The Imam and the Rabbi: Friendship, Partnership, Allyship
The Civil Rights Era is remembered as a time when Jewish and Black leaders worked together for social justice and equality. These partnerships have continued all along, and in fact have taken on new urgency in our current environment. Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz and Imam Wahy-ud Deen Shareef are exemplars of this alliance, working together as partners in the fight for justice and equality today. The Rabbi and Imam shared their stories of friendship and hope.
On February 16th, the CRCC—in partnership with the BSU, Hillel, Diversity and Inclusion, the Russell Berrie Foundation, and Student Activities—had the great opportunity of welcoming Imam Wahy-ud Deen Shareef and Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz to speak with the university on themes of allyship and interfaith. The program comes as a larger initiative to encourage positive relations between Jewish people and Black people due to the recent rise in hate crimes committed against both groups. Both men utilized their personal experiences and work to illustrate the importance of partnership in these uncertain times and ways that we can reach out.
Both Imam Shareef and Rabbi Gewirtz had the pleasure of answering various questions on a panel, highlighting stories of how their faith has come to shape their current work and what can still be done now. They started by discussing how their families taught them the values that they now carry with them, bringing forth a sense of nostalgia that all the participants could align themselves with. The importance of tradition and faith as a source of hope was an overarching theme that all could relate to no matter their denomination.
Towards the latter half of the panel, the discussion turned to a dialogue on how racism and antisemitism have become so prevalent. Both men shed light on slavery as a mentality, but also the mentality of slave ownership. The prevalence of the hateful commentary was not just a reflection of a few bad people, but as Rabbi Gewirtz stated “one guy who is a reflection of all of us.” Imam Shareef also cited the 2008 election of President Barack Obama as a hallmark of diversity and antiracism at work, but also as the source of when our divide truly began. Those who were unwilling to celebrate the former president became a louder voice than those who were excited, so no dialogue was started. “We must recognize the roots of racism in our social structures in the U.S,” the Imam said. “particularly in elements of religion.”
As the night ended, the panel came as a catalyst to a difficult conversation most Americans are not ready to have, but we will be able to start having in the near future.
Imam Shareef is the Convener of the Council of Imams in New Jersey, and co-founded the New African Partnership and the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peace. He is a member of the New Jersey Coalition of Religious Leaders, and the NJ Office of Homeland Security and NJ State Attorney General’s Outreach Advisory Councils.
Imam Shareef was a Senior Advisor to former Mayor, now Senator, Cory A. Booker. Imam Shareef attended an Iftar (breaking of the Ramadan Fast) at the White House as a guest of President Barack Obama. A frequently invited speaker at college campuses and corporate and public sector events, he has appeared as a commentator and contributor on several television programs presented by CNN, MSNBC, ABC, PBS, NJTV and Ebru.
A graduate of East Orange High School, Imam Shareef received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, NJ. Retiring after a 25-year career in engineering for Kraft/Nabisco Foods, Imam Shareef is currently the President/CEO of his own consulting company, Shareef Professional Services LLC (SPS).
Imam Shareef and his wife Helima share their lives with four children, eight grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and many nurturing family and community members.
Matthew D. Gewirtz is the senior rabbi of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey. He is the president of the Coalition of Religious Leaders of the State of New Jersey and the author of The Gift of Grief: Finding Peace, Transformation, and Renewed Life after Great Sorrow (Random House). He appears as a commentator on religion on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and CNN’s State of the Union.
Imam Shareef and Rabbi Gewirtz have worked together on numerous initiatives over the years. Together with Bishop Mark Beckwith, they co-host the NJTV (PBS) television program “A Matter of Faith” and address local, national and international issues from a faith perspective. The Imam and Rabbi also co-led an NICHP interfaith delegation of 11 Jews, 11 Christians and 11 Muslims to Palestine/Israel.
The Imam and the Rabbi: Friendship, Partnership, Allyship is sponsored by The Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict, BSU, Hillel, Diversity and Inclusion, Russell Berrie Foundation, and Student Activities