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Reflecting on Israel, Gaza at interfaith event

An annual interfaith tradition in Bay Shore of breaking Thanksgiving bread took on an especially poignant meaning Sunday as participants reflected on the escalating violence between Israel and Hamas on the Gaza Strip.

"We can show them the rest of the world wants peace," said Mimi Vanderbeck, 64, of Bay Shore.

She was among about 100 people of different religions and races who attended a Thanksgiving service and dinner at Masjid Dural Quran, a mosque in Bay Shore. The service included the reading of passages from different holy books and at the conclusion, the singing of "My Country 'Tis of Thee," also known as "America."

It is organized annually by the Bay Shore Interfaith Council, made up of nine representatives of different congregations, but was hosted this year for the first time by the mosque, also called the Muslim Center of Long Island.

Speakers shared messages of inclusion and denounced the conflict in the Middle East.

"There are two ways we can go: peace or perpetual fighting," mosque president Roshan A. Shaikh said. "What is just? What is right? The right side is the peace and the loving and to honor each other."

The Rev. Kris Baudler, of St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Bay Shore, added that the group of people before him represent "a small slice of the antidote" to cultural divides and warring.

The interfaith council said it has organized Thanksgiving events for at least 15 years, with a different church, temple or mosque hosting each year and with participation swelling each year.

Interactions in the first years were "awkward, but now you see a lot of talking, a lot of laughs," said Msgr. Thomas More Coogan, of St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church of Bay Shore.

Indeed, Baudler joked during the service to chuckles: "A rabbi, an imam and a Lutheran walk into a mosque."

Discussions Sunday were also focused on recovering after superstorm Sandy.

"There has been death and destruction in an unlikely place . . . beautiful Long Island," said Rabbi Leslie Schotz of Bay Shore Jewish Center. She added later, "Forging spiritual bridges strengthens the community at large and can heal all wounds."

Participants, including Maggie Killeen, 47, of Bay Shore, said the religions represented Sunday had more commonalities than differences.

"This is what humanity calls for. We are one big family," said Dr. Hafiz Ur Rehman, a mosque board of trustees member. "We've got to prove it to ourselves, and we've got to prove it to future generations."

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