A few months ago Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbi, began discussing with some other leaders of religious organizations the idea of “reconfiguring” a Commission of Religious Leaders (CORL) that had stopped operating four years ago.
Rabbi Potasnik and his friends picked a good time. Although interest in the ecumenical CORL predated the acrimony over the planned Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, the increasingly heated comments by politicians and journalists have given the religious leaders discussion a new urgency.
Rabbi Potasnik, Board of Rabbis President Rabbi Yaakov Kermaier and a few other Christian and Muslim leaders have met in person twice in recent weeks, and more times over the phone, to discuss the vitriol that surrounds the Cordoba House project.
CORL, which will include Archbishop Timothy Dolan as well as Jamaica Muslim Center’s Imam Shamsi Ali and a representative of the Council of Churches, will resume activities “very shortly,” Rabbi Potasnik told The Jewish Week. And in a statement issued Tuesday by the clergy members who will constitute the new commission, a joint call was made against what amounts to hate speech about the Cordoba House.
“There can be no place for religious bias of any kind – including anti-Semitism, anti-Christianity, or anti-Islam — in any of our communities,” the statement declared.
The statement offered the signers’ readiness “to assist in facilitating a dialogue that will … lay the foundation for a new and deeper understanding among us all,” a tacit invitation to the parties in the controversy to come together for discussions.
“This is a religious issue” — not just a controversy involving the Islamic community, Rabbi Potasnik said. “We have to foster debate without rancor. Either the mosque will be built or it won’t be built. The day after” — when New Yorkers on both sides of the issue keep dealing with each other on other issues — “matters as well.”
The CORL statement came a few days after a New York Times poll found that two-thirds of New Yorkers oppose building the Islamic cultural center’s location near Ground Zero. Fifty-five percent of Jewish New Yorkers were against the center’s location, 36 percent in favor of its site, two blocks north of Ground Zero.
CORL will not take a public position on the Cordoba House, in order to act as impartial mediators, Rabbi Potasnik said, adding that he has found his colleagues in the New York City rabbinate “divided” on the issue “There is no consensus.”
After the Cordoba House controversy is resolved, CORL will turn to such matters as unemployment and homelessness, to what the religious community can do to improve the lives of New Yorkers, Rabbi Potasnik said.
“Historically,” he said, religious leaders “have played an important role in these issues.”