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Harrison Panel Focuses on Compassion, Civility

HARRISON, N.Y. ? Members of the Center for Jewish-Christian-Muslim Understanding (JCMU) engaged community members Monday night at the Harrison Public Library in an effort to get them to tolerate and respect people who may not be like them.

The program was funded by a $2,500 "Building Common Ground" grant from the American Library Association. Its aim was to bring members of different cultures together to learn more about one another. Rabbi Barry Kenter, member of the JCMU and the Greenburgh Hebrew Center, sat with Dr. Saleem Mir, a Muslim, and Hondi Duncan Brasco, a Christian, as the panel discussed what it means to be compassionate to fellow human beings.

"In the Torah we see antagonism, people being treated uncivilly, sibling rivalry and animosity," Kenter said. "However, the book tells these stories as a warning so we can relate in a positive way."

Brasco said that religion sometimes makes it difficult for people to be compassionate or civil because many are unwilling to reach across the table to accept beliefs from other faiths. Still, Brasco said all of the faiths of Abraham are really not that far apart on these issues. Brasco said that after 9/11 a marvelous model of compassion emerged from the tragedy.

Mir said that like the audience members, he also was there to learn that compassion and civility simply come down to how people choose to interact with one another. He  said that when he first came to the U.S. more than 40 years ago, though he didn't speak English very well people could tell his character based on how he interacted with those who were different from himself.

"We can make a ripple in a big sea of disbelief," Mir said. "People will notice if you make an effort to be compassionate and civil."

Kenter said all three religions represented on the panel focus in some way on helping the stranger. He said you don't need to be rich to help others, just willing to try.

"We need to have concern for all members of our society," Kenter said. "We need to be companions with one another, share bread, and be apart of a larger community."

The HPL will host a second discussion about compassion next Monday, May 21, when Sr. Haifa Bint-Kadi, a Muslim chaplain at Manhattanville College, will speak about how to move past tolerance and into community in a diverse society. The program begins at 7:30 p.m.

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