U.S. Jews Turn Out in Force for Funeral and Vigils of Slain Muslim Teen

Across the country, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, similar vigils were held Tuesday and Wednesday in Nabra Hassanen's name and with Jewish support

Debra Nussbaum Cohen
Debra Nussbaum Cohen
New York
A vigil in memory of Nabra Hassanen.
A vigil in memory of Nabra Hassanen.Credit: Courtesy Jeff Dannick, JCC of Northern Virginia
Debra Nussbaum Cohen
Debra Nussbaum Cohen
New York

NEW YORK – American Jews have turned out in force for the funeral and vigils for Nabra Hassanen, the 17-year-old Muslim girl killed last weekend in suburban Washington D.C.

Following her funeral Wednesday at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, or Adams Center mosque, more than 1,500 people — an unusually large crowd for Reston, Virginia, said local Rabbi Michael Holzman — attended a vigil organized by one of her friends with his assistance.

At the vigil “Jews were overrepresented,” said Holzman. Many of the area’s 18 synagogues encouraged members to attend, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia emailed members about it.

“Hundreds of my own members were there. There was a tremendous amount of Jewish support for the family and the Muslim community present. It was quite a diverse and supportive crowd,” said Holzman, who spoke at the vigil, which was also filled with young people. “I said ‘if you grew up in this part of northern Virginia you might not realize it, but the kind of respect and dignity we are upholding today are things you need to go out and teach the world.’ That got applause” that he didn’t expect, he told Haaretz.

His synagogue, Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, also serves as a meeting place for area Muslims for weekly prayers on Fridays and daily services during Ramadan. As many as 500 Muslims attend weekly Jumah services, said the rabbi.

Across the country, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, similar vigils were held Tuesday and Wednesday in Nabra’s name and with Jewish support.

During Hassanen’s funeral, which was held Wednesday and live streamed on Facebook, Adams Center Executive Imam Mohamed Magid thanked other faith communities for their outpouring of support.

Hassanen was the eldest of four daughters born in America to Egyptian immigrant parents. She and a group of about 15 friends had stopped at a fast food restaurant between late-night Ramadan services Sunday and were biking and walking back to the mosque at around 3:45 a.m. Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, reportedly argued with boys in the group. News accounts report, “Torres drove his vehicle onto the curb as the teens scattered, the sources said. Witnesses told police that Torres chased part of the group, including Hassanen, with a metal baseball bat into a nearby McDonalds parking lot.

According to local accounts, “Hassanen reportedly tripped over her abaya, which is when Torres caught up with her and struck her with the bat in the head, rendering her unconscious. Torres then allegedly dragged her body to his vehicle and drove to another location where police suspect he raped herHassanen’s body was later found in a pond.”

Her killing has shocked and alarmed Muslims and their allies across America. Though police have said that they believe it to be a case of “extreme road rage” rather than a hate crime, some in the community, including the girl’s father, say that she would likely not have been killed if she had not been a Muslim wearing traditional garb. They are also investigating whether the girl was raped during the assault.

Hassanen’s funeral was so crowded that the mosque hired 17 buses to each make three trips ferrying people from the service to the cemetery.

Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation is a satellite location for the Adams Center, which is so large that it has two campuses and six additional area locations, most of them spaces rented from hotels, for weekly and Ramadan prayer.

On Fridays the temple’s parking lot is an unusual sight: suburban Jewish moms picking up their children from preschool peacefully crossing paths with Middle Eastern Muslim men arriving for Jumah,. His is the only synagogue rented by the mosque as a prayer site.

“We take our partnership with the Adams center very, very personally. It’s not just a rental. Our members are proud of hosting the Muslim community, especially in an environment, in the Trump era, where immigrant rights and Islamophobia are a focus.”

Members of the Jewish community “feel even more of a natural empathy” toward Hassanen’s family and community “because we know it very well,” said Ron Halber, the Washington JCRC’s executive director.

Tuesday night a vigil was held at a Muslim community center in south Los Angeles, where more than 200 people gathered. Among the participating groups was New Ground: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, said Maryam Saleemi, the organization’s spokeswoman. “That night we had Muslims and Jews show up for each other.”

A similar event was held in Philadelphia.

The close relationship between the Adams Center and local Jewish community is due, in part, because of the mosque’s longtime focus on interfaith activity.

Both Holzman and Rabbi David Kalender, rabbi of Congregation Olam Tikvah, a Conservative synagogue, describe the imam as “a very good friend.” Kalender is chair of the Fairfax County Clergy & Leadership Council, and the imam a vice-chair.

The relationship is mutual, Kalender told Haaretz. “When there were are those phone calls filled with bomb threats, he was reaching out very closely. He and I periodically get together for lunch, we’ve spoken at each other’s place of worship, and he was at my son’s bar mitzvah,” he said.

“The Adams Center is easily one of our strongest partners in the Muslim community,” said the Washington JCRC’s Halber. “It’s not a one sided relationship by any means. They have representatives at interfaith, Jewish communal, Holocaust and legislative gatherings. It’s all the time.”

When Holzman anticipated how large the crowd for the vigil would be, just down the road, he emailed members asking for volunteers to direct traffic. “The next day I had 25 volunteers to do thankless work, wearing orange vests in 90 degree heat and 90 percent humidity.” That’s remarkable, he said. Because when there’s a last minute Jewish event at synagogue and he asks for volunteers, he says, “with 24 hours notice I can’t get 25 people to show up to do anything.”

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