Limmud: rabbi's initiative will bridge divide between Jews and Muslims

Conference told about project that will bring groups together to challenge stereotypes and prompt "difficult conversations"


When Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi of the Reform movement, met a group of Muslim women in Bradford earlier this year, the first question she was asked “Why do Jews have so much power?”


It is the example of the stereotypical thinking that she hopes to challenge in a new project soon to be piloted in schools.

While some groups active in Muslim-Jewish relations avoid the contentious subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, her initiative is designed to prompt “difficult conversations”.


The idea is to run sessions led by both a Muslim and a Jewish facilitator for either a mainly Muslim or a mainly Jewish group, where the issues that divide the two communities can be freely discussed.

“We want to design something that is a short, sharp intervention,” explained Rabbi Janner-Klausner’s director of public affairs, Alex Fenton, at a Limmud session. “It doesn’t require every Muslim to meet a Jewish person. We want to create a project that is sustainable and have an impact.”

To be practicable, the conversations would run over the course of two workshops.

Initially, the plan is to launch the programme in schools in Leeds and Bradford but it could then be rolled out to other venues such as university campuses, mosques and synagogues and even prisons.


Its aim was to “start sowing doubt” about the assumptions people made about each other, Rabbi Janner-Klausner said. “Doubt is the inoculator against fundamentalism for all of us.”

She decided to act after the antisemitism that emerged in protests in Britain against the Israel-Gaza war in 2014, illustrated by the placard carried by one demonstrator with the slogan,”Save Gaza, Hitler Was Right.”


One member of the audience recalled that at the time a Muslim-owned company had stopped doing business with him in the North of England because of anti-Israel feeling from its staff.

Rabbi Janner-Klausner said the Israel-Palestine conflict was a “key trigger” for many Muslims. But when young Muslim pupils in state schools raised questions about it in school, teachers often did not know how to answer and the guidance from heads was “you are not allowed to talk about it in school”.

British Jews needed better understanding of the experience of Muslim communities, she argued. “One of the most annoying things Jews can do is to say ‘If only Muslims could be more like us and integrate like us," she said.


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