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January 7, 2011

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PAGE 20A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 7, 2011 mosque a By Carin M. Smilk With mosque projects be- Jewish Exponent ing confronted with hostility across the United States--in PHILADELPHIA--Thecars Temecula, Calif.; in Sheboygan slowlyturnontothelongdrive- County, Wis.; and the one way, their wheels occasionally getting the most heat, the crunchingtheadjacentground proposed Islamic community frozen from the night before center near the site of the and speckled with a light dust- former World Trade Center ing of snow. in New York--this Pennsyl- Rabbi Yossi Kaplan and vania mosque stands in stark Mohammad Aziz walk side by contrast to the controversial side in the direction of the on- mosques that have grabbed coming line of traffic. Several the national headlines. young, professional-looking Kaplan, 38, tells his story Muslim men pass them in the like this: In 1998, he was in opposite direction, pausing Brooklyn, lookingforaplaceto to shake the rabbi's hand and start a Chabad House. He had wish him a hearty "Shabbat heard that Chester County, Shalom." Pa.~ had a burgeoning Jewish It's Friday, right before af- population, and other local ternoon prayers, andhundreds Chabad leaders felt this would ofworshipers are making their be a "tangible place." way to the mosque on North Withtheirtwobabiesintow, Valley Forge Road in Devon, Kaplan and his wife, Tickey, Pa about 20 miles outside moved into the area, rented Phi~delphia. Aziz soon turns an apartment and used other to join them, and Kaplan heads avai.lable rented space for their for his van and leaves to pick up programs. his children from school. "It started very slowly," the For a moment, the 15-ve- rabbi said, but by September hicle-capacity lot in front of 2000, they were able to rent the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish what he described as a huge Center of Chester County building for services and sits empty--but not for long. events. With rising rents, they Withinl0minutes, nearlyevery needed to find an alternate Spot is taken by those headed to space. Eventually, they moved the mosque next door. to a modest home and adjoin- The shul and the mosque ingballet-dancestudioinneed share not only parking space, ~of major renovations, with an but also a symbiotic relation- expanse of land in the back ship.It'sbasedontheirproxim- that bordered on a wooded ity, of course--they are direct Boy Scout camp. neighbors, land practically Besides the property's state spilling upon land--but it also of disrepair, there was another rests on the fact that the two reason the owner was willing men have forged an obvious to sell it cheaply: The property respect for one another, as well stood next to the Islamic Cen- as a solid friendship, ter of Greater Valley Forge. It was just a year after the terror attacks of 9/11, and sensibili- ties, even on this sleepy street, were raw. Kaplan purchased the prop- erty in December 2002. The home eventually would ac- commodate six more children, and the studio became an at- tached synagogue--complete with a finished basement for holiday functions, classes, Hebrew school and Saturday iuncheons. Aziz, 57, an information technology consultant by trade and the president of the Islamic society, recalled the day when the rabbi and his family moved in. "The first time I saw the door open--the rabbi there, with his lovely wife--I ran over and said hello," he said. "We started talking." Right away, Aziz said, on behalf of the society, he sent them flowers. The Islamic society had had similarly humble beginnings. Established in 1984, the so- ciety met for a while in local churches, on college campuses and in hotel spaces before pur- chasing its own space. The mosque, which does not have a minaret, was completed six months ago and has between 60 and 80 member families. The society is currently seeking an imam for the mosque--someone who would be present fo~ the five daily prayers recited in Arabic and who would serve as a resource to answer religious questions, according to Aziz. Kaplan, now a neighbor of the Islamic Society for seven years, said he has no concerns Jordan Cassway Yossi Kaplan (!), rabbi of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center, and Mohammad Aziz, president of the Islamic So- ciety of Greater Valley Forge, before Friday Muslim prayers in Devon, Pa. about a mosque rising next to than other suburban locales his Chabad House. nationwide, the Islamic Society "There have been no prob- did confront some obstacles, lemsatall.We'renormalneigh- according to board member bors having nice relationships; RehanaJan.Thereweredelayed we're two religious centers," permits and some opposition, he said. "People like to make a though not from neighbors. big deal out of things; they're "We'vebeenherelongbefore always looking for the man- there ever was a 9/11 or New bites-dog story. But it makes York mosque controversy," no sense not to get along. We're Jan said. both believers." In fact, said Jan, after 9/11, So, too, are members of the supporters sent food, flowers oldBaptistChurchintheGreat and letters. She remembered Valley, directlyacrossthestreet, one woman offering sup- Welshfamiliesformedthecon- port if society members ever gregation in 1711, and erected felt threatened; even if they the churchin 1805.Ahistoricai neededsomeone to accompany marker out front cites it as the members to the grocery store, third oldest Baptist church in locals were willing to be there the state of Pennsylvania. for them. While the Chester County All three of the mosque's