The largest-ever gathering of Muslim and Jewish students and young professionals will kick off in Kiev next week. Seventy young Jewish and Muslim leaders from 25 countries want to demonstrate that a new generation of Muslims and Jews can overcome decades of mutual fear and demonization and build a brighter future for both communities, according to the organizers. The second annual Muslim-Jewish Conference will be the first such meeting in a country of the former Soviet Union. The event is taking place with the support of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) and the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, with the president and chairman of FFEU, Rabbi Marc Schneier and Russell Simmons, serving as patrons of the event. Participants come from countries as diverse as Pakistan, India, Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Nigeria, Austria, Germany, Poland, France, Canada and the United States.
The Kiev conference follows on a series of Europe Day events that took place across the continent in May, under the aegis of FFEU and the World Jewish Congress, and in which prominent Muslims and Jews in nine European countries vowed to stand together against the rise of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
According to Schneier, who serves as vice-president of the World Jewish Congress: “The Kiev conference, coming on the heels of our successful efforts to build a Muslim-Jewish alliance in Europe, offers the opportunity to bring together some of the most outstanding Muslim and Jewish leaders in their 20s and 30s for five days of sustained dialogue. These young adults, future leaders and opinion shapers in their respective countries, are seeking to accomplish what many of their elders erroneously assume to be an impossible dream; stepping beyond non-communication and estrangement and to connect with each other. This conference is heartening evidence of the remarkable progress FFEU is making, together with our partner, the Muslim-Jewish Conference, in building a global movement of young Muslims and Jews committed to communication, reconciliation and cooperation.”
Ilja Sichrovsky (pictured), a 29-year-old native of Vienna who serves as secretary general of the Muslim-Jewish Conference, remarked: “The young Muslims and Jews, who are traveling to Kiev from around the world to connect with each other, are committed to surmounting the barricades between our respective communities and building ties of friendship and trust. Together, we are living proof that, despite the conventional wisdom, it is not impossible to overcome borders and psychological barriers to connect with each other. We have only to reach out and begin working together for a better future.”
Participants in the conference will hold sessions on such issues as confronting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism together; principles for productive Muslim-Jewish dialogue; being loyal citizens of their respective countries while maintaining a proud religious identity, using social media in interfaith dialogue; and sharing collective memories and comparative identities. Participants in the conference will conclude by issuing a united call to action, urging young Muslims and Jews around the world to reject the siren calls of extremism and hatred, and come together to build ties of friendship and trust.