How leaders in the Jewish and Muslim communities are fostering healing and unity during Gaza protests

Many families will be gathering Tuesday night for the second seder of the Jewish holiday, Passover. At some of those tables in Denver, there will be Muslims present.
Israel Palestinians Campus Protests
Posted at 9:07 PM, Apr 23, 2024

Tuesday marks 200 days since Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack against Israel.

In the nearly seven months since then, tensions have boiled over in U.S. cities nationwide and on college campuses. Last week, more than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators were arrested after camping out on Columbia University’s upper Manhattan campus, and on Tuesday, that turned into a larger movement as students across the country have set up encampments, occupied buildings and ignored demands to leave.

Amid unrest, members of both the Muslim and Jewish communities are coming together in some parts of the country to mend the divide.

Many families will be gathering Tuesday night for the second seder of the Jewish holiday, Passover. At some of those tables in Denver, there will be Muslims present. It is part of an outreach brought about by Imam Muhammad Kolila and Rabbi Joseph Black, who met in 2019 and developed a friendship that is serving both of their communities during this tumultuous time.

"I hate hate,” said Kolila. “People, when they hate — because of lack of information, misinformation, stereotypes — that can cause a lot of problems in the future and the damage is very disastrous."

Both men met through a state initiative to foster interfaith relationships by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. But what started as an initiative quickly turned into an organic friendship that has never been more important than since Hamas' attack on Israel in early October.
"[Kolila] was the first person to call me and that meant a great deal to me and,” said Black. "Friendships build bridges and without those kind of bridges you can't address conflict."

The two men have broken bread together, attended each other's religious events. On Oct. 7, the Imam's mosque held a vigil honoring the lives lost, and the next day, he showed up at Rabbi Black’s synagogue with members of the Muslim community to show unity. This Passover, they were invited to join in seders and on Ramadan, the Rabbi and others were invited into Muslim homes and mosques.

“I would say the message for everyone — for every human — is not about faith, it's not about religion, it's not about Jewish vs. Muslim, it's about people are seeking freedom,” said Kolila. "So that exposure helps to see the nuances of each community."

Neither Kolila nor Black claim to know the solution to the unrest in the Middle East, but they have an idea of how to address its cascading effects domestically and they say it starts with sitting down, talking, and understanding.

"In both of our communities there are extremists and we both affirm that extremism is never the answer,” said Black. "You can't have healthy dialogue if all you are using is diatribe."