Muslim & Rabbi Sending Message Of Tolerance In Tyler

Despite opposing beliefs and very different languages, Anwar Khalifa, a Muslim, and Neal Katz, a Rabbi, feel the season for unity amongst their cultures is long overdue. The unlikely pair is teaming up with Habitat for Humanity of Smith County to build a home for a family in need. It's a project that's unprecedented in East Texas and in some parts of the world.

"What we hope is that this project will become a springboard for dialogue between our communities," says Rabbi Neal Katz of Congregation Beth El.

Anwar Khalifa with the Muslim Community of East Texas says, "(We want to) get the name out about Muslims and Jews that we're here and we care about the community."

Anwar and Neal's relationship doesn't stop there. For the past year they've been meeting at least once or twice a month for lunch, discussing even the most sensitive topics such as religion and politics.

"Here are two people who have certain boundaries on what we can talk about, certain leniencies, and the two of us will become models for collaboration in the future," says Katz.  Khalifa adds, "If we go on percent, there is 5% we don't have in common and 95% that we do... so we really try to concentrate on what we have in common."

That common ground will soon become a beautiful 3 bedroom, 1 and a half bath house for a single mom. Even though Neal and Anwar dug through dirt with silver shovels, it's a golden opportunity to send the message that we can all work together-- regardless of race or creed.

Christine Nelson reporting.