Bay Ridge

Bay Ridge Unity Task Force revives its peace mission

August 19, 2014 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Arab-American leaders Dr. Ahmad Jaber, Dr. Husam Rimawi, and Zein Rimawi (left to right) are pictured with Douglas Jablon, executive vice president of Maimonides Medical Center at the breakfast. Eagle photo by Paula Katinas

In the wake of a series of attacks on Muslim Americans in southwest Brooklyn neighborhoods in recent months, the Bay Ridge Unity Task Force held a special breakfast meeting in a mosque Tuesday morning to begin planning a strategy on how to address hate crimes and promote peaceful co-existence between neighbors.

The task force, made up of religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities, as well as Bay Ridge civic and business leaders, said that acts of hate should not be tolerated. At the breakfast, which took place at the Beit Elmaqdis Islamic Center, at 6206 Sixth Ave., task force members vowed to work as a group and as individuals to stamp out hate and mistrust by promoting the importance of unity and working together for the betterment of the neighborhood.

“Things are happening in our community and back home. Tension is high,” said Dr. Ahmad Jaber, president of the Arab-American Association of New York. “There is a verse in the Koran, ‘If you believe, pray or enter into peace.’ The true teaching of Islam is peace,” he said.

The breakfast was sponsored by Maimonides Medical Center. Larry Morrish, a founding member of the task force, served as the MC.

The task force was first organized in 2000 with the assistance of then-district attorney Charles Hynes and over the years has worked on such things as community cleanups and inter-faith prayer services. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, task force members fanned out into Bay Ridge, a neighborhood with a large population of Arab-Americans, to talk to young people to ease tensions.

The group now faces perhaps its biggest post-Sept. 11 challenge – trying to bring people together again in the wake of hate crimes taking place right in their backyard.

“We are all against hate and we are all against these crimes,” said Dr. Husam Rimawi, president of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, a mosque at 6807 Fifth Ave. that was recently the target of an anti-Muslim incident.

Unity can be achieved, task force members said. It’s a matter of stressing the similarities, not the differences, between people, leaders said.

“We tend to think of ‘us and them.’ We forget to think about people,” said Rabbi Dina Rosenberg of the Bay Ridge Jewish Center. Rabbi Rosenberg also quoted a passage from the Passover Seder about all who are hungry coming together to the table to eat. “It says ‘all.’ It doesn’t say, ‘Come if you are Jewish or Muslim,’” she said.

The invitation-only breakfast took place amid a backdrop of the current Israeli-Hamas war as well as the shocking series of anti-Muslim incidents outside mosques in Bay Ridge and other neighborhoods.

A 19-year-old man was recently arrested last week for allegedly driving up to the front of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge during the early morning hours of July 20, in a car festooned with Israeli flags and blaring loud Hebrew music while Muslim worshipers were inside reciting Ramadan prayers.

The suspect, who was arrested by the Police Department’s Hate Crime Task Force, was charged with disruption of a religious service and disorderly conduct.

In another incident, attackers threw eggs at worshipers as they arrived at the Tayba Islamic Center at 2165 Coney Island Ave. for Ramadan services on July 18, police said. The egg throwers also shouted anti-Islamic slurs. One victim, a 72-year-old man, was struck by an egg on the left side of his face.

Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York, told those gathered at the breakfast that there have been eight hate crimes committed against Muslims in the past five weeks in Brooklyn. Sarsour said one young woman contacted her on Facebook and informed her that she had been attacked in Times Square on Monday.

Riwami stressed the importance of dialogue. Following the Ramadan incidents, the mosque’s imam and several older members of congregation spoke to young Arab-Americans, he said. Leaders of the mosque also met with a group of rabbis from the predominantly Jewish community of Borough Park. As a result, the community avoided an escalation of violence, he said.

Arab-Americans have a great desire to be understood by their neighbors, according to Sarsour. “Getting understanding from our fellow members of the community is important to us,” she said. Arab-Americans are eager to be part of a fabric of the larger community, she said, while urging task force members to reach out to the Arab-American Association of New York for assistance with community projects. “I want you to see the Arab-American Association as a resource,” Sarsour said.