Huffington Post: Cafe Finjan: A Fine Blend of Jewish and Muslim Cultural Expression

At a time when one hears more of the animosity or supposed animosity between Muslims and Jews, programs such as Cafe Finjan arrive as a breath of fresh air. Post 9/11, the Muslim community has made an incredible effort to participate in inter-faith dialogue and inter-faith events such as this – after all it’s ignorance that breeds fear. Especially heartening is that their willingness to open doors has been welcomed and reciprocated by other faiths.

So what exactly is Cafe Finjan? In a nutshell, this is an attempt to actually get to know ‘the other’ rather than depending solely on what the media chooses to focus on. It is a movement that opposes relying stereotypes to understand a people and gives you the tools to make your own judgment by helping you make connections.

More specifically, Cafe Finjan is a series of interfaith arts exchanges, begun in 2004 by the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs as part of its Jewish-Muslim Community-Building Initiative. On Aug 21st, local Muslim and Jewish poets & spoken word artists, storytellers, singers, musicians, comedians, and you can join new and old friends. The last Café Finjan drew over 200 people from the Chicago land area. This year’s Cafe Finjan’s includes a video by Muslim and Jewish teens, joint performance between Muslim and Jews including live art in an intimate coffeehouse setting on the edge of the West Town and Noble Square neighborhoods. The Venue is Mercury Café, 1505 W. Chicago Ave; 1 block east of Ashland Ave. Doors open at 6:30 p.m

The goal of the evening is to establish points of contact and nurture a greater understanding between Jews and Muslims of Chicago by providing a forum for young and established performers, especially from these communities. “We as Jews strive to be a fair, just and kind people, what better way then sharing our rich culture with another community so similar to ours in history and culture. It has been a real privilege to work alongside our Muslim partners to develop this wonderful event. The planning process itself was a very positive experience of exchange, collaboration, and friendship,” says Julie Hochstadter, a member of the Café Finjan planning committee and Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.

“It’s very important to engage the greatest value of this nation: its diversity. Cafe Finjan strives to do just that at the local level, bringing together people of different faith backgrounds in an arts exchange, establishing mutually beneficial relationships and learning to collaborate for common causes. It’s an amazing experience!” says Erum Ibrahim, also a member of the Café Finjan planning committee, and President of DePaul United Muslims Moving Ahead.

Events such as this allow for the discovery of commonalities in experiences as minorities, immigrants, and/or people of faith. They allow for opportunities to develop a shared agenda of pluralism, respect, and civil rights in a domestic context. “We believe that our communities and the relationships between them are shaped by our commonalities rather than conflict. The performances at Café Finjan offer to creatively envision new points of contact and diverse aspects of Jewish and Muslim identities in Chicago and North America,” says Ibrahim.

“I feel happy inside because I know that my poem might make a difference and might change how people think about Muslims. They’ll figure it out that not all Muslims are terrorists after this poem,” says Samia Abdul Qadir, 8, who will be reciting her poem about the Muslim Holiday Eid, at the event. “The people I read to will know about Islam and will know about our holidays. Then they will know that we are all basically the same.”

This year’s sponsors include Inner City Muslim Action Network, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Council on American-Islamic Relations Chicago Muslim Bar Association, haZula JewishMeetup, Jewish Caucus PACT, American Muslims for Activism & Learning, Student Pluralism Interfaith Network, DePaul United Muslims Moving Ahead.