A British synagogue in the northern England town of Bradford last week appointed an unlikely candidate to its council: a Muslim man.
The Reform temple, which was built in the late 19th century, had fallen into disrepair by 2013 and only with the help of the city’s Council for Mosques did the Jewish community raise enough money to get it back in working order.
One of those who helped in acquiring funds was Jani Rashid, the head of diversity and cohesion at Bradford Council’s children’s services. To thank the Muslim community and solidify their partnership, the chair of the synagogue’s board, Rudi Leavor, told the British Jewish News outlet, “We thought it would be a splendid idea to co-opt Jani to the Council. When the proposal was put to him he assented immediately.”
Rashid responded, “I am delighted to take up this kind offer to sit on the Synagogue Council. I am a firm believer in openness within and between communities.”
But Bradford, a heavily Muslim area located just outside of the city of Leeds, has not always been such a source of cooperation and harmony.
During this summer’s conflict between Israel and Hamas, the firebrand Member of Parliament George Galloway declared Bradford an “Israel-free zone.”
“We reject this illegal, barbarous, savage state that calls itself Israel. And you have to do the same,” Galloway said at a public meeting in Leeds this August.
Galloway’s remarks sparked a fierce blow-back by the Jewish and ex-pat Israeli community in the UK and even a police investigation into whether he’d violated the law against discriminating among people by nationality.
The case was eventually dropped due to lack of sufficient evidence, and the Israeli ambassador later visited the city and applauded it for its “long history of cooperation between Bradford and Israel.”
The synagogue’s council and Rashid hope this appointment will help encourage more diversity and compassion.
A spokesperson for the synagogue told The Independent, “At a time when both the Jewish and Muslim communities are reeling from the impact of the horrific attacks in Paris, the positive and supportive relationship between Bradford’s Jews and Muslims has grown another step closer.”