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Chicago-area rabbis attend Muslim boy's funeral, promote unity

The rabbis tell Scripps News going to the funeral was part of a bridge-building initiative connecting Orthodox Jews with their diverse neighbors.
Chicago-area rabbis attend Muslim boy's funeral, promote unity
Posted at 1:23 PM, Oct 25, 2023

It's been an exhausting and traumatic time for Chicago-area rabbis Ari Hart and Hody Nemes.

"Many people we know have friends who lost lives. We have family members who are kidnapped and still in Gaza. We don't know their fate," said Hart.

Yet the two Jewish leaders of a Modern Orthodox synagogue have not given up on building bridges.

Last week, Hart, Nemes and three other fellow rabbis attended the funeral of a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy who was stabbed to death in what police are calling an anti-Muslim hate crime.

"We are Orthodox rabbis who support the right of Jews to live in Israel. And I know that's complicated. And this is a community that has a very different perspective on what's happening in Israel-Palestine. And we felt like it was just the right thing to do, to go into it and to cry together," said Hart, the senior rabbi at Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob Synagogue.

Hart and Nemes say they were warmly received by mourners.

"One man approached us and quietly asked how our community is doing, which meant so much to me that in his moment of deep pain, he was able to still recognize that we were going through a different kind of pain also," recalled Nemes.

SEE MORE: Chicago man leaves life behind, commands Israeli unit against Hamas

Before going to the funeral, Hart reached out to Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago office of Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"I told him: 'You are welcome into our mosque. You'll be treated as an honored guest despite your politics. This is not a day to debate politics. We can do that tomorrow. Today, we can mourn together as human beings.'" Rehab said.

Hart and Nemes say they feel the pain of innocent Gazans but believe in "the necessity of defeating Hamas so there can be peace."

And while Rehab says he felt gratitude for their presence, he wants Jewish leaders to condemn civilian deaths at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces.

"I'll stand next to anybody who condemns the murder of Israeli civilians and add my voice to that. And all I'm looking for is the same for Palestinian civilians," said Rehab.

For Hart and Nemes, going to the funeral was part of a social action project called "Solu" through which Orthodox Jews connect with diverse communities across Chicago.

"Everyone can play a part in this, especially at a time when there's so much division, to choose to be a force of unity," Hart said.

With that in mind, Rabbi Hart has been texting Rehab about organizing a playdate for their children.

"While I disagree with Zionism," Rehab said, "I'm more than happy to have playdates between my children and Rabbi Hart's children. We've been discussing that together to connect on our common humanity just for the sake of being able to."

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