Astoria hosts weekend quest for Jewish view of Islam
By Paul Haist
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Sixty-five people listened to four lectures about Judaism and Islam by Reed College Judaic Studies Professor Steven Wasserstrom at the inaugural Weekend in Quest sponsored by Congregation Neveh Shalom and the Institute for Judaic Studies Feb. 9-11 in Astoria.
Wasserstrom is the Moe and Izetta Tonkon professor of Judaic studies and humanities in the Department of Religion at Portland's Reed College. He has written extensively about Islam, perhaps most notably in his 1995 book "Between Muslim and Jew, The Problem of Symbiosis under Early Islam."
The Weekend in Quest, subtitled "Islam from a Jewish Perspective," began with Rabbi Joshua Stampfer, rabbi emeritus at Neveh Shalom, welcoming Shabbat at the Astoria Holiday Inn Express on the shore of the Columbia River.
A Shabbat dinner followed, after which Wasserstrom provided a general overview of Islam.
After Shabbat services Saturday morning, led by Neveh Shalom Assistant Rabbi Bradley Greenstein, Wasserstrom discussed Jewish life under Islam.
There was a break for lunch and time to tour the picturesque little city at the end of the great river, nearly six miles wide at Astoria.
The afternoon session focused on Jewish achievements under Islam.
After Havdallah on Saturday evening and the second dinner, everyone took part in a hilarious game of Jewpardy, modeled after the popular television quiz show "Jeopardy," which tested various contestants' knowledge of Judaism.
On Sunday morning, Wasserstrom compared and contrasted Judaism and Islam as religions, religions that he noted are remarkably similar, sharing, what he called "essentially the same messiah, one in the house of David, the other in the house of Moses."
Such closeness between the two religions, however, is not necessarily a source of hope for peaceful coexistence between the two, according to Wasserstrom.
"The smaller the differences, the more problems there are," he said, adding that in our current challenging times "it is possible that liberal, ecumenical religion is at an end," a turn of history, he said, that may motivate us to "all to live in enclaves."
Weekend in Quest participants were uniformly upbeat in their responses to the experience.
Selma Duckler told Wasserstrom, "Your insight and brilliance has made a wonderful learning experience for me."
Ann Baldwin, a Reed alumna who lives near Astoria and attended the lectures, called the event "the most significant thing for a Jew in Astoria" in a long time.
"We never have a chance to be in a room with 50 Jews and talk about this," she said, speculating on the benefit "this kind of dialogue" might have in other religions.