"Discovering common rituals, re-reading Muslim and Jewish religious texts, and building cooperation between the communities were the focus of the first American summit of imams and rabbis that took place in New York this week.
"The 25 religious leaders from 11 US cities who came together at the invitation of Imam Omar Abu Namous, spiritual leader of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York City, and Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, agreed to lay aside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least for now.
"That's not [to] say we won't discuss it next time," said Schneier.
"Many rabbis compared this meeting, which focused on commonalities between the two communities, to efforts to bring together Jews and Christians in the 1950s. Since then the relationship has developed in ways no one could have predicted. The hope is that a similar development may emerge between American Jews and Muslims.
"One mention of the conflict slipped through the cracks in an introductory session, but even that spoke to a subtle development in Jewish-Muslim relations, said Schneier.
The two collaborators - Schneier and Namous - aren't strangers.
"In November 2006 Schneier invited Namous to the New York Synagogue in what was billed as a historic event. But the visit turned sour when the imam began criticizing Israel, calling for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In January, they tried again, this time at Namous's mosque, the largest in the city. There they decided to leave Middle East crises off the table.
"But toward the end of the talks, Schenier pressed Namous to raise his voice against anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, following an incident at a major mosque in London that was distributing anti-Semitic DVDs.
"This week, the only mention of the conflict came right at the start. Namous spoke of the need to deal with the issue of Palestinian refugees. Schneier said the Arab world needed to deal with the nearly one million Jewish refugees from Arab countries. In a similar exchange a year ago, Namous denied there were Jewish refugees, according to Schneier.
"Yesterday he acknowledged there was a refugee problem," said Schneier.
"I think that brief exchange was indicative as to how far this relationship has come, and I know many of our colleagues have gone through similar evolutions in their communities," he added.