Muslims and Jews help rebuild tornado-stricken towns

MAYFLOWER, Ark. (KTHV) - In three months it will be exactly one year since 16 people were lost to one of Arkansas' deadliest tornadoes.

Thousands upon thousands of volunteers have helped communities return to normalcy, but on Monday it was a very different group of volunteers that used this disaster to try and return to normalcy themselves as well.

"Just looking around there's a lot of destruction but it's nice to know that we're helping rebuild it," said Mari Thomeczek, who goes to school at Hendrix College.

Thomeczek is part of the group Jewish Disaster Rebuilding Corps. It's a foundation that helps build relations between Muslim and Jewish students by rebuilding disaster-stricken areas.

"Honestly it's a wonderful group of students who are here," added Shuli Just-Michael, who is also part of the group.

A majority of the students attend New York University in New York City. In the last three years, they've worked on tornado relief in Joplin, Missouri as well as Moore, Oklahoma.

"Before I came to NYU I really had no contact with anyone of the Jewish faith," said Afraz Khan, another participant. "I actually had someone from my Muslim community, an elder, who had told me not to come to NYU because there were a lot of Jews."

Violence between Muslims and Jews reached a critical high this summer, further bringing to light a history of tension in the Middle East, but the two cultures began breaking that barrier on a small-scale on Monday.

"You know, a way to create a friendship is to have some mutual common interest," Just-Michael elaborated. "So here we're all thrown together and we all want to do good and we all want to work."

"We as individuals aren't as different as we sometimes make ourselves to be," added Khan. "So going forward with that understanding- there's a lot more you can accomplish in terms of seeing how their faith plays into their identity as a whole."

In addition to the spending the week together, the group will attend both Shabbat and Jumu'ah services, customary services for both religions.

They're also helping rebuild in Vilonia before returning to New York on Friday.


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