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‘Meet a Muslim Event’ at Congregation Beth Torah promotes understanding: Free program slated for March 26

The Crescent Peace Society held their first ‘Meet a Muslim’ program in December of 2016 at Matt Ross Community Center in Overland Park. Congregation Beth Torah and the Crescent Peace Society are jointly hosting ‘Meet a Muslim Event at Beth Torah’ from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday, March 26. The event is free and open to the public.

Join others from a variety of faiths this month at an event aimed getting to know neighbors in the community.


Congregation Beth Torah and the Crescent Peace Society have collaborated on a gathering to host Meet a Muslim Event at Beth Torah from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday, March 26. The free event, open to the public, is an opportunity for Jews, Muslims, people of other faiths or no faith to engage in friendly conversations and get to know one another in a nonthreatening way. The mission of the event is to promote understanding and interaction side by side with people of different faiths. 

You are less likely to harm somebody if you know them and know what they are about, said Denise Pakula, member of Beth Torah and co-coordinator of the event.

“In the times we are living in with a rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Muslimism, it’s important for people to know each other,” said Pakula. “It’s ignorance that’s causing racism today. The better we know each other the better we can live in harmony.”

Organizers encourage anyone who is interested in attending the event to register online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/crescent-peace-societys-meet-a-muslim-event-at-congregation-beth-torah-tickets-31994755174. Seating is limited to 150. 

During the two-hour program, participants will sit at tables in groups of six to eight people, arranged in small groups to promote open discussions. A facilitator at each table will start the conversation and encourage individuals to ask questions, share their feelings and learn from one another. Attendees can ask questions to someone of a different faith and share information on their own faith in a friendly setting, say organizers. The goal is to educate one another and find commonalities and differences. This meeting could be the first time a Muslim meets a Jew or vice versa, said Denise Ellenberg, co-coordinator, and Beth Torah member and educator. The gathering also includes a video on Islam and a tour of the congregation’s sanctuary. 

Elementary age children are encouraged to attend the event. A space and materials will be provided for children to color Jewish and Muslim coloring books to learn about the two faiths.    

Ellenberg will serve as one of the facilitators during the program. She and Laura Intfen, director of operations at Beth Torah, attended the inaugural Meet a Muslim program in December 2016 at Matt Ross Community Center in Overland Park. They were impressed with the experience. 

“It was an amazing experience,” said Ellenberg. “I felt like I wanted to do something more.”

At the Matt Ross program Intfen connected with the Crescent Peace Society and told organizers she would love to host the program at Congregation Beth Torah. Ellenberg said she learned at the meeting that there were a lot of things she did not know.   

“(There are) so many similarities of Muslims with Judaism,” she said. “Our values are similar. It opened a lot of doors with both parties.”

That is the take-away message, Ellenberg said, to learn from one another. She encourages anyone interested to attend the March 26 event, saying it is important to realize that this is the right thing to do to welcome others into the Jewish community. There is no question too small or too unique to ask during the program, she said. 

“One of the pillars of Beth Torah is to respond to the need of our fellow man and embrace our neighbor,” she said. “We’re all created in God’s image and I think at this time in history we need to break down barriers and realize that we all just want to live in a peaceful world — that we have more similarities than differences with the people around us.”

The March 26 program at Beth Torah will be the fifth Meet a Muslim event since December of 2016. After the November 2016 election, citizens in the greater Kansas City area wanted to know more about Muslims, said Mahnaz Shabbir, co-coordinator of the Meet a Muslim Event at Beth Torah and member of the Crescent Peace Society. The Crescent Peach Society, a 21-year-old interfaith nonprofit, raises awareness of various Muslim cultures through educational and cultural activities. 

“Muslims have been marginalized since the election,” said Shabbir. “It’s heartwarming to know that people support us. In this case, it’s the Jewish community. That’s really nice.” 

People are joyful and form new relationships at these events, said Shabbir. After each event participants are asked to tell five people what they learned.

“The only way we can prevent hate is by education,” said Shabbir. “The more education, the more we can do.”