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Last fall when she was a junior at North Hollywood High School, 16-year-old Fairfax District resident Danielle Feuer wanted to learn more about the Islamic faith. While many resources were available including books and the Internet, Feuer wanted to go further than what has been written and opted to seek out other people her age who are Muslims.
Feuer, who is the daughter of State Assembly Member Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), turned to religious leaders at the Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, where her family has attended services since she was a child. Her rabbi suggested she reach out to another teen at the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City, and with the help of religious leaders there, Feuer was introduced to July Aye, a 16-year-old student from Culver City who attends West Torrance High School.
“Originally, there was a twinning program between the mosque and the temple, but it was only for adults. I thought it was really important for young people to get involved as well,” Feuer said. “We began corresponding and became really good friends. Our goal was to work together and cast off the misunderstandings that are a source of conflict between Jews and Muslims, and establish a cultural understanding between the two communities. We started planning last fall, one month in advance of our first event.”
Feuer and Aye were aware of the history of conflict in the Middle East between Muslims and Jews, and one of the first myths the teens sought to dispel was that youths from the different faiths could get along. They formed the Islamic/Jewish Interfaith Youth Group and recruited friends and fellow teens from their places of worship to come together for a series of interfaith dialogues, a social gathering and a barbecue. Feuer said the members quickly began to develop friendships, and added that the more she met with Aye, the more she understood that teens from the different faiths shared a lot in common.
“We were both going to be seniors, we were both academically involved, and we were both involved in sports, in school and outside of school.” Feuer said. “We have a ton of things in common, the teenage life in Los Angeles, going on Facebook, hanging out together and going to movies.”
Feuer said the teens also began delving into the commonalities of both religions, and realized there was a strong connection in both faiths for the need to perform community service — studies of texts in both the Torah and the Koran revealed many references to helping others in the community that are less fortunate. Members of the group later participated in three community service projects in the spring, including serving food to the homeless on Skid Row, volunteering at the SOVA food warehouse in Van Nuys, and working to improve the garden at the 24th Street Elementary School in South Los Angeles.
“It was important that we showed that Jews and Muslims can work together for the betterment of society,” Feuer added. “It’s great for teenagers to come together to bridge the misunderstandings.”
Aye also said the Islamic/Jewish Interfaith Youth Group has helped her become more aware of the shared ideals of both religions, and added that she has enjoyed getting to know her Jewish counterparts.
“We found that we could teach each other about our religions. It’s really been awesome. There are so many things we didn’t realize we had in common, but it is really empowering also,” Aye said. “It’s great to know other people feel the same way we do.”
Aye said she learned that members of both faiths share a strong commitment to family, a central component the group identified with the religious texts. She added that it was interesting to learn that many people her age from both faiths share difficulties during the holidays. Halloween and Christmas are not observed by many members of either faith, and Aye said she was surprised to learn that other people her age sometimes felt a little left out during that time of year.
“It’s great to know other people feel the same way we feel,” Aye added. “There are so many negative things that you hear about the religions, but we found that we share commonalities and use them to help others in the community.”
Feuer said the group has stopped meeting regularly during the summer, but plans call for them to get together again when the fall semester begins in September. Approximately 20 members from both faiths were part of the group at the end of the last semester, but some have graduated and moved on to college. Both Feuer and Aye said they will be working during their senior year to recruit new, younger members, both as a means of educating them and to ensure the organization will continue into the future.
“We need to reinfuse people with what is going on with our organization, and we are very open to other people joining,” Feuer said. “Hopefully we can be an example for other young people, and the greater community.”
Anyone seeking information should search for the Islamic/Jewish Interfaith Youth group on Facebook.
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