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Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna

Rabbi Yehuda Sarna and Imam Khalid Latif are co-founders of the ‘Of Many’ Institute for Multifaith Leadership at New York University. They teach a course together and lead service trips to cultivate cooperation and dialogue among students from different faiths.



RABBI YEHUDA SARNA: How can we raise a generation which is sensitive to the needs and aspirations, the potential promises of different religious groups in our country? How can we build a social fabric which is very strong?

ALEISA FISHMAN: Rabbi Yehuda Sarna and Imam Khalid Latif are co-founders of the ‘Of Many’ Institute for Multifaith Leadership  at New York University. They teach a course together and lead service trips to cultivate cooperation and dialogue among students from different faiths.

Welcome to Voices on Antisemitism, a podcast series from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum made possible by generous support from the Elizabeth and Oliver Stanton Foundation. I’m Aleisa Fishman. Every month, we invite a guest to reflect about the many ways that antisemitism and hatred influence our world today. Recorded during a visit to Washington DC, here’s Rabbi Yehuda Sarna and Imam Khalid Latif.

RABBI YEHUDA SARNA: My name is Yehuda Sarna. I serve as the rabbi at New York University

IMAM KHALID LATIF: My name is Khalid Latif. And I serve as the Executive Director of NYU’s Islamic Center and also one of the university’s chaplains.

RABBI YEHUDA SARNA: The institute that we founded together with Linda Mills and Chelsea Clinton is called the ‘Of Many’ Institute for Multifaith Leadership. And the idea behind this Institute was that the 21st century has unique conditions. And one of those unique conditions is that more and more cultures and religions are coming into contact with each other more and more frequently. And so, it’s become an essential 21st-century skill-set, if you will, to learn how to bring cultures together in a way that they can learn from each other or collaborate, and not conflict or clash. 

IMAM KHALID LATIF: So, I was a sophomore at New York University in 2001. One day, I was headed to my morning Arabic class. And when I got to class, a security guard walked into the front door, and he said, “Please gather up all your belongings. We’re evacuating the building. A plane has flown into the World Trade Center.” 

There was a young women who tried to push me down the staircase as we were evacuated. And when I turned around and looked at her, she was very visibly angry just at my presence. I went to my dormitory. And I walked into conversations to the effect of, “We need to gather up all the Muslims and send them out of this country so that things like this don’t happen anymore.” And as students at that time, we found ourselves, I think, in a lot of different realities. We had to deal with acts of vandalism and hate crimes and backlash. We developed a buddy system, so that no students had to walk around by themselves. I, myself, attended funerals for people that I knew who died on September 11th, both who were Muslim and who came from other walks of life. And a lot of the work that I do today is very much so shaped by the unfortunate tragedies that took place on that day.

RABBI YEHUDA SARNA: One of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately is how fear has its own rules, has its own logic. And even though a threat is thousands of miles away, media can make it feel like it is right next door. And what happens when people are afraid is that the world goes from being in color to slowly turning to black and white. Fear presents this kind of immediacy that: I need to know who is with me and who is against me. And there are no shades of gray. And that, for me, is what stereotyping is. It’s the feeling that I must be able to know instantaneously whether a group in its entirety is dangerous or not dangerous. And one of the best ways to bring the world back to color is by developing friendships with people who normally you wouldn’t think of ever becoming friends with. And in our class, we’ve made it a homework assignment, weekly, for people to either go out for coffee or have dinner with someone else in the class. And that’s homework. They have to do that, because that’s a critical part of what we’re trying to teach.

IMAM KHALID LATIF: Even though we’re at New York University, as diverse as it is, you have individuals who have never met someone who is not like them for the first eighteen years of their life. And the challenging part is, even though they’ve never met someone of a specific group, they still have opinions and perspectives on that group. In our class, we have students of every skin color, every religious system, wealthy and poor and everything in between, diverse in their sexuality, recognizing shared experience in ways that just boggle their own minds. And then they deal with their unconscious, subconscious stereotypes, that they didn’t even know that they had. 

RABBI YEHUDA SARNA: In 2007, we took a group of 15 Jewish students and 15 Muslim students to New Orleans to help with the hurricane relief. At that point, there was still a tremendous amount of work to do and our students were eager to participate in the rebuilding of the city. It was an amazing transformation over the course of that week. And the last night, to me, was actually the most memorable. We came back to our campsite where we were staying, and we had a bonfire. And the students had an opportunity to talk about their own transformation. And they talked about the discomfort that they would have going back and having conversations with their parents, with their other friends, who would say things that they, at this point, felt like they could no longer agree with or they could no longer not oppose if family members or friends would say things which in any way promoted a certain stereotype. They just couldn’t take it.

IMAM KHALID LATIF: Where our students had a certain comfortability in engaging each other, I think, stemmed from them seeing the two of us having a friendship. And creating a space in which it was now okay to engage the other without having to compromise on your own ideals or your own values—but not going in with a mindset that was already “Hey, we’re pitted against each other”—but we can actually build, in the most literal senses, together. And beyond that, we can start to really craft a relationship.

And I think what we’ve seen now is that in our larger, broader communities—respectively, about 5,000 to 7,000 Jewish students at NYU; there’s 2,000 to 3,000 Muslim students—there’s cultivated a sub-community that builds upon what the previous year had established. And, you know, it’s always nice for me to get an email from a Jewish student who went on this trip with us in 2007 just saying, you know, “I’m thinking about you right now, given what’s happening in the world.” And eight years removed to still have that kind of connectivity. I think it comes from the experience being what we hoped it would be: something that would be very life changing.

ALEISA FISHMAN: Voices on Antisemitism is a podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Join us every month to hear a new perspective on the continuing threat of antisemitism in our world today. We would appreciate your feedback on this series. Please visit our website,