By Erin Meyer, Chicago Tribune reporter
10:35 p.m. CDT, July 8, 2012
A group of Muslim and Jewish cyclists found common ground Sunday on Chicago pavement as they biked across the city from a downtown mosque to a North Side synagogue.
“We have a lot more in common than we have differences,” said Julie Hochstadter, at the end of the eight-mile bike ride organized by the Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative to bolster interfaith relations in Chicago.
About 60 riders met in the morning at the Downtown Islamic Center, a mosque in the Loop. They removed their shoes and gathered for a breakfast of baklava and bananas on the floor of the center’s expansive prayer room, where Muslims who work or live in the Loop pray daily. It was the first time in a mosque for some of the Jewish riders.
“I believe in the idea that Jews and Muslims should do activities in the city together as a way to move the world closer together,” said Northwestern University professor Laurie Zoloth, who participated in the ride even though she was fasting Sunday in remembrance of tragedies suffered by the Jewish people.
“We fight, but we are still cousins,” agreed Muhammad Ullah, building manager at the Islamic center. “We love each other, but we don’t want to share.”
Hochstadter, the executive director of a social networking site for Chicago cyclists called thechainlink.org, said Sunday’s ride was inspired by a 2006 interfaith bike trek across Jerusalem that she participated in.
There, Hochstadter said, relationships between the Jewish and Muslim students — many grew up amid the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the Gaza Strip and West Bank — were often tense. That wasn’t the case Sunday afternoon as the group traveled “as a single organism” north along Broadway to Anshe Emet Synagogue and on to the lakefront in Lincoln Park for a picnic.
“So here we are as active Muslims, Jews and Americans,” said rider Melissa Simon as the breeze produced small white-capped waves in the distance. “We cannot fix the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today. But we can put all of our heart energy into the pedals and spend time with people.”