“A big part of how you show who you are is in the way you treat your neighbors.”
Who would you guess said this quote? Maybe a Christian paraphrasing a verse from the Bible? Or your pastor on Sunday morning from the pulpit? What if I told you I heard this from a man who identifies as a devout Muslim? What is your immediate reaction?
When the waiter at a local restaurant asked me how long I had lived in Brooklyn, I responded that I had just moved in that morning. He acted congenial and boisterous when he welcomed me, then pulled a chair up to our table to chat with us! He told us how he had been born and raised in this neighborhood, then launched into a bit of a tirade about how great this neighborhood was when he was growing up, but that it has really gone downhill in recent years, as more and more people moved to the neighborhood, referring to the Arab population. He looked me right in the eye and said, “I can’t forgive them, ever since 9/11… you know, my fiancé died.”
9/11 in New York City
This was the first 9/11 I spent in New York City, and the depth of loss is still tangible throughout the city. That evening, I went down to the pier in Brooklyn to participate in a ceremony with prayer, song, and lighting candles in remembrance of the lives lost that day 17 years ago as we gazed across the bay at the Manhattan skyline and the lights shining from Ground Zero. As I looked around the crowd, I leaned over to my friend and whispered, “There are only white people here.” It was a distinct difference, as our neighborhood is has one of the highest population density of Arabs in NYC, so I am always passing by covered women and men speaking in Arabic to each other. However, on 9/11, there are very few Arabs on the streets and none at the memorial service.
There is a lot of division in this neighborhood between the old locals and the new immigrants, and it has resulted in political and social unrest, especially since 9/11. There is unforgiveness, stereotyping, and fear pervading this neighborhood and this city.
What if there was a place that encouraged understanding, reconciliation, and forgiveness? That is what the team here is hoping to start – a community center where needs can be met, barriers can be crossed, and peace can be proclaimed.