A Jewish businessman has decided to fund the construction of a large Muslim house of worship in France. Robert Harush grew up in Ashkelon, Israel but has spent the last 10 years dividing his time between his homes in Europe and the Middle East. Recently, he was approached by the Mayor of Montreau, a small French city adjacent to Paris, who related to him the difficulty of financing a renovation of the local mosque.
Harush, who made his fortune in the European real estate business, has been known to take on large building projects. In his home town of Ashkelon, he constructed a synagogue that he named after his late father. Currently, he is working on a mikveh to dedicate to his late mother. However, the new mosque project demonstrates a generosity that goes beyond his Jewish Israeli community.
The Montereau mosque is viewed by Harush as a way to promote co-existence. "I told myself ‘here is an opportunity to bring the people together.’” he said. “People were dumbfounded. What does a Jewish-Israeli man have to do with refurbishing a mosque? The answer is simple: I’m sick and tired of the hatred.” Harush is not the only one feeling this way; the current situation in Israel remains tense after the Flotilla raid in Gaza this past May.
Harush says he is not a religious person, but “in the absence of upstanding politicians it falls on businessmen to bring together Jews and Arabs and seculars and the religious.” The Israeli businessman is worth hundreds of millions of shekels, but long before he earned his fortune, he had completed military service like other Israeli youth. Now 58, Harush is a father of four children, all of whom speak Hebrew fluently.
The city of Ashkelon has seen its share of violence in recent years; a Grad rocket once landed near Harush’s home. Despite this history, the philanthropist exhibits no ill feelings toward his Arab and Muslim neighbors. Leaders from the Muslim community in Montereau were grateful for Harush’s gesture, and maintain a warm relationship with him.
Vanessa is a conflict analyst, interfaith-er and nonprofit professional.