community appears more neighbors----theChabadcenter, accepting of such diversity the Baptist church and Dun- can's Farm, a 40-acre parcel that has sold seasonal fruits, vegetables and flowers there since the 1940s, speak favor- ably of the Muslim organiza- tion. When needed, workers at the farm plow snow from the Islamic Society's grounds each winter. And for their part, mosque- goers offer their neighbors assistance as well. Mohammad Jan, 72, the husband of Rehana Jan and, like her, an original society member, said that during one of the Jewish holidays--when Shabbat followed on the heels of Sukkot--Kaplan came to them for help with turning on the synagogue's lights after sundown. Marcy Barth, 59, of West Chester, who's been a regular at the Chabad center for 12 years now, has her own anec- dotes. Two years ago on Rosh Hashanah, she said, she and her husband, Roger, parked in the Islamic society's lot, since the shul's lotwas full. Butwhen services were over, they saw that the society's parking lot was also filled; a large event was taking place there at the same time. Just then, Aziz started wav- ing them over, Barth said, and she expressed concern to her husband that maybe they'd overstepped their boundaries. But when they approached him, she said, he wished them a "Happy New Year"--and promptly handed them plates of picnic food. "It just goes to show you," she said, "that the more you get to know each other, the less tension there is going to be." EXCELLENCE IN ELDER CARE PROGRAMS AND SERVICES River Garden Hebrew Home- Traditional Long-Term Care, Short. Stay Rehabilitation, Alzheime"s and Dementia Care The Coves- Independent Living Retirement Community at River Garden The Therapy Center- 7 days a week dlk RIVER GARDEN Excellence in Adult Care and Services By Elaine Durbach New Jersey Jewish News An actor portraying a Jew in an Off-Broadway produc- tion that ran in November was caught by surprise by her unexpected qualifica- tions for the role. London-based Genevieve Allenbury played a Polish immigrant in the John Osborne play "Personal Enemy," part of the annual Brits Off Broadway festival that brought a cluster of British productions to New York. I went to see the play and "I've had Poles come up spoke to Allenbury about her and askwhich part of Poland Jewish journey. I come from," she saidwith Written in 1953 by Os- evident delight.Thoughthe borne and Anthony Creigh- scripthassome rough edges ton, "Personal Enemy" is a that amorematureOsborne veryearlyworkbythewriter might have smoothed out, later acclaimed for plays she said, for her the role like "Look Back in Anger." 'captured the outsider ex- The work skewers the anti- perience of so many Jewish communist and anti-gay " immigrants over the years. panic in postwar America-- She knew something of and uncomfortably echoes that stress. Her very Anglo the posturing of our just- last name was one her fa' completed electioneering, ther assumed after he left Because of its references his native Hungary. He and to love between men, the his wife, whom he'd met in play was so heavily censored Cyprus, settled in what was for its first production, thennorthernRhodesiaand it died a quick death. All did their best to give their copies of the manuscript only child the most Anglo disappeared--except one, identity they could. discovered by chance in As comfortably as she 2008 in the Lord Chamber- blended with the children lain's archives in the British of B'ritish colonial families, Library. Fully restored, it AllenburySaid, she remem- was stagedby the Fallout bers being particularly Theatre Company inLondon comfortable with the small earlier this year. cluster of Jewish kids. "I The character played by used to love going to Satur- Allenbury provided the pro- day morning services with duction's one warm-hearted themand to bar mitzvahcel- touch of light relief. As she ebrations," she recalled. In says in her still-heavy Polish elementary school, in fact, accent, refusing to cave in her best friend was Jewish. when the McCarthyite witch It wasn't until her father hunt closes in on her too: died 15 years ago that she "Me, an outcast?--[ never found out just why he had was'in-cast,'sowhyworry?" always been so encouraging Despite her background of those particular friend- as anAnglo and a Christian Ships: Her mother told her who grew up in colonial that he was Jewish, and Zambia, Allenbury was that because of the horrors praised for the authenticity he experienced during the of her accent. Holocaust, he did his best to hide it and to save his child from the same danger. ,'There had always been Something that didn't fit," Allenbury said. "And this made all the pieces come together." .She also discovered that her mother's mother had been from Hungary, too, and was also a Jew--making AI- lenbury Jewish according to halacha, or Jewish law. Long ago lapsed from her church membership, Allenbury said, her spiritual approach these days has little to do with for- mal religion, but the discovery deepened the affection she already had for Jewish values and traditions--and food. "I feel Jewish inside," she said. Though that childhood best friend had never guessed this secret, when she heard, it all made sense to her too. I can vouch for that: I was that friend. We reconnected a few years ago, after four decades apart, by complete and utter accident, on the Internet. And two months ago, by deliberate and delighted design, we at last met in per- son, on East 59th Street in New York City, at the theater where she was portraying a wonderful Jewish character. Elaine Durbach is the Central bureau chief at the New Jersey Jewish News, from which this article was reprinted by permission.