The North Hudson Friendship Council, which started as a way for leaders of different faith organizations in North Hudson to get together, has since sponsored events, such as a fundraising dinner organized by 10 Jewish teenage girls from Bergen County and 10 Islamic girls in Hudson County. That fundraiser resulted in more than $11,000 in proceeds all going to the Palisades Emergency Residence Corporation (PERC) homeless shelter in Union City.
David Kronick, the former state assemblyman from North Bergen, is a representative for Temple Beth-El in the township. He was one of the founding fathers of the North Hudson Friendship Council.
In the beginning, Kronick got great responses from other spiritual leaders in the North Hudson community, like Yousef Abdallah of the Islamic Educational Center of North Hudson, which is in Union City.
Others who joined the coalition included Rev. Gary Kugler of the St. John Lutheran Church in Union City, Rev. Douglas Shepler of the Grove Reformed Church in North Bergen, Rabbi Aaron Hirschman of Union City, and Rev. Will Henkel of the First Reformed Church of Secaucus.
"We invited different members of the clergy from all different faiths to come together with us," Kronick said. "What we've accomplished over the past year is a better respect and understanding of each other's religions. We've become friends. We've broken bread together. We've developed a fellowship, a sense of trust and definitely a friendship."
All of the organizers agreed that the best way to develop a kinship between the different faiths would be to include the youth of the community.
"We wanted to get our young people involved," said Abdallah.
Ethnic food at the shelter
So in the first few weeks of the NHFC, Abdallah sent some of his teenaged contingency to the PERC shelter to serve the homeless their daily meals.
"At first, we had about six or seven kids who went there to serve and they really enjoyed themselves," Abdallah said. "They had a sense of giving. They went every other week."
Then, one week, the teenagers decided to cook a meal themselves and serve it to the needy. Sure enough, they prepared food of their Islamic background.
"It was the food of our culture, but it was a hit," Abdallah said. "The people there all loved it. They were surprised how much the people loved the food. It was a bit of a change for them."
After volunteering their time at the shelter, the idea came about - from the teenagers themselves - to hold the fundraising dinner.
"It was a three-month project, but they did it on their own," Abdallah said.
"When the idea first started and they had the first meeting, you had the Jewish girls sitting on one side and the Islamic girls sitting on the other," Kronick said. "You didn't know if they would ever get together. But then they got into it and friendships were formed between the girls. They came from different connections and had no connections before and they became friends, all for one common goal. That was the best story to come out of this connection. It was quite an accomplishment."
Abdallah said that the goal of the NHFC is to reach the youth.
"It's something we're very proud of," Abdallah said. "We have to tackle the new generation. If we can't fix this generation, because of all the hatred and stereotypes out there, then at least we can build the new, give them a basis of understanding and respect. We have layers of hate and misunderstanding that have been built up for years. The best way we can break down those barriers is through the youth."
Amal and Hanukkah
Kronick said that he was moved in January when Abdallah's wife, Amal, went to the Temple Beth-El in North Bergen to take part in Hanukkah celebrations.
"To my knowledge, it was the first time anyone of Islamic faith came into this temple," Kronick said. "I know our people were appreciative. They gave her a standing ovation."
Last October, Kronick attended the Islamic Educational Center's celebration of Ramadan at Schuetzen Park, where the Islamic people share the spirit of Ramadan with members of the community. Some of the people who also attended that celebration were West New York Mayor and former State Assembly Speaker Albio Sires and Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio.
"We all sat down and broke bread together," Kronick said. "I think it was a sign how we're progressing."
The group will hold a meeting shortly to discuss other ideas for 2006 and how to get other ecumenical groups involved in the North Hudson Friendship Council.
"Hopefully, we can include more members of the community, like the Indian community," Abdallah said.
"We have a lot of things to look forward to," Kronick said. "We're getting more involved in each other's lives. I think we've been successful, but I'd like to see more. We can't rest on our laurels."
Did Abdallah think he'd ever see the day where he would be so friendly with a person of Jewish faith?
"To be honest, no, I didn't," Abdallah said. "It's amazing how all of this has happened. But we're all Americans and we should all be friends, working together. It's so very rewarding that we can walk away together after a worthwhile event, an interfaith event."