“We are fortunate today that Victor and Shahina are able to visit our congregation to share their wisdom—the wisdom that Victor describes in the many stories in his new book, Our Muslim Neighbors. They have been my dear friends since before 9/11. Then, when 9/11 suddenly and tragically reshaped the world in which we live, all of us realized that we needed to join forces in new ways to help rebuild the kind of world we wanted for our children and grandchildren. In those very first days after 9/11, Victor and Shahina were among those who rose to the occasion—who dared to form new relationships across our community and to find new ways to break down the barriers between us.”
That is how Sharona Shapiro—a longstanding leader in Michigan’s Jewish community—introduced Muslim peace activists Victor Begg for his second appearance at a synagogue to help launch his memoir.
Please, pause for a moment and read that last sentence again. The idea of a Muslim author launching his book at synagogues in Florida and Michigan is an unheard-of example of crossing boundaries to make new friends. Or, as we describe such friendships at our publishing house: Allies and angels help to build healthier communities through sharing the great stories found in books.
While many rabbis and imams participate in interfaith networks and their Jewish and Muslim followers often share in community projects—most Jewish and Muslim clergy remain hesitant to actively promote Muslim authors, even peace activists like Victor. That’s why it was so daring of Rabbi Bruce Benson at Temple Beth El Israel in Florida to invite Victor to debut his new book at the synagogue.
How did that happen? Victor and Shahina live in Florida. He had dared to ask the rabbi, a long-time friend in their Florida hometown, to write the Foreword to his new book. The rabbi agreed; the book was published with his Foreword—then, the rabbi asked Victor to kick off his national book tour at the synagogue on February 12.
‘Summoning Allies and Angels’
This is the kind of daring approach to “summoning allies and angels” that Front Edge Publishing has been promoting since our founding in 2007.
The result of that courage now is echoing coast to coast. One example: The influential Arab American News told Victor’s story in a March column—and quoted the Rabbi Benson.
“In one book, I have come to understand much more about Islam, its followers and its teachings,” Rabbi Bruce Benson writes in the book’s Foreword. “I’ve come to realize that the challenges Muslim immigrants have faced are similar to what Jews and many other immigrant groups have experienced as they tried to settle in America. By the end of this book, I hurt with Victor and I laugh with him, because—as Americans—we share so much. We are him. His journey is our journey. This is our story.”
Building Cross-Cultural Relationships Step by Step
As Victor’s publishers, we encourage him to use his new memoir to keep building on these remarkable back-and-forth interactions, connecting religious groups that in 2019 are often wary of welcoming such “outside voices.” Step by step these interactions are building:
- Victor’s courageous request for a Foreword from his rabbi friend led the rabbi to read an early proof of the book—and embrace Victor’s welcoming theme.
- That interaction made the rabbi confident of inviting Victor into his pulpit to talk about the memoir.
- Then, the rabbi’s words in the Foreword have resonated far and wide, sometimes in surprising places—like the Arab American News.
This week, Victor will make his third visit to present a program for a Jewish congregation. Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, Michigan, has invited its members and friends to come and hear him speak, read and sign books at 5 p.m. on Tuesday (April 9, 2019).
We often tell authors: “A book is a community between two covers,” which was the subject of a recent column in our Front Edge Publishing website. The idea of that column was inspiring enough that it was highlighted in another website: the publishing-industry showcase of important news known as the Carnival of Indies.
We also tell authors: “Good media builds healthier communities.”
Step by step, Victor Begg and his countless Jewish and Christian friends are demonstrating the truth of those assumptions.
Care to read more?
- For another perspective on this story, read Our Muslim Neighbors Teaches Us About Humanity, a column written by Tom Watkins in the Michigan Advance magazine. For years, Tom served as director of the Michigan Department of Mental Health and State Superintendent of Schools. Tom’s entire career has involved breaking down barriers to promote public health and education.
- Follow Victor’s ongoing work—and his public appearances—by visiting his own website.
- Learn more about our approach to “Allies & Angels” by reading some other columns related to this important work.
- And, here’s another inspiring example of these principles: A major book launch for retired Col. Clifford Worthy’s new The Black Knight became a major community-wide event in Detroit this spring.