Muslims and Jews Share Life Stories and Build Friendships in LA
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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I’m June Simms.
On our show this week, we play new music from singer Aaron Neville.
We also tell about an effort in California to build friendships between young Muslims and Jews…
But first, we tell about a businessman who is providing free services for people in need…
Free Car Repairs for Those in Need
Car repairs can be very costly. Such expenses can be especially hard on the unemployed. So, a car repair business in Virginia is doing what it can to help local jobless people keep their vehicles on the road. Faith Lapidus has more.
Sharon and Gene Ward are disabled and cannot work as a result. They had to leave their home last September because they could not make its rental payments. They ended up living in their automobile.
Sharon Ward says it is difficult.
“You don’t have a place to take a shower. You got to only carry a certain amount of things with you. The thing that scared me more than anything is winter, when the cold temperatures come and the snow.”
Her husband agrees.
“I try to make sure that we always have gas so we can run the motor for heat.”
When their van started making funny noises the Wards became very upset.
“Our car started to sound like a million crickets chirping.”
The couple took their vehicle to a repair shop. They were told it would cost more than 300 dollars to fix it.
Luckily, the Wards heard about another shop where the price would be much better.
W.D. Wiygul’s Automotive Clinic has four shops in Virginia. Mr. Wiygul offers free minor repairs to people experiencing money troubles.
“Several months ago, give the state of the economy, we decided to a put a sign on the street that reads ‘Unemployed? Free small repairs so you can make that interview.’”
Since then, there has been a continual flow of people coming in for help, including Sharon and Gene Ward. Wiygul’s fixed the van for free.
“They even polished our headlights, gave us the remote control to their TV here and told us ‘watch TV and have something to drink, hot chocolate, coffee.’”
But the shop did not stop there. W.D. Wiygul called a local religious group that helped the Wards find a temporary shelter.
“Other people are getting in touch with us – social workers, case workers. It’s like what I’ve been trying to do since September is happening within a week.”
Mr. Wiygul says the experience has been rewarding.
“We’re not here for the glory or to promote our business. We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do. This is our little way to try to kick start our community economy.”
W.D Wiygul hopes other small businesses will also give back to the community – not only getting cars back on the road, but helping people get back on their feet.
Building Friendships Between Jews and Muslims in L.A.
Young Muslims and Jews in Los Angeles, California, are making friends with each other in an unusual way. They gather together at meetings set up by a group called NewGround. And they share personal stories to help build new relationships.
On this particular evening, a Muslim neurosurgeon explains to the group that he was orphaned as a child. He says he was raised by a Jewish family who insisted that he follow the Islamic faith. A Jewish woman shares childhood memories of her grandparents. They were Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe. This is all taking place during a storytelling event organized by a group called NewGround.
Tanzila Ahmed is a Muslim from Bangladesh. She says the storytelling event helps celebrate the differences in cultures.
“It is such a kaleidoscope of stories and colors and different perspectives that when you are able to get narratives from the different communities, you can actually move the community together for a cause a lot easier.”
Edina Lekovic works for a Muslim support group. She says conflict in the Middle East reaches into Los Angeles and can build a wall between the Jewish and Muslim communities. She co-founded NewGround as a way to bring the two communities together.
“They know how to engage one another. They have authentic relationships, and at the same time, they are not trapped by what is going on overseas, but instead they are invested more so in what is happening here in Los Angeles.”
Each year, 20 young Muslim and Jewish professionals are selected to take part in an interfaith program. The program is aimed at helping them gain the skills, relationships and contacts necessary to affect how Muslims and Jews relate to each other in the United States. The participants attend two weekend gatherings and meet twice a month from November to June to learn from each other and from community leaders.
Rabbi Sarah Bassin is the executive director of NewGround. She says many organizations bring Jews and Christians together, but few exist to connect Jews and Muslims.
“That conversation largely has not begun. We do not have the vocabulary to sit down at the same table in the same way that the Jewish-Christian communities have worked out over the last 50 or 60 years, especially in a post-Holocaust era.”
New Jewish member Abbie Barash says has made some good friends through the group.
“And we have already become so close and I have just known them for like a month now. So it has become extremely valuable for me.”
Actor Amir Abdullah, a Muslim, says differences between the two groups will remain.
“No, Muslims and Jews are not going to agree on everything. Heck, most Muslims are not even going to agree with each other on everything. But if we are able to share those experiences and share how we feel, we can at least get to understand one another.”
NewGround members hope these efforts to build relations between Muslims and Jews will spread far beyond Los Angeles.
Aaron Neville “My True Story”
The singer Aaron Neville has turned back time in his latest album, “My True Story.” Neville dug up 12 songs from the 1950s and 60s, and recorded them with the help of producers Don Was and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. Ted Greenfield plays some of the new, old tunes.
In 1964, the group The Drifters recorded “Under the Boardwalk.” The tune was a hit single, going to number four on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
Many other artists also recorded “Under the Boardwalk” in the years that followed. Interestingly, among those artists was Keith Richards. He and the Rolling Stones recorded the song in the same year as the Drifters.
Aaron Neville says he loved “Under the Boardwalk” when he was young. But the singer says he did not even know what a boardwalk was. The walkways are found in many seaside communities, but not the city of New Orleans, where he grew up.
Aaron Neville says “Under the Boardwalk” is a song you can do without any instrumental music. The harmony of voices is all that is needed.
Aaron Neville is now 72 years old. He says that, when he was still a boy, his brother worked at a record store. He would bring new records home. The singer says the song “Ting-a-ling” was one of the first single discs he heard. He says he loved everything about the vinyl sound, even the scratchy noise as the needle touched down on the record.
Critics have praised, “My True Story.” Q magazine called it a “joyful and respectful collection.” We leave you with Aaron Neville performing the bouncy 1952 song, “Money Honey.”