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French Jews and Muslims talk

by: JTA - Last updated: 2008-09-29

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Jewish and Muslim leaders have met to spark a dialogue in a Paris neighborhood suffering from interethnic tensions.

Community leaders gathered in the 19th district City Hall to break the Ramadan fast and discuss ways to bring their members closer. Four Jewish teens were beaten in the multicultural district this summer in cases that the police sometimes have linked to anti-Semitism.

"We have to feel that this concerns us," said Rabbi Michel Bouskila, the president of the Jewish community council in the district. "It's in our synagogues and mosques where we can make a difference."

Bouskila asked Muslim and Jewish leaders to preach to their congregations about the cultural and religious similarities between the two groups. The northeastern Paris neighborhood has made headlines of late for gang-related violence between groups of various origins and religions, but the discussion nonetheless focused on anti-Semitism, which has sharply risen in the area this year.

"We can't cross our arms and wait until the worst happens," said Imam Hassan Chalghoumi from the nearby suburb of Drancy. Chalghoumi, the leader of the only mosque in Drancy, has pioneered successful initiatives to bring Jews and Muslims together in his town of 66,000, including about 11,000 Muslims.

Educational programs for fighting prejudices in the area will be announced at the end of the month, said a member of the town council. Cultural interreligious events also were announced.

In addition, Chalghoumi's plans to open further dialogue between initially reluctant Jewish and Muslim leaders.

"We are going to talk to the mosque on rue Tanger," said Sammy Ghozlan, the head of the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, referring to a mosque in the 19th district that once had a reputation for preaching extreme Islam.  "With Chalghoumi leading the way, it'll work."