized," Clark said. Washburn, in an email, said Neighbor to Neighbor gatherings are important examples of a proactive approach, rather than a reactive response. Although recent events like the terrorist killings in Paris and ongoing extremism by groups like ISIS, Boko Haram and al-Qaida cast dark shadows, Washburn said reflecting on Islam in America, the focus of his documentary, the program will create a safe space where fears and frustrations can be shared.
Clark said that during Neighbor to Neighbor's four years, training in "civil discourse" and reflective listening have led to people from different faiths visiting each other's places of worship and plans for group travel to Israel and Palestine.
"We're not going to solve the problems of the world, but we can address issues," Clark said. "There's a wonderful openness, almost a hunger to learn more about each other."
"American Mosque" tells the story of a mosque built by mostly farm laborers in the rural town of Yuba City. Pooling the collective energy of Pakistani families in the community, some of whom had lived in the area for over 100 years and represented five generations of American Muslims, a $1.8 traditional-style million mosque was completed in 1994. In August of that year, the mosque burned to the ground. A fire marshal later determined the cause was arson, and Muslims in the town began to think for the first time in their lives about the need for protection from their neighbors.
Instead, an outpouring of support -- cash, labor and prayers -- had Sikhs, Mormons, Christians and other faith groups helping the Muslims to erect a new mosque by 2000.
"We have incidents of local prejudice too -- comments about dress in a grocery store, expressions used on a daily basis that are hurtful," Clark says. "Just to know that there are those of us in the Christian and Jewish community that support them is a tremendous help for Muslims."