Marc Schneier, 3 years old and not yet a rabbi, had a knack for getting the attention of adults.

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The story is told that he liked to wander. One night he was nowhere to be found in the synagogue during Yom Kippur services. His frantic mother searched. His stern father, who was officiating, started the service anyway.

When the congregation concluded a prayer, the ark holding the sacred Torah scrolls (about the size of a minivan) was opened.

And inside, waving at the congregants with both hands, was the toddler.

Last week, Rabbi Schneier, 49, worked on his latest attention-getting venture: a television commercial to promote tolerance between Muslims and Jews.

It is set to air in September, during Ramadan, the month in which it is said the Koran was revealed to Muhammad. It will also play in early October, during the Jewish High Holy Days.

And in November, Rabbi Schneier’s group, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, plans a national initiative matching a synagogue with a mosque in 25 cities and towns; together, they fight anti-Semitism and what the foundation calls Islamophobia.

In a studio in Chelsea on Thursday, Rabbi Schneier gathered five other ecumenically minded rabbis as well as six ecumenically minded imams, some of whom had traveled from other states for the occasion.

They were there to record their condemnation of prejudice against Muslims and Jews, and intolerance between Muslims and Jews.

“Six rabbis, six imams, no waiting,” joked the commercial’s director, Alan H. Zwiebel.

“This is serious work,” said Rabbi Eric Silver, 65, of Temple Beth David in Cheshire, Conn., whose son is serving in the Army in Kirkuk, Iraq. “This goes far beyond just talking about brotherhood and joining hands and singing ‘Kumbaya.’ ”

An imam, Muneer Fareed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America in Plainfield, Ind., noted that Islam, like Judaism, had no central authority like the pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

“It creates a democratic chaos without Robert’s Rules of Order,” said Imam Fareed, 52. “No one can speak in the name of Islam. If only that fact got out to the general public, people would know that Osama bin Laden doesn’t have the authority to speak out on Islam nor does any other person on the face of the earth.”

In truth, the interfaith commercial they made was a little plain vanilla. Rabbis and imams, no doubt forceful in the pulpit or minbar, seemed as halting as schoolchildren before the TV camera.

If there was awareness to be had, however, it was in the green room, as the rabbis and imams waited for their close-ups over the course of three hours. (MORE)


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