CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM' LINKS MUSLIM AND JEWISH YOUTH
Although the Arab-Israeli conflict has helped portray Muslims and Jews as bitter enemies, Islam and Judaism actually have more commonalties than differences. An on-line effort is helping young people on both sides of the religious divide recognize that, and reconstruct their relationship as descendents of the same ancestor: the Biblical patriarch, Abraham.
When Ari Alexander completed his graduate studies in Comparative Ethnic Conflict and Modern Middle Eastern Studies five years ago, he embarked on a journey of self-discovery.
"I had studied Hebrew my whole life growing up, and I decided it was very important for me to learn Arabic and to get to know a bit about Arab culture and history, unbiased, from the point of view of the people themselves," he says. "I spent a month in Beirut and 3 months in Damascus. Those experiences for me really opened my eyes by being immersed in Muslim societies, and getting to know people as individuals, it really transformed me."
Alexander wanted other young Jews to experience the same transformation. So, when he returned home to New York in 2004, he got involved with the interfaith Children of Abraham project.
"We had a group of students from 23 countries who took photographs and discussed Muslim-Jewish relations with each other on the Internet," he says.
This one-time on-line interaction, Alexander says, expanded into a virtual organization that recruits young people from around the world.