by Steve Cohan
More than three months have passed since Imam Ammar Shahin delivered two sermons at the Islamic Center of Davis that contained anti-Semitic statements. Once publicized, his sermons created fear, hurt and division within the Jewish, interfaith and secular communities. Many in the Jewish community, in particular, were deeply affected and formed vehemently divergent opinions of interpretation and proper response.
In the face of this maelstrom, the leadership of Congregation Bet Haverim has sought to protect our community from the traumatic effects of this threat. Other secular and faith leaders in Davis struggled to preserve existing interfaith connections long established through years of committed effort. Countless hours have been logged in pursuit of solutions necessitated by the Imam’s unacceptable words. We now wish to let the broader Davis community know where we stand.
In Imam Shahin’s public responses to the outcry over his sermons, he apologized for the fear and harm caused by his words. He has publicly taken a clear anti-violence stance, and has rejected
genocide against any people. These are welcome positive statements, so why is it then that many of us in the Jewish community and beyond are not satisfied?
It is because in his response, we did not hear a clear rejection of bigotry and anti-Semitism, unconditioned by explanations of what he meant versus what we heard. We categorically and unequivocally reject these anti-Semitic statements.
During these stressful months, there have been points of light. A group of Davis residents called Davis Muslim Hands came to a Shabbat (sabbath) service at Bet Haverim to expressly reject anti-Semitism and hate, and to strengthen personal relationships between the Davis Muslim and Jewish communities. More recently, over 200 people from many different parts of the Davis community strived to increase understanding and build trust at the “Walking Our Faith” event, sponsored by the interfaith group Celebration of Abraham. We listened, walked and ate together with peace and goodwill.
Imam Shahin’s damaging words have spurred other positive changes. We have renewed vigilance to recognize, identify and reject anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry in our community. We understand that one hateful act may prime the environment for others if left unanswered. The recent swastika defacement and messaging at Davis High School and Harper Junior High School, the subsequent N-word graffiti in the same location at the high school, and the vandalism at Temple Or Rishon in Orangevale are examples.
As the leadership of Bet Haverim, we reflect the plurality of views that the partners in our congregation hold, and the specifics of how we move forward will vary. In the sum of these actions, our intention is to broaden our focus beyond Imam Shahin’s sermons to the challenges we face as a community and how to best meet them. We want to join and move forward with other people who embrace dialog and with whom we share common ground. In particular, we value highly many of the connections we have with like-minded members of the Muslim community. We intend to strengthen and nurture these relationships. We expect the rest of the Davis community to work with us toward making Davis a safe and peaceful community free of bigotry and anti-Semitism.
Steve Cohan, Co-President, Congregation Bet Haverim, on behalf of the Congregation Bet Haverim Board of Directors Davis, California, November 8, 2017