Jewish/Muslim Film Institute presents Free Men to illuminate Jewish-Muslim relations 

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The Jewish/Muslim Film Institute will present its third film and discussion with the screening of Free Men Aug. 9 at Emanuel Synagogue, 900 NW 47th St.. Rabbi Abby Jacobson said the films chosen by the institute portray snippets of Jewish-Muslim relations. The program started as a joint effort of local clergy and nonprofit organizations.

“There has always been a good relationship between the Jewish and Muslim clergy in Oklahoma,” Jacobson said. “We wanted to do something to showcase that because we believed it goes against what many people believe is true.”

Mike and Joan Korenblit, co-founders of Respect Diversity Foundation, were instrumental in the planning and implementation of the institute. Mike Korenblit, who grew up in Ponca City, is the son of Holocaust survivors who were aided by Christians. The message of respecting diversity, for the Korenblits, is deeply embedded in family and religious narratives.

“My husband and I go to religious events regularly,” Joan said, “and we noticed that Muslims and Jews were not getting together at some of these events. We wanted to change that.”

The couple called several of the metro’s religious leaders, including Jacobson, and they all said yes to the idea of a film and discussion.

The group agreed to screen thought-provoking films with religious, ethnic and intercultural themes. The Jewish/Muslim Film Institute and a list of films for the public events emerged from those interactions.

Jacobson said film was chosen as the best vehicle for the conversations because it allows the group to showcase stories without distractions.

“The films still offer human stories, but they keep us from getting bogged down in the details of a person’s life or story that might occur if we had a speaker in the room,” Jacobson said. “We can discuss details and we can abstract about the issues because this is not someone’s personal story.”

She said the institute was developed to continue the good work that had already been done in the community by the clergy and nonprofits. The bonding that happened among the clergy and planning group while they discussed the films could be extended to the broader community.

That community has grown beyond the metro area, as well. Jayme Cox is the president of The Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice (OCCJ), a Tulsa-based organization that partners with the institute. The organization works with students to help them better understand how stereotyping and prejudices affect relationships and individuals.

“We see religious prejudice every day,” Cox said. “Even our political leaders regularly engage in prejudice, as seen in anti-Muslim rhetoric. We got involved with the institute because we think it’s important to promote respect and understanding.”

The idea of understanding differences is a common theme among the institute’s members, but understanding usually involves a moment when people are confronted with ideas or experiences from another’s perspective — it’s not just something to be taught or read; it is something to be experienced. It was this experience of another’s perspective that got Imam Imad Enchassi involved with the institute from the beginning.

Enchassi is the imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City. Last summer, he was watching an early morning report about a conflict that broke out in Gaza after an American Muslim youth was killed.

“I was up for early morning prayer when I saw the news,” he said. “I texted Rabbi (Vered) Harris to say I was distressed about the news. To my surprise, she texted me back to say the same thing. It occurred to me that I had been thinking about it from my perspective, but I was confronted with a new reality: a Jewish rabbi was distressed about the death of a Muslim youth, too.”

That epiphany led to a conversation between the mosque and Temple B’nai Israel, where Harris serves as the rabbi.

“We got Muslim and Jewish youth in the same room, and we had a conversation about what was happening between Israel and the Palestinians. These youth were about the same age as the American Muslim youth who was killed,” Enchassi said. “We learned that Muslims cared about Jews being killed and Jews cared about Palestinian and American Muslims being killed.”

The idea of positive confrontation translates to the film conversations. After a film is shown, a panel of clergy and nonprofit organization leaders participate in a panel discussion. Jacobson said that guests are asked to submit written questions, and those questions are addressed to the panel.

Christian clergy are also represented in the institute, and Enchassi said that is as it should be.

“You cannot have a conversation about Jewish-Muslim relations and not invite all the children of Abraham,” he said, a reference to Abraham as the progenitor of all three Abrahamic faiths. “All sides have input into this peace process. People of faith have a profound agenda to promote peace, charity and common understanding, both in their faith communities and statewide.”

Free Men is French film about Jews and Muslims working together to resist police efforts to spy on a Paris mosque. The film also addresses the issue of identifying as Algerians first, rather than opting for a religious or ethnic alliance, a message that is critical for unity in our country as well.

“The tenets of the three Abrahamic faiths include an insistence that we are to serve other humans,” Enchassi said. “Whether that is by caring for the poor or needy, promoting justice or pursuing other social goods, the process of fulfilling these tenets brings us closer together and makes for better citizens.”

The Jewish/Muslim Film Institute screening of Free Men

1:45-4:15 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9

Emanuel Synagogue

900 NW 47th St.



Print headline: Human perspective, A film and discussion is set to illuminate Jewish-Muslim relations.

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Greg Horton

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