Deke Farrow as “Jewish, Muslim youths in Modesto build understanding, friendships and picnic tables” for The Modesto Bee

Deke Farrow

The steel picnic tables, attractive and sturdy, really are just a plus. Congregation Beth Shalom board President Doug Highiet donated three each to his synagogue and to the Islamic Center of Modesto. But the bigger gift to the Muslim and Jewish congregations was the opportunity the tables gave to bring their youth together.

Sunday morning, boys from both faiths worked side by side to build the tables. Patience and cooperation were key because Highiet intentionally withheld the instruction manuals from the preteens and teens. It helped that all the bolts, washers and nuts were the same size.

The kids started their workday at the mosque, located on North Carpenter Road. They worked quietly and with focus, some boys holding pieces in place while others worked the wrenches. Dads pitched in a bit, but Highiet encouraged them to let the youths figure it out.

Highiet has reached out a couple of times to the mosque, inquiring about getting the Jewish and Muslim youth together to do something, said Ahmad Kayello, imam of the Islamic Center. When Highiet, president and CEO of Ceres Pipe & Metal, got a fantastic deal on the metal tables, Sunday’s gathering came together.

The aim was to reinforce with the boys that two communities who don’t share the same beliefs and practices but do have commonalities can accomplish things together, Kayello said. “Indeed, the biggest commonality we have (is) that we admire one another, we respect one another and we help and we work with one another towards enjoying the goods. So this is something I’m really glad about.”

CBS and the Islamic Center have had a close relationship in the past, the imam said, but in the last two years, “it’s been picking up fast.” Sunday’s was the first strictly youth gathering the two congregations have held, and it’s “a perfect example of where we are today,” Kayello added.

Highiet said he enjoyed watching the youth work together and learn about one another.

It’s much better to be familiar with faiths other than one’s own, said Muhammad Rahimi, 14, whose family came to the U.S. from Afghanistan four years ago. He’s enjoyed learning about Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and other faiths, he said, and was looking forward to visiting the Sherwood Avenue synagogue on Sunday afternoon to see “how they do their prayers and things.”

CBS member Michael Pascal, 17, said that being part of the same community and sharing a common welfare with Muslims is what brought him to the mosque. “A lot of people like to think of labels, and a lot of people like to think, ‘Oh, well, you’re this or you’re that,’ and thus they can’t get along. But I think that shouldn’t be the case, and this is just a show — and we have all our youth out here — that we can all get along.”

Shaheer Zaighum, 13, of the Islamic Center agreed, calling it “a really nice thing” that Jews and Muslims can work together. He said he was enjoying the building project and hoped the day would result in some friendships. At the mosque, the kids enjoyed some doughnuts while they worked. When they finished the synagogue’s tables in the early afternoon, they would be sitting down to share a pizza lunch, too.

Late Sunday afternoon, Highiet said the Muslim boys were curious and excited to be at the synagogue. “They asked for a tour, and Rabbi Bochner not only showed them around, he showed them a Torah and more. It was an extremely rewarding day.”

Abdul Rahaman brought his son Mohamed Yazan to take part in the build. He said he hopes his son will find joy across the community and learn from the cultures that make it up, he said. Regardless of differences including religions, Rahaman said, “he can learn we are one person.”