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For A French Rabbi And His Muslim Team, There’s Work To Be Done

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By Eleanor Beadsley, NPR

Rabbi Michel Serfaty drives to his first appointment of the day, in a suburb south of Paris, just a couple miles from the notorious housing project where gunman Amedy Coulibaly grew up.

Coulibaly is the self-proclaimed Islamist radical who killed a police officer and later four people in a Kosher market in Paris terrorist attacks in January.

France has Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish communities. For the last decade Serfaty and his team have been working in bleak places like this, trying to promote understanding between the two populations.

Serfaty is still going to the same places since the attacks, but there’s now a team of undercover police officers who accompany him everywhere. Still, The rabbi says he’s more determined than ever.

“These are difficult times for France and especially for French Jews,” he says. “But if anything, we realize our work is even more important.”

The rabbi makes his way into a community center where his French Jewish Muslim Friendship Association has a stand at a local job fair. Serfaty hopes to recruit several more young people to help with community outreach in the largely Muslim, immigrant communities where most people have never even met a Jewish person.

A poster for the French Jewish Muslim Friendship Association, which works in many poor, immigrant neighborhoods.

A poster for the French Jewish Muslim Friendship Association, which works in many poor, immigrant neighborhoods.

Eleanor Beardsley/NPR

“In these places they often have specific ideas about Jews,” says Serfaty. “And if they’re negative, we bring arguments and try to open people’s eyes to what are prejudices and negative stereotypes. We try to show children, mothers and teenagers that being Muslim is great, but if they don’t know any Jews, well this is how they are, and they’re also respectable citizens.”

Serfaty says people need to realize they must all work together to build France’s future.

The rabbi takes advantage of funding from a government program that helps youths without work experience find their first job. Serfaty takes them on for a period of three years, giving them valuable training in mediation and community relations. Serfaty’s recruits also study Judaism and Islam. And he takes them on a trip to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp.

The rabbi takes advantage of funding from a government program that helps youths without work experience find their first job. Serfaty takes them on for a period of three years, giving them valuable training in mediation and community relations. Serfaty’s recruits also study Judaism and Islam. And he takes them on a trip to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp.

Serfaty is looking to hire three or four new people. With his affable manner and easy laugh, the job interviews are more like a friendly conversation. He needs Muslim employees for his work, but French laws on secularism forbid him from asking applicants about their religion. So Serfaty draws out the candidates’ views and beliefs in discussion — and through provocative questions.

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  • Amin!

  • HerrSkolly

    This is not Star Wars? $hi+, I’m on the wrong message board yet again. Dag nabbit!!!

  • HerrSkolly

    “Indoctrination” has become quite loaded with negative connotations in this “Age of Diversity”; but, that need not be so. Indoctrination permits parents, caregivers, and the like an “eternity” that might not otherwise be permitted of them. Indoctrination is usually simply the promotion of a base-belief for one’s own people’s sustenance, not a behavior, not manner of hatred, but simply a manner of living.

    Let us take back this term. Regardless of its current connotations in the negative, it can be quite positive as a term which has (or had) a meaning unto itself.

  • Tanveer ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Khan

    Your comment has just changed my first and last sentences from insults into facts now. Thank you.

    This is not Star Wars. I’m not a padawan. Reread Emir JSB’s comment more carefully.

  • Tanveer ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Khan

    The word “indoctrination” has had quite a negative meaning from the start for me due to it’s extensive use by anti-theists. I guess, because of that, the merriam – webster definition seems to be quite accurate to me.

    Learning about Judaism and Christianity (Judaism in particular) strengthens my belief that Islam is the continuation of the two. Some of the practices and phrases are ridiculously similar. Of course, some people take such things as evidence that the Prophet PBUH simply plagiarised from the two religions but I guess that’s just a good example of how people can conclude different things despite having the exact same sources – which is something that History as a subject has taught me as well. XD

  • Just_Stopping_By

    Well, young Paladin, you may have jumped the gun just a bit, because there is a lesser-known meaning to “indoctrinate” as just teaching:

    indoctrinate: “the act of indoctrinating, or teaching or inculcating a doctrine, principle, or ideology, especially one with a specific point of view” http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/indoctrination

    However, I would agree that the much more common definition is closer to: “to teach (someone) to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/indoctrinate

    I actually think the second is a bit stronger than I am used to, as I think someone indoctrinated could still consider other ideas, though they would tend to reject them. To “not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs” sounds like the person is what I might call a blind follower, the type who just lashes out at those with different political or religious beliefs, calling them savages (yes, I’m referencing you, Pamela!) or Nazis (referencing everyone who adds to the weight of evidence in favor of Godwin’s Law).

    In fact, learning about the beliefs of Islam and Judaism (or any religion) from either neutral sources or from members of those religions, as opposed to from Islamophobic or Judeophobic sources, tends to make one behave very differently, being more open to alternative approaches not just to religion but other areas as well. The more I learn about Islam, the more open I think I become to other points of view, as I often discover that ideas that I probably just assumed were universally held, at least among monotheists, are not.

  • Tanveer ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Khan

    “It then sounds like he then indoctrinates his employees minds (teaches them Islam and Judaism)”
    You’re a bit of an idiot. Learning about the beliefs of Islam and Judaism is not “indoctrinating” one’s employees. Learn the difference. Or perhaps you’re too feeble minded to understand such a nuance – I dunno.

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  • mindy1

    I wish this group luck

  • mindy1

    Trying to do good, and you are looking for the negative?!

  • JD

    Called fighting hate.. People mix up action of nazi Israel with Jews and Jewish people much like all Muslims are responsible for ISIS which leads to idiot who think shooting rabbi and kids is fighting Israel

  • Palidor

    What a strange article.

    Rabbi Serfaty uses free government money and a team of undercover police officers to run around Sensitive Urban Zones in France. He violates the spirit of the French laws on secularism by openly asking potential employees their political beliefs and prejudices and then only hires Muslims who “harbour no anti-Semitic feelings”.

    It then sounds like he then indoctrinates his employees minds (teaches them Islam and Judaism) and goes on regular tax-payer funded pilgrimages to Aushwitz. I wonder how much of his job consists of going to events and wining and dining? How much money is France wasting on this guy?

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