In New York, people of all races, religions and opinions are crammed together in a vibrant democracy that has forged a unique situation never seen before in world history. Still, even in a place as diverse as New York, we can still find ourselves divided by color, ethnicity or religious beliefs, a painful reinforcement of centuries old barriers of intolerance. That’s what makes the Young Peace Builders (YPB) of Southern Brooklyn so special. The Young Peace Builders is an organization that consists of teenage Muslims and Jews working together to improve their community.
The Young Peace Builders program was launched three years ago as a cooperative effort by the Kings Bay Y (3495 Nostrand Avenue), a Jewish Community Center, and the Amity School (3867 Shore Parkway), a K-12 school that predominantly serves a Turkish-Muslim student body. The program, recently covered by the Jewish Week, so far for girls only, primarily serves as a symbol for an increased linking between Muslim and Jewish groups in the area as well as a training ground for future leaders in the area of interfaith cooperation.
“This can serve as a template for Jewish-Muslim relationships,” said Leonard Petlakh, executive director of the Kings Bay Y. Rabbi Robert Kaplan, who coordinates the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York City’s outreach to various religious and ethnic groups, calls the Y and Amity School “mainstream organizations … within their [respective] communities,” with the ability to influence their own communities. “There is no reason there should not be more and more” Jewish-Muslim programs like those in southern Brooklyn.
The Jewish Week also described how a large amount of credit for the group’s existence belongs to Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz:
The two religious groups, who were neighbors but virtual strangers to each other, were brought together by State Assembly member Steven Cymbrowitz, whose district includes Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach and part of Brighton Beach; his constituents are Jews and Turkish Muslims. After participating in a legislators’ mission to Turkey a few years ago, he brought leaders of his neighborhood’s Jewish and Turkish communities together.
“It’s through education that we can get to understand each other,” Cymbrowitz told The Jewish Week.
Through the YPB, Jewish and Muslim teens have gone on trips to Israel, Turkey, Boston and Washington DC. On these trips, the teenagers have shared hotel rooms, prepared each other’s meals and celebrated religious holidays together. Teenager Hayrunnisa Kalac expressed the hope that the founders of the program hoped to instill in all its participants.
“We’re planting the seeds of something that can be very big” — an example of tolerance, Kalac told the Jewish Week.
Correction (1:47 p.m.): The original version of this article erroneously referred to the name of the organization as Young Peace Keepers instead of their actual name, Young Peace Builders. We regret the mistake, and any confusion it may have caused.