Jews and Muslims
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Jews and Muslims

According to Matt Kamin, executive director of the Palisades Emergency Residence Corporation in Union City, the interfaith dinner planned for Dec. 18 to benefit PERC’s new family shelter will be a success no matter how much money it raises.

The dinner, planned by a group of 10 Muslim and 10 Jewish teenage girls, is the first project launched by "Project Provide a Home," which, say program creators Kamin and Amal Abdallah, "provides a unique opportunity for the teenagers to prove that Jews and Muslims can get along peacefully and become close friends."

So far, says Kamin, the girls have met three times and the partnership is proving to be a great success. Ranging in age from 13 to 17, the teenagers "have come to respect each other."

The girls — charged with publicizing the work of PERC and informing the community of the plight of the homeless — are working to generate support for PERC’s new family shelter. At the same time, they have a chance to educate fellow group members about their own culture, tradition, and family values.

Kamin and Abdallah found the girls through contacts in UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, schools, synagogues, mosques, and other community groups. Each girl was interviewed to ensure that she understood the goals of the program.

The shelter — a combination of homeless shelter, community center, and food pantry — hosts a Website (www.PERCshelter.org) detailing the nation’s poverty statistics and listing the services, e.g., number of meals provided by the shelter, which will soon celebrate its ‘5th anniversary.

Kamin says the shelter, open seven days a week, depends on donations to exist. While it serves about 400 people a day, he adds, the staff numbers only 1′, because of funding cuts.

In the year and a half Kamin has been with the facility, the shelter has added a community center, offering free classes in areas such as ESL, computer skills, and job-related services (coaching for interviews, resum?s, and placements).

While visitors to the shelter are not asked where they come from, he says, the majority hail from Hudson County, with some additional clients from New York.

"There’s a large chasidic population here," says Kamin, "and we get a lot of chasidic men in our computer classes."

"Our goal is to prevent people from becoming homeless," he says. The family shelter is designed to accommodate two families at a time, housing and feeding family members and helping the adults get jobs so they can move on.

"Our job is to instill knowledge," he adds. "Our clients must want not to be homeless."

High school senior and program participant Amanda Shiravi, a 17-year-old Teaneck resident who attends the SSDS of Essex and Union in West Orange, says that she heard about the program through her Tanach teacher.

"I was very interested," she says. "First I had a phone interview and then I went to meet Matt and see the space."

Shiravi says that girls have been divided into teams, each with a specific task.

"My job was finding a venue," she said, adding that the evening — which will feature a vegetarian dinner, greetings from local political leaders, a raffle, and auctions — is meant both to "make money and raise awareness."

She says the benefits of working on the project have been twofold.

"I’ve learned a lot about fund-raising and the business world," she notes. " I’m very interested in volunteer work and community service and this has been very helpful."

"Also," she adds, "by going to a Jewish school I’ve been sheltered, in a way. I found I can interact with all the girls in the group. We’re just teenage girls who talk and socialize."

Classmate Shira Hecht of Highland Park says that the experience has "added a new dimension to my life."

"It’s really interesting," she adds. "The Muslim girls are easy to talk to, exactly like us. We ask for explanations of things like Ramadan and they talk to us about the specifics of Islam. We don’t talk about politics. We steer clear of touchy topics."

The dinner will take place at 5:30 p.m. at the Fair Lawn Athletic Club. For information, call ’01-348-8150, ext. 7.

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