Jewish community leaders gathered at the site of the proposed mosque and community center -- called the Cordoba Initiative -- Thursday afternoon to express their support for the controversial project.
"As Jews committed to religious freedom, to honest dialogue, to peacemaking, and to the celebration of the One God, we strongly support the plans of the Cordoba Initiative to build a mosque and Islamic cultural center at the tip of Manhattan, near the site of the World Trade Centers destroyed on 9/11," said Rabbi Ellen Lippman at the rally.
Daisy Khan, co-founder of the Cordoba Initiative and wife of Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, also spoke briefly at the rally, thanking the New York City Jewish community for their support. Rabbi Lippman presented Khan with traditional Jewish housewarming gifts: bread, honey, salt, and a candle, representing sustenance, sweetness, spice, and light.
The proposal to build the mosque has sparked widespread controversy throughout the city and garnered nationwide reaction as politicians, religious leaders and civilians alike weigh in on the plan. Some say that building a mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center is "an intolerable and tragic mistake," in the words of Sarah Palin, who came out against the mosque on her Facebook.
The project's source of funding is also a source of controversy. Imam Rauf has said that the estimated $100 million would be raised in the U.S., but told a London-based Arabic newspaper that the money would come from Muslims throughout the world. Skeptics, concerned that the center will have foreign funding, which could conceivably come from fundamentalist Islamic groups, have expressed frustration that Rauf Rauf has not named any specific sources of funding as of yet.
The Siena Research Institute (SRI) released a poll Thursday that showed that 61 percent of New Yorkers oppose the mosque's construction. The poll also found that "over half of all New Yorkers and NYC residents either agree that the project would prmote tolerance or are, at least, willing to listen," SRI Director Don Levy said in the release.
Khan declined to answer questions, but Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center said of the funding: "We don't want to deal with that right now. This is a time for celebration, for welcoming. When you give people salt, bread, honey and candles, you don't ask them 'Now who paid to put up the house?' You welcome them into the house. that's what we are here to do."
After the rally, Lippman told reporters that the Jewish communities represented at the rally have no information about the Cordoba Institute's funding, nor do they have any plans to fundraise for the center in the immediate future.
Rally speakers also criticized the ADL's recent statement in opposition to the Cordoba Center's construction. "Though the ADL has often done good work, in this specific case -- whatever its intention--it has undermined those very adherents of Islam who uphold the Quran's teachings of peace, who condemn terrorsm, and who share with some Jews, some Christians, and some others a commitment to the Unity of God," said Lippman.
Rabbi Waskow concluded his statement at the rally with an anecdote: "I've heard some people say 'well, if it was just the community center, okay, but a mosque?' reminds me of an old Jewish story about somebody who came to a synagogue on Yom Kippur but he didn't have a ticket, and [had to] the person at the door, and finally the guy at the door said 'all right, i'll let you in--but i don't want to catch you praying!' I want to catch us, us Jews, us Muslims, us Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, meditating, praying, not in the same identical ways with each other, but with each other toward the One who is beyond us all."
The rally comes after the Landmark Preservation Committee decided on Tuesday not to grand landmark status to the building scheduled to be demolished as part of the construction, clearing the way for the project to continue. Opponents of the construction, however, have launched a lawsuit challenging the committee's decision.