Muslim Public Affairs Council’s conference draws hundreds to Pasadena church


When All Saints Church in Pasadena announced that it would host the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s (MPAC) 12th annual convention as part of its efforts toward “interfaith peacemaking,” the Episcopal church that was founded in 1883 became the target of hate mail and attacks. 

In a post on its Web site, the Institute on Religion & Democracy, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing “Christian orthodoxy,” described the event as “Islamists … taking advantage of naïve Christians with a desire to show off their tolerance.”

In the days leading up to the Dec. 15 conference, MPAC leaders and their interfaith allies spoke out against what they saw as unfair attacks by those motivated by an unwarranted fear of Muslims. The Los Angeles Times, in an editorial that appeared on Dec. 13, defended MPAC, noting that the organization has “generally taken moderate stances on international issues and has regularly denounced major acts of terrorism around the globe.” It called All Saints’ decision to host MPAC’s gathering “something of a mitzvah.”

And yet, speaking to the crowd of about 400 Muslims and non-Muslims who gathered in All Saints’ main sanctuary for the day’s final panel, Dr. Maher Hathout, MPAC’s co-founder and senior adviser, urged members of his faith to look inward for the causes of Islamophobia. 

“The other is afraid of us; part of this fear, probably, is our responsibility,” Hathout said, sitting on a panel of leaders from four different faiths. 

“Generally speaking,” he continued, “the public is not jumping to be afraid of Muslims. But certain events happen and certain ‘lawyers’ of Islam, if you will, did not represent the case well. And so it is a shared responsibility.”

Some opponents of MPAC have argued that Hathout himself bears some of that responsibility, considering the statements he made in the late 1990s and early 2000s both defending Hezbollah as an organization “fighting to liberate their land” and sharply criticizing Israel. 

But aside from a handful of protesters who were at All Saints at the start of the day, such voices were not to be heard in Pasadena at the conference. The day’s final panel, titled “Faith, Authority & Freedom,” saw Hathout joined by All Saints’ rector, the Rev. Ed Bacon; Rabbi Sarah Bassin of the Muslim-Jewish partnering organization NewGround; and Niranjan Singh Khalsa of the Khalsa Care Foundation of the Sikh community.

Together they discussed a broad range of challenging topics: How far should freedom of speech extend? How should a religious minority deal with the presence of extremists within its own ranks? Should non-Muslims in America be concerned about the possibility of Sharia, or Islamic law, being incorporated or imposed on communities in the United States? 

Katy Hall, a member of All Saints who attended the daylong conference, appreciated the chance to hear such questions addressed. 

“I loved the fact that people are coming together in a very public way and giving a forum for all of us to be able to hear that conversation,” Hall said.

Episcopal Church Saves Silver Lake JCC


 

Just two months before its probable closure, the Silver Lake Independent Jewish Community Center has gained a new lease on life thanks to the efforts of a benevolent high-ranking member of the Episcopal Church.

In a bid to save the center, Bishop Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has joined forces with the Silver Lake group and jointly purchased the property from its owner, the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA). The $2.1-million deal closed April 20 and gives the Episcopalians a 49 percent ownership stake and the Silver Lake supporters a 51 percent share. They will share the facility, with the Diocese planning to hold Sunday services and night programming.

"I’m thrilled. I’m in heaven. It’s still hard to believe we did it," said Silver Lake president Janie Schulman, who spearheaded efforts to save the center, which has more than 100 children enrolled in its preschool and kindergarten and offers many social, education and cultural programs.

Bruno grew up in the area and played basketball at the center in his youth. He dipped into a church discretionary fund to help with the purchase.

If Silver Lake proponents had failed to purchase the property, JCCGLA planned to put it on the market and shutter the center June 30, Schulman said.

For Silver Lake supporters, the sale represents a happy ending to their four-year struggle to keep alive what they consider an important piece of Jewish Los Angeles that has helped create a sense of community among Jews in Silver Lake, Echo Park and Los Feliz.

Even though Silver Lake has constantly made a profit in recent years, its fate was tied to the JCCGLA, the property’s owner and, until recently, the overseer of the cities Jewish community centers. Plagued by financial mismanagement and debt, the JCCGLA shuttered the Conejo Valley JCC and the Bay Cities JCC threatened repeatedly to sell Silver Lake — much to the chagrin of its supporters. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, one of the Southland’s largest philanthropic groups, held a $550,000 lien on the Silver Lake property.

The Federation, long criticized for failing to forgive the debt that Silver Lake inherited from JCCGLA, contributed no money to the recent purchase. Instead, Bruno, individual contributions from center supporters and a loan from Far East National Bank made the deal possible, Schulman said. The Federation, which in recent years has allocated more than more than $2 million in total subsidies and free services to Valley Cities JCC in Sherman Oaks, the Westside JCC and West Valley JCC, has offered Silver Lake no financial support.

"My focus is on the terrific new partnership and looking forward," said Jenny Isaacson, a Silver Lake board member. "That [relations with the Federation] is water under the bridge."

 

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