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Sunday, July 30, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Actions of unity in a time of division

Seattle Times staff reporter

Understanding the Quran


Clergy interested in attending an Understanding the Quran course, sponsored by the American Jewish Congress and scheduled for 3 p.m. today, should call 425-646-8238.

Yohanna Kinberg, assistant rabbi at Bellevue's Temple B'nai Torah, went to the Web site of a large Israeli newspaper Friday afternoon.

Its top headline was about the shootings at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.

"That one Jewish person killed in Seattle was their top headline, above the war, really brought home the connection of Jews around the world," Kinberg said after a service Saturday morning.

Standing by Kinberg was Farida Hakim, a Muslim woman from Bellevue who had worked with members of the synagogue on interfaith activities.

Hakim and another Muslim woman, who asked not to be identified, came to Temple B'nai Torah to express support and compassion for their friends, and, in Hakim's words, to show "whatever hurts one part hurts the other part."

The shooting and the escalating conflict in the Middle East emphasized to Hakim the importance of interfaith work: It's "all the more reason that we work together for peace and justice."

People in Seattle know that what happens in other parts of the world can reverberate here. Reactions to the shootings also made evident the interfaith cooperation here.

To be sure, the shooting was apparently an isolated incident.

"This was just definitely a real hate crime," said Rita Zawaideh, a leader in the Arab American Community Coalition, which postponed its peace rally scheduled for Saturday in Kirkland. "To me I don't know where the linkage [to a larger group] is except supposedly [the gunman's] religion. To me that's not a tie, that's just a person who's made that statement himself."

Majdi Daher, an organizer of the postponed rally, said he believes the Mideast conflict is about politics anyway, not religion. People are trying to "hide behind religious reasons."

Rabbi James Mirel of Temple B'nai Torah characterized the act as "a totally tragic and arbitrary action" of a "deranged and misguided individual."

Pamela Waechter, who was killed by the gunman, was a member of Temple B'nai Torah. David Serkin-Poole, the synagogue's cantor, said the temple has received many calls of sympathy and concern from Muslim friends.

Hakim, who has worked on Habitat for Humanity projects with other local Muslims and members of Temple B'nai Torah, said she and her friend hadn't known the synagogue was Waechter's religious home. Hakim simply wanted to make a point that it was important to "be united in our different faiths."

She and Kinberg, the assistant rabbi, have been friends for two years.

"There's something powerful for me about women coming together at this time," Kinberg said. "All the people attacked yesterday were women. Women do a lot of the hands-on work at these institutions. ... When women gather across faiths, we can connect on certain issues."

After Friday's shootings, several mosques and synagogues in the area increased security, keeping their doors locked more hours of the day, having a police patrol car present or hiring security guards.

Temple B'nai Torah member Lynda Matthias was touched that the Muslim women came despite the increased security.

The women "came here even though they didn't know what their reception would be," Matthias said. "Peace and building community was so important to them."

Avi Ulstein, a Temple B'nai Torah member, thinks the shooting was the work of an individual with a lot of problems who used the situation in the Middle East "as an excuse to act out."

He said he thinks many people, including the gunman, don't realize the diversity of views in the Jewish community.

"People like [the gunman] paint all Jews with a broad brush," Ulstein said. "It's tough for Jewish people here to see what's going on in Lebanon, the civilian casualties. At the same time, Israel has a right to defend itself. But it's not like we're sitting here going: 'Go get 'em.' It's very difficult."

Aziz Junejo, a Muslim community leader and a Seattle Times Faith & Values page columnist, said he planned to visit victims in the hospital Saturday, and that a group of local Muslim leaders would do so today.

Saturday evening, about 20 leaders from mosques around Puget Sound, as well as representatives of the Pakistan-American community, gathered at Idriss Mosque at Northgate to offer condolences to the Jewish community.

Junejo, who spoke for the group, said accused gunman Naveed Afzal Haq is not a part of their community. He also stressed the warmth and trust between Muslims and their interfaith partners.

"Their pain is our pain; their suffering is our suffering," Junejo said.

Christian leaders, too, have issued statements of sympathy.

And this afternoon, the American Jewish Congress has scheduled a course for Jewish and Christian clergy titled Understanding the Quran, taught by members of Seattle's Muslim community.

At Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle, where Rabbi Daniel Weiner talked to his congregation about the importance of resilience and living life as they always had, members talked of the importance of continuing interfaith dialogues.

"Voices of moderation and reason among Jews and among Muslims can come together and drown out the voices of these few extremists," he said.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times staff reporters Anne Kim and Charlotte Hsu contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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