Park51 Islamic center, New York - Shulamit Seidler-Feller
Photographer Danny Goldfield shows visitor Fathy Hegazy around his exhibit of portraits of New York children. The show provided a low-key opening to the controversial Park51 Islamic center, New York. Photo by Shulamit Seidler-Feller
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On a wet afternoon in Lower Manhattan, an elderly man in a rain-drenched tweed coat strolled into the photo gallery at America’s most famous Islamic cultural center, dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque” by its critics, and perused the portraits of New York children from 169 of the world’s 193 countries.

Danny Goldfield, the unassuming photographer behind the exhibit, stood to introduce himself. “Can you agree with me that humanity is the way to peace?” the man suddenly asked. Goldfield looked taken aback. He murmured quietly, “Sure.”

Goldfield is an unlikely ambassador for the Islamic cultural center. A 44-year-old Brooklyn Jew, he opened his exhibit, “NYChildren,” at the Islamic center on September 21. The debut may signal a subtle refashioning of the center’s orientation.

Goldfield’s exhibit, which has nothing to do with Islam, reflects a project that appears to be recontoured as a modest neighborhood community center from its original vision as a tony Islamic version of the JCC on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Goldfield first connected with Sharif El-Gamal, chairman of the project, and his partner, Nour Moussa, last August, at the height of the controversy over the site. A friend of Goldfield invited the Brooklyn photographer to a neighborhood meeting in the Park51 mosque, where El-Gamal described his vision for the facility.

Pamela Geller, the Jewish blogger widely credited with igniting the fury against Park51 on her blog, Atlas Shrugged, voiced a cynical view of Goldfield’s Jewish background. “El-Gamal gets a ‘Goldfield’ to front for this mosquestrosity, using children and immigration and all that jazz to raise money for the mosque, and this Goldfield gets huge media coverage for a photo exhibit,” she wrote.

Read more on the Forward.