By Dr. Mark Klafter

UCF students perpetuate spirit of cooperation


It was heartening to see on the front page of The Heritage the powerful image of a table representing UCF’s Knights for Israel literally under the same tent as a table belonging to the Muslim Student Association (MSA). This is a testament to the tolerance and even cooperation between the two organizations. Frankly, it is an example that we wish other campuses could emulate. Kudos certainly should go to Hillel director Aaron Weil, current students and (of course) the MSA. However, the roots of cooperation in this relationship started to take hold several years ago.

Imam Muhammed Musri of The Islamic Society of Central Florida (ISCF) has consistently shown tolerance and understanding of the Jewish community. This has long been conveyed to his constituency, and most of their related organizations have in turn worked well with The Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando. The same holds true from local synagogue and JFGO leaders. I can think of at least three examples going back greater than a decade:

1. Shortly after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, former ISCF director of communications, Areej Zufari, contacted JFGO’s community relations council (CRC) because of the perception that members of the Muslim faith were being criminally profiled. While we all agreed that security was of paramount concern, the Jewish community committed to supporting a climate of monitoring based on actions over ethnic background.

2. In 2004, a college student named Noah, who was serving as UCF liaison to our CRC, asked for JFGO to bring “Bus 19” to Central Florida. He felt that greater understanding by our local community of the horrors of Palestinian suicide bombing would result from this powerful visual and tactile experience. The remaining shell and names/profiles of Israeli victims served as an educational source in various locations locally (Fellowship Church in Casselberry, Temple Israel in its former Longwood location and the JCC campus itself—before heading to Cocoa). However, the mutual agreement was to NOT bring this display to UCF, as it could have made Muslim students feel uncomfortable. To this day, I believe that decision helped to reduce the likelihood of a contentious campus environment.

3. Students from the Hebrew Day School planted trees in Winter Park for the first time in March of 2004 with their counterparts from The Muslim Academy of Greater Orlando, followed in 2005 by a three-way project which added students from Orangewood Christian Academy. Most of these students are now in college, and soon will become our next generation of leaders.

While a successful and sustainable partnership requires that both parties benefit, a genuine concern for the other’s long term interest is also essential. Our clergy and educators should be thanked this High Holiday season as they continue to demonstrate how the seeds of cooperation across the greater Orlando community can come to fruition.

Dr. Klafter, who is a member of Congregation Ohev Shalom, previously served on The Hebrew Day School’s board, and is a former JFGO Community Relations Council (CRC) co-chair.


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