250 attend 6th Annual Jewish-Muslim Peace Walk

Published: 03.09.2009 About 250 people participated in the 6th Annual Jewish-Muslim Peace Walk in Tucson on Sunday, officials said.
The event began at 2 p.m. at Congregation Or Chadash, 3939 N. Alvernon Way, with a ceremony, followed by a walk to Al Huda Islamic School, 2800 E. River Road, where a Thai dinner was served.
This year's theme was water, because it is vital for life, said Fayez M. Swailem, an event organizer.
Children learned to write "water" and other words in both Hebrew and Arabic. They also made a stop at the Tucson Hebrew Academy, 3888 E. River Road, to sing Jewish songs.
The goal of the event is to promote mutual understanding and to talk about "what's going on," said Rabbi Thomas Louchheim, 52, of Congregation Or Chadash.
"It's good for Tucson," he said, explaining that his personal goal is for understanding in the Tucson community. "I'm not looking to have a greater impact."
Farid Farooqi, imam at the Islamic Center of Tucson, took this as an opportunity to also promote understanding.
"If you have differences, that's fine." he said. "It's just like a brother and sister in a home."
It was also a chance for Ebtisam El-Sharkawy, 18, of Phoenix, to get involved and promote peace.
"It is a wonderful experience," she said. "I meet people and I learn new things every time."
Her father is Muslim but she became a practicing Muslim about three years ago after researching her options.
"Islam was the way for me," said the senior at Arizona Cultural Academy, a private Islamic school in Phoenix. The Phoenix area does not have a similar event, she said.
"We're fortunate in Tucson that Jews and Muslims are getting along," said Laurie Soloff, who attends Congregation Chaverim in Tucson.
The event also attracted many who were not Jewish or Muslim.
Art Harvey, 64, learned about the event three years ago at his church, Saint Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church. He walked for the first time three years ago and he helped organize the event the following two years.
"There is so much going on that you just want to help," he said.
The retired educator splits his time between Tucson and Michigan and said this is one event he looks forward to.
"We walk in each other's shoes," he said. "We share stories and get a better picture of where we're coming from."
Fayez M. Swailem, 67, who attends the Islamic Center of Tucson said the event has helped the community.
He said the walk was a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Since that day there has been much more dialogue and understanding between Jews and Muslims in Tucson.
Ezra Lyons, 9, who is Jewish, has been coming coming for about three years.
This year he came with a friend's family. Ezra's favorite part of the day is "meeting new people and making new friends."

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