Maple Grove Rabbi, Plymouth Imam Share Personal Stories from Israel-Hamas War
For nearly two months, members of the Jewish and Muslim communities in the northwest suburbs have painstakingly communicated with relatives in Israel and Gaza, the 25-mile long strip of land at the center of war.
After the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack which claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, the Israeli military has bombarded the Gaza strip in retaliation. In just seven weeks since, 15,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed due to the strikes, according to figures deemed reliable by the United Nations.
Despite the atrocities taking place over 6,000 miles away, Rabbi Nissan Naparstek felt the impact of war close to home.
“I think it was right after Oct. 7 my aunt was posting [about] how her kids were constantly crying that they had to spend so much time in the bomb shelters because of the missiles,” said Rabbi Naparstek from Chabad Jewish Center of Maple Grove. “Every few minutes you have like 20-30 seconds depending on the town to get to the bomb shelter.”
Imam Saifullah Muhammad, the resident scholar at Northwest Islamic Community Center in Plymouth, has spoken to members of his mosque who have lost loved ones in Gaza.
“We had a sister here who lost 30 of her relatives during this conflict,” he said.
Stories of Insults and Bias Incidents
Muslim and Jewish Americans have experienced an increase in hate crimes across the country. Earlier this month the Council on American-Islamic Relations documented a 216 percent increase in reported bias incidents since Oct. 7. The Anti-Defamation League reported a 388 percent increase in antisemitism in the same time frame.
“As long as there has been Jews there has been antisemitism,” Rabbi Naparstek stated.
Members of his community have shared with him their personal feelings during the conflict where they’ve felt unwelcome and unsupported.
“Some people have told me at work they felt looked at the wrong way. They’ve heard comments. They’ve heard statements from their companies that don’t seem to judge the situation fairly,” he said.
Muhammad shared the story of a young Pakistani girl who was insulted in the Wayzata School District. During Sunday school, she told him about an incident where another student mistook her Pakistani identity as Palestinian and blamed her for the actions of Hamas.
“He said ‘are you Hamas? Are you a terrorist?’ She says ‘of course not.’ As he’s walking off he says, ‘you know there’s a lot of hurt in the world and it’s because of you,'” Muhammad said.
Other members of the NWICC have reached out to Muhammad for help, seeking counsel to help deal with the tragedies playing out over social media.
“I’ve had youth and community members calling me breaking down, panic attacks. I’ve got calls 2, 3 o’ clock in the morning. Nightmares. Just seeing all of the media that we’re consuming and the videos and the pictures that are coming out,” he said.
Turning to Scripture
Both Rabbi Naparstek and Imam Muhammad shared that their communities often turn to scripture as a guiding light during difficult times.
“Islam teaches us that there’s ups and downs in life. There’s going to be good times and there’s going to be difficult times,” Muhammad said. “There’s a verse in the Quran that God says indeed with hardship comes ease and we look toward that.”
“As Jews, whenever we approach a situation in life, we look for the Torah which is our moral compass. We don’t make decisions based on our gut feeling. Our emotional reactions for that day. How good of a mood or bad of a mood we are for that day. We look to the Torah and the Torah says value life,” Naparstek said.
President Joe Biden recently brokered a humanitarian pause between Israel and Hamas over the weekend with the help of regional powers. The pause has allowed for the release of dozens of Israeli hostages and Palestinians. This period also allows for the desperately needed humanitarian aid in the form of food, water and emergency medical supplies to be brought into Gaza according to the United Nations.
The administration released a statement on Monday confirming the extension of the pause, furthering the release of more hostages and aid getting into Gaza.
Abdi Mohamed reporting