Jewish, Muslim migration explored in 'Shared Future' lecture series

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Howard Lupovitch

Years and generations separated Jewish and Muslim migrations to the United States in the last century.

Now, a Metro Detroit lecture series starting Wednesday explores how both groups faced similar, sometimes hostile, views of foreigners that affected their acclimation.

“When reflecting on it, there are some real parallels between the debate over Muslim immigration now and the debate over Jewish immigration maybe 80-90 years ago,” said Howard Lupovitch, an associate history professor at Wayne State University. “There are a lot of similarities and in the way those communities transplanted themselves.”

Saaed Khan

He and his academic colleague at the school, Saeed Khan, are exploring those common characteristics during a three-part series this month.

“Destination America: Jewish and Muslim Migration – Histories & Trajectories” is the theme for their annual “A Shared Future” presentation.

Coordinated by the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC and the Michigan Muslim Community Council, the program launched in 2014 and aims to connect members of both demographics through exploring hot-button topics.

The latest theme was selected to coincide with conversations across the country about immigration and the travel ban the Trump administration has enacted for five countries with majority Muslim populations.

“We thought that the issue of migration is so timely, given attitudes both by politicians as well as reflected in the narrative of a certain segment of American society of how groups are perceived — whether they are viewed as American and how they add to the mosaic of a multicultural society,” said Khan, a senior lecturer in Near East, Asian and global studies at Wayne State. “Migration and the notion of who really is an American has become a bit more prominent in the public discourse.”

The first session, “Off to America,” focuses on what lured both groups from abroad. The second, “The Allures of the Melting Pot,” tackles how the immigrants adapted. The third, “Diaspora Politics,” focuses on their descendants’ political views.

Both professors also are expected to cover the unique bonds forged among Muslims and Jews in Metro Detroit.

That relationship has been underscored in the annual Mitzvah Day volunteer event as well as interfaith vigils after the Tree of Life synagogue slayings in Pittsburgh last year, said Mika’il Stewart Saadiq, outreach director at the Michigan Muslim Community Council.

“It’s very important that we have events like this and that people can see not only that there is cooperation and friendship within the Jewish and Muslim communities, but also rich dialogue that we can all learn from as Detroiters and Americans.”

Alicia Chandler, JCRC/AJC board president, notes the lecture series comes close to the 80th anniversary of American authorities denying entry to more than 900 Jews who fled hostilities in Europe on a ship, the St. Louis. They were forced to return to the continent, and experts believe many died in the Holocaust.

“The Torah talks about our responsibility to welcome the stranger,” said Chandler, referencing the Jewish holy text. “That is by no means advocating open borders. It is saying we need to understand our religious history and value in making some of these public policy decisions that we are making today.”

'A Shared Future'

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Muslim Unity Center, 1830 Square Lake Rd., Bloomfield Hills; March 19 at Congregation Beth Ahm, 5075 West Maple, West Bloomfield Township; and March 26 at Wayne State University, David Adamany Undergraduate Library, 5150 Anthony Wayne Drive, Detroit

Cost: Free, but advance registration is required at